Friday, 20 June 2014

A Feudal Oligarchy with Broadband

Peter Ould described Jersey, rather tongue in cheek, I suspect, as ""practically a feudal oligarchy with broadband". As he is giving up blogging, which is rather a shame, I thought I'd have a look at exactly how words like "feudal" are used.
If you look at Scotland, with the Referendum on Independence looming, it is very interesting to note what they think of England. Mark McNaugh writes an article entitled "Representative Democracy Impossible in UK Feudal System". He comments:
"Once elected to Westminster, in addition to going to the 'meet-and-greets' and 'grip-and-grins' with the corporate lobbyists and hedge fund managers they will actually represent, one hopes MPs take time to find about those they are supposed to represent.  Maybe they take crash courses on where the constituency actually is and who lives there.  Maybe they even go to visit.  Maybe not."
"The conclusion is inescapable: the UK system is so mired in decayed feudal institutions that UK citizens do not live in a representative democracy."
"Any Scot who still believes Scotland is better off in the Westminster system needs to ask this question: Should Scotland vote 'yes' and construct an honest representative democracy, or vote 'no' and remain bogged down in the corrupt feudal Westminster mire forever?"
So how does the UK's feudal system differ from that of Jersey? It is perhaps larger scale, a motley collection of Robber Barons, whose disconnect from those they represent is, if you live in Scotland, quite notable.
For McNaugh, the "feudal" nature lies with the Party System, whereby the MPs owe allegiance to Party and Party leader, and plight their allegiance to these overlords, rather than the people who elected them. The power is top down, just as in a feudal hierarchy, with a token sop given to the serfs every four or five years when elections come around.
India, according to Markandey Katju, also has a "feudal democracy", where "midway between 1947 and now our democracy was hijacked by the feudals." This is seen in the fact that the democratic system is undermined by a system based not on equality, but on the rank attributed to people in Indian society:
"Caste and religious vote banks, which could be craftily manipulated by many of our politicians to serve their selfish ends, emerged and became a normal feature of elections and other political activity in most parts of India. Everyone knows that in most parts of India people vote on caste and religious lines, instead of looking at the merits of the candidate."
What about a glance across the Atlantic, to the land of the free. According to Dave Pederson, America is "Home of the Bewildered Serf and Land of the Feudal Lords." He comments:
"The International Monetary Fund released a study on the growing debt divide. It shows that, basically what happened over the past 20 years or so, is that the lords' incomes have grown dramatically while the serfs' incomes have barely budged. With income gains that don't keep up with inflation, the serfs were forced to use credit to keep pace, and in turn, that has exacerbated the problem, triggering an unprecedented gap between the new feudal lords and their poor serfs. Ronald Reagan would be smiling if he wasn't dead as Dillinger, but I'm sure Arthur Laffer is celebrating enough for the both of them. Trickle-down economics as advertised!"
"This growing debt and income inequity coupled with the economic meltdown has turned the USA into a neo-feudal state. So serfs, just keep quiet, pay your debts, pay your lords' debts, use the service entrance and enjoy your servitude!"
The same is given voice by Dave Hodges, who writes that:
"The founding fathers notion that our elected leaders only expressed power so long as they had the consent of the governed, has seen its day and the notion is as dead as a doornail. Today, Americans are subjects, not citizens. We are enslaved, not free. The authority of the elite, as expressed through the collective power of the government , constitutes the sovereign authority in this country. The People, are no longer sovereign.The subjects of this country are being turned into feudal slaves."
The notion of a feudal society is, for these writers, as for the Scottish critic, "top down government", where elections are a kind of token, but after people are elected, they ignore, by and large, those who elected them, because power resides at the top.
That is something which also happens to some degree in Jersey, although I have noted that every so often, the public is so fed up with the sitting candidates that quite a few lose their seats. The people, it seems, will stand for just so much blarney, and then - if they have a choice - they reject the verbosity and flummery of the politicians and vote in others, always in the hope that this time, it will be different.
Certainly if Jersey can be described as a Feudal Oligarchy with Broadband, the UK Government can be described as a Feudal Barony with Streaming Video. There is the same discontent with the status quo, if not perhaps yet the low turnout that Jersey suffers.
The recent rise of UKip demonstrates that there is a need for a vote for protest, and this now receives the votes, as the Liberal party no longer has the confidence of the voters that it can protest.
What is notable is that feudalism is associated with a hierarchy of power, and some other aspects of feudalism seem to have been forgotten.
"Feudalism involved powerful or wealthier persons giving land, or the use of land, to poorer persons in exchange for services from those people."
"The peasants also claimed advantages under the system as they were given land and if they were loyal their position was secure as there was always the need for people to work the land to produce food and other goods and services."
The poorest in today's society have no land. They rent where they live, unless they can't afford it. As a recent report noted, a growing number of young people, here as in the UK, live on sofas and floors wherever they can find friends to take them in, and give them somewhere to sleep for the night.
But in the feudal system, while the peasants had obligations to their lords, they also had land, which no one could take from them. Even though you were tied to your land or your work, you were guaranteed to have it.
There were punitive taxes, but today's tax system is not necessarily that much better. While the poorer may fall beneath a threshold of paying tax, there are still indirect taxes and property taxes to pay.
I am not saying for a minute that it would be preferable to live back in the early Middle Ages, in a society where there was no medicine as such, no proper dentistry or heath care, or antibiotics, and medical professionals who knew how to treat illnesses. Agriculture was pitiful in its lack of knowledge, and famines were frequent. Of course it would not be good to live in that kind of world! And certainly the advantages of the Feudal System, when considered in itself, do not compensate for its disadvantages.
But consider if we had a modern society, with all the advantages of modern science, but a feudal system of land and duty and obligation, in which everyone had somewhere to live, and land that was theirs in return for various obligations. That part of Feudal society is actually quite attractive.

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