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Neofeudalism? In YOUR Nonprofit? (It's more likely than you think)

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Are you looking to hire someone in your nonprofit? Are you considering different resumes, and thinking about “should we hire this person who has been unemployed for awhile, or someone who has a job currently?”

Here’s the startling truth about long-term unemployed people.

Paul Krugman recently wrote

Five years after the economic crisis, unemployment remains elevated, with almost 12 million Americans out of work. But what’s really striking is the huge number of long-term unemployed, with 4.6 million unemployed more than six months and more than three million who have been jobless for a year or more. Oh, and these numbers don’t count those who have given up looking for work because there are no jobs to be found. . . .

It gets worse. ” William Dickens and Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University recently showed, the relationship has broken down for the long-term unemployed: a rising number of job openings doesn’t seem to do much to reduce their numbers. It’s as if employers don’t even bother looking at anyone who has been out of work for a long time.

To test this hypothesis, Mr. Ghayad then did an experiment, sending out résumés describing the qualifications and employment history of 4,800 fictitious workers. Who got called back? The answer was that workers who reported having been unemployed for six months or more got very few callbacks, even when all their other qualifications were better than those of workers who did attract employer interest.”

This is one of the three primary characteristics of feudalism: a large exploited underclass.

A feudal society is comprised of

  1. A nobility (think the 1%);
  2. The military (the USA has the largest military in the world and spends more on it than the rest of the nations combined);
  3. A large exploited underclass, aka the 20+ million jobless.

Thus, the USA has all the characteristics of what can now be identified as a neo-feudal society.

Neofeudalism seems to serve those on the top just fine, and many of those who are not on the top of the food chain seem reluctant to believe that the system has been restructured to exploit them.

Umair Haque writes,

What does neofeudalism look like? It has five key characteristics:

1 – Neoserfdom. In a neofeudal order, serfs pay tribute to be protected from harm. In a social contract, people invest collectively in public goods that offer real benefits. They’re mirror images. We’re arcing towards the former: tribute is paid to be protected from harm by institutions with the credibility and power to inflict it, whether banks, corporations, or governments. The simplest example of tribute is the shifting of bailout costs onto the public balance sheet—as are the monopoly rents that corporations earn by virtue of their size, privilege, and structure. The second aspect of neoserfdom, of course, is insecurity: not having a personal balance sheet, but being perpetually and asymmetrically indebted to (literally, in soft and hard debt to) those with assets—not by virtue of an economic exchange, but purely by accident of birth, class, or social position.

Look at all of the student debt passing 1 TRILLION in the US, or all of the credit card debts that are impossible for the long-term unemployed to pay off, not to mention the medical debts.

2 – Output fetishism. The point of neoserfdom, of course, is to maximize output. The axis around which a feudal economy spun was surplus (grain, gold, etc)—channelled upwards, gathered at the very top, often literally to a single family. In a neofeudal order, that simple surplus fetishism is replaced by output fetishism—you’re in hock so you can produce (and acquire) industrial output.

This means that you work all the time so you can afford the house and the car and whatever other big purchases society dictates you must have to be “successful.”

3 – Kleptarchy. In a neofeudal order, governance as we know it isn’t. A combination of kleptocracy (“rule of thieves”), where elites loot states, and oligarchy, where the looting of states sustains elites, replaces democracy (or even American quasi-democracy). The point of neoserfdom isn’t merely to entrench the gains of kleptocrats, who subvert the institutions of the common good not merely for personal gain, but to structurally alter the fabric of wealth, income, opportunity, and capability, eviscerating the concept of society.

Talk about rule of thieves, look at Nike in Oregon right now. They had a tax break that would have funnelled $20 million into Oregon’s schools every year. When their tax break original agreement ended, they threatened to leave the state unless the governor gave them more tax breaks, which is what he did. At the expense of millions of children in the public school system.

4 – Patronage. In a neofeudal polity, patronage replaces meritocracy. “Success” for an organization, coalition, or person is to become a client of a powerful patron, pledging your services (soft and hard, informal and formal), in perpetual alignment with the patron’s interests. This is the story of Congress, for example, pledging allegiance to banks, showering them with bailouts and guarantees, not merely unable to—but incapable of—reforming them. Or nonprofits getting wealthy patrons who wish to atone for their economic “sins.”

5 – Cronyism. There are no markets in a neofeudal order—there are tiny, closed, exclusive networks of patrons, directing the flow of a once-society’s set of resources. As such, “competition” doesn’t really exist; just the marketing of competition; and all the attendant flaws of a lack of competition are produced (stagnation, unnovation, monopoly) The reverse is also true: instead of institutionalized redistribution (think basic safety nets), transfers in a neofeudal order depend on the whims of the kleptarchs. Bill Gates made billions as a textbook monopolist, eviscerating an entire industry for decades—and now, he’s showering that money on “good causes”. Sound familiar? It should, it’s the role the church often plays in a classic feudal order. Yet, if we had a working order, the cycle above would have been broken from the beginning—no monopoly, more efficient distribution, legitimized social choice directing it (instead of Bill Gates’ preferences).

So instead of having to know someone who knows someone at a foundation, imagine if there was enough government money and services to do for the community what they need.

If you’d like to fight neo-feudalism, what can you do?

Start with your nonprofit. Hire people who have been out of work for 6 months or more.

Support the rolling jubilee, that buys student debt for pennies on the dollar, so debt consolidators and debt collectors don’t get the money.

Support Student Loan Justice and Occupy Student Debt, nonprofits that have helped 1 million students default in protest of the student debt peonage system.

If you need to repair your credit, go here to find a kit with sample letters for you.

Start questioning why things have to be this way. Ask people to learn the vocabulary I’ve shared with you.

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