Manorialism and Serfdom

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 29th, 2011

Politics 101

High Taxes and a Declining Birthrate marked the Beginning of the End of the Roman Empire

Serfdom dates back to European Manorialism.  But it was born in the decline of the Roman Empire.  When the Romans stopped pushing their borders out they lost a key source of revenue for their empire.  The spoils of war.  This coincided with the rise of their welfare state.  An ever larger bureaucracy to manage the breadth of empire.  And a loss of Roman identity and pride.  Taxes were rising.  And they were debasing their coin.  To monetize their debt.  People tried their best to evade taxes.  And had no desire to serve in the mighty Roman Legions securing the empire’s borders.  Which turned out to be quite the problem for the Romans.

The Romans had to hire soldiers to defend their borders.  A very costly endeavor.  Which added greatly to the cost of empire.  Hence the high taxes.  And debasing of their silver coins with lead.  But only the silver coins.  Not their gold.  Because they needed those to have value.  As they used them to pay for their hired soldiers.  And that’s one thing you don’t want to do to a hired army.  Anger them by paying them with worthless lead.  Because they could attack you as easily as protect you.

Soon being a Roman wasn’t fun anymore.  Taxes were so high people were working more for the Roman government than their families.  And inflation was making daily life difficult.  The people’s money was becoming worthless.  Which raised prices.  Soon the Romans were taking tax payments in kind.  Instead of money they took wheat, wine, clothing, etc.  Whatever a person made a large portion of what they made went to the Roman government.  It became so bad people were quitting to do something else.  A lot of them.  So many that it was cutting into what the Romans were collecting.  That and a declining birthrate marked the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.  Large armies.  A growing bureaucracy.  And a declining tax base.  Not a formula for fiscal stability.  So they said enough.  No more quitting and moving on.  Whatever your father was you’ll be.  You have no choice.  You’ll do as he did until the day you die.

The Lord of the Manor owned Great Tracts of Land that Needed Laborers, Peasants had Labor to Offer but no Land

It was the rural part of this Roman directive that shaped future history.  Especially in Europe.  When the Roman Empire collapsed civilization went backwards.  To a rural, agrarian way of life.  A rural self-sufficiency.  Where people either owned land.  Or worked on land owned by others.  And that Roman idea to prevent people from quitting and moving on?  That became serfdom.  Where people who worked the land were bound to the land.  And not allowed to leave or look for a new job.  And if the lord sold the land the people bound to the land went with the land.  Not the lord.

This is Manorialism.  As the Roman Empire disintegrated power shifted from a central government to manors.  The Lord of the Manor owned great tracts of land that needed laborers.  Peasants had labor to offer but no land.  So they made an agreement.  The Lord of the Manor would permit the peasant to live and work a small piece of his land.  In return the peasant would join other peasants and work the large landholdings of their lord.

A serf was little more than a slave.  But with a home and land to work to provide for his family.  Which was a lot in Medieval Europe and often meant the difference between life and death.  And he had something more.  Protection.  A set of laws to live by among his fellow serfs administrated by his lord and the manorial court.  And protection from outside threats.  Which was also part of the agreement.  The serfs agreed to fight alongside their fellow serfs in defense of their lord’s land.  Which was also their home.  And the source of all provision for their family.  So it was a very beneficial agreement for both lord and serf.

Serfdom was a Life of Subsistence and Prayer

The Lord of the Manor lived in a mansion.  The peasants lived in a little village.  Between the two was often a church.  Also in or near the village was the lord’s mill.  Operated by the serfs for both the lord’s harvest and their own.  Maybe even a bakery.  Surrounding these were the great tracts of land the serfs worked.  And forests where wild game was available to hunt.  And wood to burn.  But the forests were typically for the lord’s sole use.

So after the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome this was what civilization came to.  A life of subsistence.  Back-breaking work in the fields.  Eat what you grow.  Pray.  And try not to starve or freeze to death during the winter.  Not a life we would dream about today.  But one that worked for centuries.  And held Europe together during the Middle Ages.

