Time to bring back the term “feudalism”

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 12:22 EDT
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Sarah Jaffe has an amazing piece at Feministe about the turn that class warfare has taken in recent years.

Aggravated today by a New York Times story in which striking Verizon workers were forced to argue that their wages weren’t, in fact, “too high”–seeing them make the very valid point that living in the New York area and raising a family on $40,000-$70,000 a year doesn’t actually make them rich–I tweeted angrily:

“How the hell did we get into a world where workers making $60,000 are overpaid but CEOs making millions are overtaxed?”

I don’t tend to have that many Republican or libertarian Twitter followers, but when Kirsten Powers, a Fox News contributor, retweeted me, I was deluged with replies, some of which I’m reposting here (without user names, since I don’t know if these folks would care to share):

“becuase they are paying all those 60k wages. Without them, the people making 60k are unemployed.”

“Who assumes the most risk?”

“Pay is dependent upon what you accomplish for the company. If you make 60K and are not being productive..”

“If you have to threaten people with violence to earn $60K, you are overpaid.”

“because you can’t punish success. It’s anti-capitalist.”

“The workers making $60K accepted it while CEO’s demanded more, but how does the CEO’s wage negatively affect the $60K guy?”

I personally wasn't aware that the CEO of Verizon did all the work of building towers, working with customers, running accounts, and making sales.  But according to these guys, Verizon is simply a charity organization and "jobs" are actually welfare checks that hard-working CEOs write to people who don't work, presumably out of the kindness of their hearts.  How that's "capitalism", I don't know, but I will say this: Then why are they so upset at the strike? 

I mean, if the CEO is the only "productive" person at Verizon, then all of the "non-productive" people can go on strike and business should carry on without a blip, right?  You can't really have it both ways, believing that working people are leeches who contribute nothing, and then throwing yourself on the ground kicking and screaming when the non-productive leeches of the world stop contributing.  That literally makes no sense at all.  That's like being mad that a complete stranger who has never spoken to you tries to file for divorce against you.  You might be a little perturbed, but you're not like, "How dare they want to divorce me?!"  They can't divorce you.  You weren't married.  

Seriously, wingnuts, choose.  Either the workers contribute nothing to the company and therefore don't deserve compensation, or strikes are bad.  You can't have it both ways.  

Since their argument contradicts itself, I think it's time to consider the possibility that all this blather about "production" is just a cover story.  We need to start judging them by their actions instead of their illogical rhetoric.  And their actions suggest one very solid theme: a belief that this country shouldn't have a middle class.  That's what drove so much anger at Sarah, was her assumption that people who work for a living should get middle class wages.  The notion that someone, somewhere might work a full-time job for more money than what it keeps to barely keep them alive so they can work more sends these people around the bend.  

Which is why I propose dusting off an old term and bringing it back in fashion to describe their  ideology.  The current ones are insufficient.  "Libertarian" makes no sense, because they oppose the rights of workers to collectively demand better wages, a fairly basic liberty.  Instead, they expect these people to work hard and slobber gratefully that their masters tolerate paying them at all.  Nor are they really "conservative" in any meaningful sense.  I don't like conservatives, but conservatives are people who object to social progress.  But the existence of an American middle class has been around for a century now, and conservatives in the past were far less likely to object to its existence on the ideological grounds that no one but the rich deserve to have squat.

There's really only one term for people who believe, as a matter of ideology, that a handful of people deserve to own everything and the rest of us should living lives of endless work and squalor, with perhaps a slender class of people who get paid pretty handsomely to protect the interests of those who own everything: feudalists.  That's the system that they're clearly advocating for, albeit in modern terms, where the billionaires and company owners are our kings, top executives are the knight class, and everyone else is a peasant who works to death, gets four hours off for church on Sunday, and needs to be grateful that his masters allow him that.  

I bet if you groused on Twitter that the Koch brothers are supporting a return to droit du seigneur for CEOs with regards to their male employees' spouses, Kirsten Powers would retweet it so as to bring a calvacade of outrage on your head.  It's in our future, people.  I can't wait until a sea of Fox News advocates starts tweeting at Sarah, "Right, like some Verizon employee can really give good wedding night to his bride like CEO Lowell McAdam.  The workers produce nothing, so why should they be the ones to get the wedding night benefits?"

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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