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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monopoly Neo-feudalism

Kennedy & MCConnel cotton spinning mill, Manchester

I was idly searching on 'Marxism Peak Oil' and found an article about it from which I have cut'n'pasted a section below. One problem I have is with 'feudalism'from a historical perspective.

In the Scottish Enlightenment 'feudalism'was connected to the 'heritable jurisdictions' which were banned after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745/6 - to stop Jacobite chiefs raising 'feudal hosts' to fight for the Stuarts. Getting rid of this reminder of Scotland's barbarous past was then seen as a stage in the progress of humanity from savagery to civilisation -influencing Adam Smith. [From memory.]... and then on via the French Revolution to Marx.

But...in Galloway 'feudalism' ended with the Douglas Lordship of Galloway in 1455. The Scottish Crown then took control of the Douglas lands but gradually sold them off to create / add to the hundreds of owner-occupier farmers who became keen Protestants via the Scottish Reformation and led resistance to the Stuarts through the 17th century. John Kennedy (1769-1855) became a major Manchester cotton spinning mill owner. His family had been owner-occupiers of Knocknalling farm since at least 1540, so by the time John Kennedy became a capitalist manufacturer, his family had been part of a market orientated (agricultural) economic system for 250 years.

As a younger son, John Kennedy was not going to inherit the farm, so, following a well-established local pattern, he was apprenticed to a trade. In his case it was as a carpenter and machine maker in north-west England. Thanks to the Scottish Reformation, Kennedy was well-educated and thanks to the absence of feudalism in Galloway, he was familiar with a market economy. He was not a peasant and was not driven off the land by enclosure/ primitive accumulation. He did become a founder member of Manchester's industrial capitalist class and helped secure its success through involvement in the Liverpool Manchester Railway.

To summarise - industrial capitalism began in Manchester in the late 18th century but it did not emerge directly out of 'feudalism' - feudalism in England and (parts of) Scotland had ended long before. So the collapse of capitalism may not lead to 'neo-feudalism' - it may rather revert us back to the Age of Reason, to the Age of Enlightenment which preceded the age of industrial capitalism.

Now read on...

Marx was wrong about how capitalism, strictly defined, was going to purge all rents and feudal vestiges. Here Marx shared in a misconception endemic to classical economists. What really happens at every point is that true competitive practices are used to vanquish residual feudalism, but then the “competitor”, the moment he becomes strong enough, switches from capitalist mode to oligopoly racketeer mode. He switches from innovation, efficiency-seeking, and customer service to lobbying, cons, bribery, extortion, and every kind of anti-competitive action. He becomes a rent seeker. He reinstates a new feudalism. And so the last 40 years have seen the great switch from the capitalist stage of economic history to the refeudalizing stage. (Of course, the entire capitalist stage was riddled with feudal remnants and neo-feudal restorations. Imperialism, globalization, and financialization have been the main stages for this. And of course natural resources have always been treated as a slave plantation, and never with the slightest semblance of rational planning.)

Marx and the rest of classical economics failed to see or didn’t emphasize this. On the other hand, neoclassicism has been dedicated to the Big Lie that this neo-feudal project, and the law of rent-seeking I just described, don’t exist. Chicago economics simply claims as religious dogma that this is “capitalism”, this is the ”free market”. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is the core slogan of this Big Lie. The real purport of it is, “It may look to you like the finance sector and other corporate oligopolies are pure parasites who produce nothing and only destroy. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch! So if these actors exist, they have to be important producers, even if you’re having trouble seeing what they produce. If they weren’t producing, they couldn’t exist. Ipso facto.”

So there’s one way in which the Marxian prognostication of the unified proletariat facing the monopoly capitalist has failed to materialize. We face instead monopoly neo-feudalism, so anyone who still wants to use Marxism has to recompute.


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