On the coming “feudal” wealth gap

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — a pro-establishment, rock-ribbed bastion of pro-market thinking — has released a report predicting a collapse in global economic growth rates, a rise in feudal wealth disparity, collapsing tax revenue and huge, migrating bands of migrant laborers roaming from country to country, seeking crumbs of work. They proscribe “flexible” workforces, austerity, and mass privatization. (from Boing Boing, “OECD predicts collapse of capitalism,” emphasis mine)

“Feudal” comes from Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing; the paper itself happily doesn’t use the word. Briefly, one of the problems with this medieval metaphor is that medieval rulers of the “feudal era” (whenever that was, if it even was) didn’t have the technological advantages of our current plutocrats.

We’re living in an era of unprecedented wealth, although perhaps not an unprecedented era of wealth concentration. What distinguishes 2014 from, say, 1014, is that the plutocrats couldn’t have fed everyone well even if they chose to try; lord knows they couldn’t have provided quality medical care and top-notch education to all of the poor, because they couldn’t even provide it to themselves; they couldn’t have extended the life of all the poor by decades, because even the rich back then, whenever that was, tended to top out at 40 years.

The rich now? They could do all this. This choice isn’t “feudal.” This choice is a particular evil of modernity: to have the power to save nearly everyone, and to chose not to.

One of what’s likely to be a continuing series: here.