Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thought for the day

Hayek thought socialism was the road to serfdom. Hayek was a fool. Feudal lords didn't need socialism to reduce their serfs to abject poverty and subjugation. So it was then, so it is now.

-- Badtux the History Penguin


  1. I have been thinking about this A LOT lately.

    For serfdom to occur, you need a poorly educated population with severely impaired mobility, that is under an impossible debt and/or tax burden.

    You need government of the masters, by the masters, for the masters, with little or no sense for worth or justice for the serfs.

    You need a social and/or religious system that recognizes the inherent meritocracy of the master class.

    You need a population that is scared or coerced into ceding their freedom to the masters in exchange for security.

    Of course, if wage scales can be depressed to the point where free men produce higher marginal profit for the masters than you can get from serfs (who - lets face it - are depreciating assets that require a lot of maintenance and upkeep) then there is no economic impetus for serfdom.

    It is poverty that will keep us free!


  2. You seem a bit confused about the nature of medieval serfdom. It wasn't about slavery, serfs were not slaves until late in the game (as in, not until the 16th century at the earliest) when they were tied to a specific lord out of alarm that serfs were deserting to lords willing to give them a better deal. Rather, it was about ownership of productive assets. The lords of the manor owned the productive assets. You as a serf paid the lord a large percentage of the take for the use of the productive assets to produce wealth (mostly food, but also potteries, blacksmithing facilities, and so forth).

    Hayek likened this to socialism, where he claims the government owns the productive assets, and then for a percentage of the take allows you the use of the productive assets to create wealth. But in a democracy, government is *US*. In a democracy under socialism, *WE* own the productive assets, and are paying a percentage of the take ("taxes") for the upkeep of our own property that We The People own, not for the benefit of a lord of the manor.

    That is why that evil socialist U.S. Postal Service, Interstate Highway System, etc. did not turn us into serfs. Serfdom is where *someone else* owns the productive assets -- not us -- and forces us to work on their plantations or starve to death if we refuse to do so. And I submit we're already 90% of the way there... it's damned hard to get ahead in this country anymore unless you're willing to work for one of our lords of the manor.

    - Badtux the Serfing USA Penguin

  3. I understand that there are qualitative differences between slavery and serfdom. However, none of these differences are operative in the characteristics I described.

    In slavery, the master owns the person of the slave. In serfdom the master owns the labor output of the serf - or the very largest portion if it.

    Serfs enjoy some measure of freedom, after the dues are paid; slaves do not.

    Sefdom is imposed on the indigenous population, slaves are more typically imported.

    But the master also owes the serf protection, and sustenance in times of famine.

    So my statement about assets is somewhat misstated. But the brute economics of it still comes down to comparative marginal profit of competing systems. Also, the government influence is a highly significant exogenous variable.

    Serfdom had been gone in Western Europe for hundreds of years (prior to the black death of 1350) before it was ever instituted in Eastern Europe. It rose there because of political factors and a sudden change in the land/population ratio.

    For more recent examples - except for theoretical mobility, subsistence share-cropping is pretty similar to serfdom. "I owe my soul to the company sto'e" is pretty damned close as well.

    The key is imposing taxes or rents that are basically confiscation, that leave the laborer struggling for subsistence.

    People tied to underwater mortgages or unable to sell existing homes are effectively trapped and tied to the land - though that is not where their labor value is generated.

    I look at the characteristics I outlined, and see modern American society moving in that direction. The direct support of the Rethug party is plainly evident.

    But if the marginal cost of "free" labor can be depressed to where it is no higher than the total cost of slave ownership, then there is no reason for the master to take on the maintenence task.

    The point is to trap us in a system of gross asymmetry regarding power and economics, with a small highly favored elite class, and a vast majority of have nots.

    This is where we've been heading since 1980.


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