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LESSONS LEARNED #36: “Politicians oppose across the board tax cuts because they are not politically expedient.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 21st, 2010

No King Ever Ruled Without the Consent of Money

There were kings.  And there were wealthy landowners.  Kings may have been sovereign.  But the wealth lies with, as you may guess, the wealthy landowners.  Kings needed money.  Because doing king ‘things’ got expensive.  War, armies, navies, festivals, feasts, castles, palaces, churches, etc., were very expensive.  So kings taxed their subjects to raise the money they needed to be king.  And when it came to money, the vast majority (i.e., the peasants) had little.  It was the peasants’ landlords who had the money.  And it was they who paid the bulk of the taxes.

But it was a two-way street.  Because it was their money, they, the wealthy landowners, had a say in how the king spent that money.  This was a restraint on the king’s power.  There were laws to protect the property rights of these landlords.  Now.  And in the future.  Property owners could pass their property on to their heirs.  As well as their political standing with the king.  Thus the rich and landed aristocracy passed on both their property and their nobility through inheritance.  Thus kings and Nobility lived by the consent of the other.  And they each lived by the consent of money.

The Roman emperors spent so much money near the end of the Roman Empire that they brought their advanced civilization to an end.  The landed aristocracy survived, though.  They just served a different sovereign.  The masses (i.e., the poor peasants) still worked the land.  The landlords still held the wealth.  Kings would come and go but this way of life (feudalism) remained.  Kings ruled as long as the landed aristocracy didn’t object too much.  Which they did in England in 1215.  The landed aristocracy met King John on the field of Runnymede.  Seeing his power was not absolute, the king reluctantly set his seal to the Magna Charter.  Constitutional monarchy would reign in England.  And England would reign supreme in the Old World.  And in the New World.

No Taxation Without Representation

The constitutional monarchy that developed consisted of the Crown and a bicameral Parliament.  The two houses of Parliament represented the needs of the few (the House of Lords) and the many (the House of Commons).  Thus the needs of the one (the sovereign), the few (the rich) and the many (the not rich) were balanced against each other.  It was a pretty good system.  The best in its time.  An English citizen had a better and more comfortable life with greater liberty than citizens of most other countries.

This liberalism unleashed a flurry of economic activity.  It created an empire.  International trade exploded.  England became a leader in farming and agriculture.  This knowhow spread throughout her empire.  As did her representative government.  Which they established in their North American colonies.  Perhaps a bit too firmly.  With the costs of world war came the need for higher taxes.  The British had just defeated the French and took possession of all their possessions in North America.  Her English subjects there were now free from French aggression.  And Parliament wanted these subjects to pick up a large part of that war tab.

Well, this didn’t go over well in the colonies.  For they had no representation in Parliament.  They had their own representative governing bodies in the colonies.  But they were subject to royal governors appointed by Parliament.  Without a vote in Parliament, they had no say in matters of taxation.  This was very un-English.  For the English nobility consented to taxation in exchange for having a say in how the king would spend those taxes.  As the landed aristocracy protested in 1215, the Americans protested this taxation without representation.  Eight war years later and America left the mother country.  Another few years later they ratified the Constitution and created the United States of America.  Which came to be because a governing body violated the sacred covenant between a king and his subjects.  A king may only rule as those who pay the kingdom’s taxes approve.

Universal Suffrage Increases Our Suffering

Because the new American government taxed property owners, property ownership was a requirement to vote.  In other words, those with the most to lose (those paying the taxes) had a say in how the government spent their taxes.  It kept the government honest.   By limiting the vote to those who had ‘skin in the game’ it made it hard for government to build palaces for themselves.  Because there was a direct connection between the source of funding and what that funding was used for.  The government may persuade the tax-paying voter for the need for a national postal system.  But a palatial palace was a much harder sell to the one footing the bill.  Especially when that person would never enjoy its benefit.

Such a system led to responsible government.  It minimized political corruption.  And if there is anything a politician doesn’t like it’s this.  They like corruption.  They thrive on it.  It’s their raison d’être.  And this responsibility thing just didn’t cut it.  They need people to vote who have no skin in the game.  People they can buy.  So they can live the good life.  Like in days of old.  Enter universal suffrage.  Where a politician can promise people other people’s money.

Wait a minute, you mean I can have a say in how other people spend their money?  Sweet.  Gimme gimme gimme.  I me mine.  Tax the rich.  Health care is an entitlement.  I mean, as long as someone else is paying, I’m for sale.  Promise me whatever I want and I will vote for you.  And forget what Benjamin Franklin warned us about: 

When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.

