Feudalism is back, with a vengeance.
Right now, the Wisconsin legislature is considering a bill that would make Wisconsin the nation’s 25th right-to-work-for-less state.
All signs point to this bill becoming law. The state senate passed it by a margin of 17 to 15 last week, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who supports right-to-work-for-less laws, said he will sign it if it reaches his desk.
This is a disaster in the making for Wisconsin.
Workers in right to work-for-less-states make less money, get skimpier health benefits and are more likely to die on the job than their workers in non-right-to-work-for-less states.
The line from Wisconsin Republicans, of course, is that the proposed right-work-for-less law will improve their state’s economy and help build the middle class. But in reality, the exact opposite will happen.
That’s because right-to-work-for-less laws bring capitalism a lot closer to its natural, unregulated state, and capitalism, in its natural, unregulated state, tends toward massive levels of inequality that we usually associate with feudalism.
It looks a lot like this:
At the top, there is a very small class of super-rich oligarchs and financiers. They’re the monarchs of capitalist society.
Below them, there is a slightly larger, but still very, very small, class of professionals and mercantilists – doctor, lawyers, shop-owners – who help keep things running for the super-rich and supply the working poor with their needs. They’re nobles or knights of capitalist society.
And at the very bottom there is the great mass of people who make up the working poor. They have no wealth – in fact they’re typically in debt most of their lives – and can barely survive on what little money they make. They’re the peasants of capitalist society.
So, for average working people, there is no such thing as a middle class in “natural” capitalism. Wealth accumulates at the very top among the elites, not among everyday working people. Inequality is the default option, just as it was in Medieval Europe under feudalism.
The only ways a true middle class can emerge in a capitalist society are by massive social upheaval (a middle class emerged after the Black Plague in Europe in the 14th century) or by government intervention.
Historically, the government is the only thing that can put a check on the growth of feudalism, and it’s what we used here in the United States, from the founding of the republic until the Reagan revolution, to fight the elite and build a middle class from the ground up.
Tariffs, workers’ rights legislation, the Glass-Steagall Act, higher taxes on the rich, you name it – our government used all of these things to restrain the natural tendency of capitalism towards inequality and to create a middle class.
But ever since Reagan came to town and brainwashed everyone into believing that “government is the problem, not the solution,” we’ve gutted regulations, busted unions and, as a result, returned capitalism to something resembling its natural, brutish state.
Inequality is now at a record high, and the richest 3 percent of the population now controls more than half of all wealth.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the child poverty rate here in the US is now among the worst in the developed world.
Things have arguably gotten even worse since the recession, as the top one percent has absorbed almost all of the gains of our so-called “recovery.”
The kings and noblemen may be long gone, but here in the US, the business and financial elite reign supreme, and corporate feudalism is the name of the game.
Thanks to Ronald Reagan and his modern-day followers like Scott Walker, the US is no longer a true democracy, it’s an oligarchy, and every day it looks more and more like something out of the 14th – not the 21st – century.
The time is long past due for us to roll back the Reagan revolution once and for all.