Money Talks; Egalitarianism Walks

It probably started with Martin Van Buren.  Creator of the Democrat Party.  He created the party machine.  Patronage.  Payoffs.  And buying votes.  Dirty, filthy politics began with him.  And the Democrat Party.  Beginning with the campaign for Andrew Jackson, politics have gotten worse ever since.

It’s about the money now more than ever.  With the power to tax, government has a near unlimited source of money.  And with it they can get power.  By promising money to people that don’t have money.  Lots of it.  Thanks to universal suffrage, they can bus as many poor, indigent and government-depended people to the polls as possible.  And the more of them the better.  For they will vote for whoever promises to give them the most free stuff.  And why not?  They have no skin in the game.

And by voting themselves a permanent entitlement, they will make themselves a permanent underclass.  Where they will remain poor, indigent and government-depended.  As government spending continues to grow unchecked, it will push people down the economic ladder until the middle class disappears.  There will be only the rich (the government and the government-connected).  And the poor.  Just like in days of old.  Which is the goal of our tax policy.  You see, across the board tax cuts do not enhance the dependency-power relationship.  But targeted tax cuts do.  That’s why Big Government favors a complicated tax code.  It enhances the dependency-power relationship.  That empowers Big Government.  Throws egalitarianism out the window.  And makes life good for the ruling elite.

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Hmmm, Help the Economy or Class War?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 17th, 2010

Do you know why some Democrats are now urging their leaders to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts?  That’s right, because Bush and the Republicans were right. 

The Democrats want to tax and spend.  But you can’t tax and spend if you don’t win reelection.  And there lies the problem.  They’ve crashed the economy.  Created a permanent underclass.  And shook down the average working stiff to pay for it.  The problem the Democrats have is that there are still too many people who want to have a job.  And until they can take the vote away from these people, they can’t just take their money.  They have to…represent them.  Yeech.  (That would be how these Democrats feel.  Personally, I feel that representing your constituent is a beautiful thing.  So rare these days.)

You see, Democrats are elitists.  They’re part of the Washington aristocracy (which includes RINOs, too).  Life was simpler in the 15th century.  Or so they would think.  And this is what they would say.  If they were honest. 

People knew their places in the 15th century.  The noble classes owned the land.  And the land was everything.  The lord of the manor enjoyed the good life while the peasants worked the land.  Feudalism.  The way it was supposed to be.  Not these days.  This uppity middle class works wherever they want and does whatever they wish.   With no deference to us.  We who are better than they.  No, they act, well, as if they are our equals.  Imagine that!  These impertinent, despicable guttersnipes.

But they’re not honest.  So they don’t say this.  But when they act against the will of the people, they don’t have to.  Their actions speak louder than words.

So now they must deign to listen to these voters.  And these voters want something that’s alien to them.  Jobs.  So they must turn to the alchemy of the Republican Party.  That mysterious witch’s brew.  They have no idea what it is.  But it stimulates the economy.  For real.  It’s one part tax cuts.  Something else.  They don’t know.  It’s all Greek to them.  They don’t know anything about the economy.  But when the Republicans get their way, a crap-load of money comes into Washington.  And they can take it from there.  For they know how to spend that money.  Their money.  So they’ll act like Republicans.  For a little while.  Just long enough to make it through another election cycle.  Then they can stop that nonsense and return to tax and spend.  With a great, big pile of new money.  Their money.  Yeah, that’s right.  To them, it’s all their money.  If only us dunderheads would get it through our thick skulls.

So the Washington aristocracy will call a temporary truce in the class war.  And they will try to stimulate the economy.  And this time it won’t be another spending bill to fund some underfunded union pension plan.  It’ll be something that actually stimulates.  Because it’s for real this time.  It’s election time.

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LESSONS LEARNED #13: “If you were to live under the socialist maxim ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his need’ you would find yourself surrounded by needy people with no ability.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 13th, 2010

KEY TO CIVILIZATION growth is the food supply.  Food surpluses in particular.  Before dependable food surpluses, life was short, harsh and miserable.  Especially for women.  When they weren’t working in the fields they were giving birth and raising children.  High infant mortality rates, though, inhibited population growth.  Most of the children women gave birth to didn’t survive to adulthood.  So there was a constant state of child rearing.  But few children survived to help with the business of family life.

Malnutrition and famine were common.  Feudalism provided a precarious balance between life and death.  For centuries the common people (i.e., peasants) eked out survival on their landlord’s manor.  The lord owned the land.  The peasants worked it.  Most of the bounty went to their lord.  But they kept what they grew on a small strip of land for themselves.  Just enough for subsistence.

But England changed all that.  By 1750, her agricultural output was second to none.  Private property.  Free market economy.  Capitalism.  Increased productivity.  Specialization.  These all combined to provide incentive.  Incentive produced food surpluses.  Food surpluses produced profits.  Reinvested profits improved farm yields.  This produced more profit.  And the cycle continued.  In less than a century feudalism would disappear from England.  There, you either worked land you owned or were paid wages to work land owned by others.  People began to live longer and healthier lives. 

The British Empire ruled the civilized world in the 19th century.  Representative government.  Abolition of slavery.  Free trade.  The Industrial Revolution.  These things, and others, gave them wealth, power and moral authority.  A lot of good came from this island kingdom.  Including the United States.  They weren’t perfect.  There was a learning curve.  But the modern capitalistic economy which they gave us liberated the masses.  It let us do what we wanted to do, not just what we had to do.  In particular, women, who could do more than just raise families and work in the fields.  One day, she could even become prime minister of Great Britain.

FOOD SURPLUSES BEGET industrialization.  Food surpluses beget everything, really.  Food surpluses release human capital to do everything else we do besides farming.  England was at the van of this modernization.  Others followed.  In time. 

Russia abolished serfdom (i.e., feudalism) in 1861.  Industrially backwards at the time, this liberty awakened a dormant human capital.  They followed the English model.  In time, with the advent of steamship and rail transportation, Russian grain competed with other European producers.

Joseph Stalin, looking to jump ahead in the industrialization process, implemented collective farming in the late 1920s.  He turned away from the English model.  The government became land owners.  It was feudalism on a grand scale.  Large collective farms would produce vast food surpluses that could feed industrial cities.  And there would still be surpluses left over to export to raise capital to build these industrial cities.  At least, that was the plan.

With less incentive came less productivity.  What land the former serfs had come to own was lost to the state.  The state took so much of the harvest that there was little food left for those who labored to grow it.  And the price the state paid for their crops was less than it was before collectivization.  The ‘free’ serfs were earning less and working more.  They didn’t like it.  And chose not to participate.  Collectivization became forced collectivization. 

Deportations, terror, murder and famine followed.  Perhaps more than 5 million starved to death during the famine of 1931 and 1932.  Others were to follow.

Forced collective farming produced famines elsewhere.  In China, during Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, forced collectivization produced even greater famine deaths.  Historians estimate that 20-30 million, maybe more, starved to death in the famine of 1959–62.  Though hard numbers aren’t available, North Korea suffered a devastating famine in the late 1990s that claimed millions.  But in the West, in the 20th century, famine was unheard of.  When the United States suffered during the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s, there was no corresponding famine despite the loss of productive farmland.

WITH INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY comes incentive.  With incentive comes productivity.  A small island nation of free land owners could produce grain to feed themselves with surplus left over for export.  Nations with great fertile tracts farmed by forced collectivization led to famine.  Slaves have little incentive other than to subsist.  The collective good means little to them when they are starving.  They continue to sacrifice.  And continue to suffer.  Even if they do produce a few more bushels of grain.  So if the suffering is the same, what is the incentive to work harder?

As individual liberty declines, those in power tend to exploit those they rule.  In the name of the state.  Or the common good.  This is easy to see when it results in famine or revolution.  Not easy to hide those things.  But it is a little more difficult to see when the results are more benign.  Longer unemployment benefits, for example.  I mean, those are pretty nice.  Hard to see the downside in them.  As it is in other benefits these rulers give us.  So we are seduced as they whisper these sweet nothings in our ears.  And soon we willingly cede our liberty.  A little at a time.

WITH THE RISE of individual liberty, there was a corresponding decline in the ruling elite thanks to representative government.  Great Britain gave this gift to us and the United States took it to incredible heights.  The oppressed everywhere immigrated to the United States to feed a growing industrial demand.  Being new, we did not know all the affects of industrialization.  When the bad things came to light, we addressed them.  Great Britain, for example, was one of the first to protect women and children from the worse of industrial society.  Still, working conditions could be harsh.  As could life in the industrial cities.  Poverty.  Filth.  Disease.  And it was the wretched state of life in these slums that gave birth to a new school of thought on industrialization. 

In 1844 Friedrich Engels wrote The Condition of the English Working-Class to expose life in these slums.  He would collaborate 4 years later with Karl Marx on a treatise called The Communist Manifesto.  And from this Marxism, Communism, socialism, collectivism, etc., would follow.  As economic systems go, these would all prove to be failures.  But the essence of them lives on.  State planning.

You see, it was capitalism that gave us the industrial slums.  And that was good propaganda for a ruling elite looking to rule again.  So they whispered sweet nothings into our ears.  They talked about a Social Utopia.  From each according to his ability to each according to his need.  Fair taxation (i.e., only the ‘rich’ pay taxes).  Social safety nets (paid for by taxes of the rich).  Shorter workdays.  Longer paid vacations.  More government benefits.  A burgeoning welfare state.  Free stuff for everyone.  Again, paid for by taxing the rich who have exploited the working class.

What evolved was the elimination of the middle class.  You had the evil rich (and the middle class were, for all intents and purposes, rich because they didn’t need government help) whose wealth the government taxed away.  And the poor.  The poor who the government would now take care of.  If elected.  And they were.  They seduced a great many people with their utopian vision.  Even in the West. 

Great Britain and the United States would fall to this seductress, too, thanks to the Great Depression.  It was capitalism that gave us the Great Depression, after all.  The greed of the money people.  And so these great nations declined from greatness.  They became welfare states, too.  They had short respites during the 1980s.  Margaret Thatcher helped rejuvenate Great Britain.  Ronald Reagan, the United States.  But the ruling elite whispered more sweet nothings in our ears and the decline continues.

In 2010, our appetite for state benefits appears to be insatiable.  And we may have run out of wealth to tax away to pay for it.  California is on the brink of bankruptcy.  New Jersey elected a governor who proposed draconian spending cuts to stave off bankruptcy.  Other ‘blue’ states (i.e., states who vote Democrat) are also in trouble.  Underfunded pension obligations.  Demands of teacher unions.  Of government worker unions.  Everyone is there with their hand out.  None of them are willing to sacrifice for the common good.  No, they expect others to do the sacrificing.

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION has increased federal spending to such record levels that Communist China is concerned about our fiscal/monetary policies.  As they should be; they hold a lot of our debt.  The federal government has ‘bailed out’ private industry and taken de facto control.  They have created a healthcare entitlement that will cost more than a trillion dollars.  More spending is coming.  And it is all for the greater good.  They are vilifying those who are not poor, taxing away what wealth they can from them and giving it to the poor.  When about half the electorate doesn’t pay any income taxes, there is little opposition to raising taxes on those who do.  For if the ‘rich’ complain, the government vilifies them.

Where will it all end?  It is difficult to say.  How will it end?  Badly.  We can look at Europe who we seem to be emulating.  They’re further down The Road to Serfdom than we are.  With the excessive government spending, there will have to be greater government revenue (i.e., taxes).  Previous methods of taxation may prove insufficient.  Hello value added tax (VAT).  It’s all the rage in Europe.  It’s a multiple tax.  At every stage of production, government is there.  Taxing.  From the raw materials to the final assembly, government is there at every stage.  Taxing.  VATs will increase government revenue.  But they will also make every day life more expensive.  VATs increase the sales price of everything you buy.  And you pay it again at checkout.  It’s everywhere.  Everything will cost more.  From manicures to lattes to toilet paper to tampons.  And this is a tax everyone pays.  Even the poor.  It is a regressive tax.  The rich will pay more, but the poor will feel it more.  This hidden tax will take a larger portion of what little the poor has.

But how bad can it really get?  In 2010, I guess the answer would be to look at Greece to see what happens when a country can no longer sustain her welfare state.  And the people aren’t all that keen on losing the government benefits they’ve grown accustomed to.  It isn’t pretty.  But when you start down that road (from each according to his ability to each according to his need), the taking and giving always get bigger.  It never gets smaller.  And when you reach a critical point, government just can’t sustain it any longer.  And it crashes.  Like in Greece.

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