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Riding the Economic Merry-Go-Round

Gadfly | March 21st, 2024

By Ed Raymond

fargogadfly@gmail.com

The Catacombs under Paris Contain the Bones of Millions of Feudalists

Sixty-five feet below the Paris streets are about 170 miles of tunnels that go through stone quarries, galleries, and ossuaries that contain the bones of six million French who died between the 9th and 18th centuries. Along the tunnel walls are ossuaries where human bones are stacked in the form of crosses, hearts, and even a structure called the Eiffel Tower. The entrance is in the Montparnasse where one can take a 131-step spiral staircase down to the tunnels. But first, you must have permission from the catacomb police. A person who enjoys the tunnels and the stacks of skulls and bones is known as a cataphile. The catacombs were born when Paris streets collapsed because much of the limestone under the city was quarried. Several cemeteries had to be moved, so the bones were stacked in the ossuaries underground. Only parts of the maze are accessible to visitors and cataphiles.

The bones in the ossuaries are from people who lived under feudalism and various capitalistic systems ranging from disaster to black plague to chaos capitalism for at least 900 years. The feudal system was and still is a combination oflegal, economic, military, cultural, and political systems dominated by lords, warriors, kings, queens, knights, and served by millions of vassals and peasants. The Roman Catholic Church and many popes also played key roles in both feudalism and the attempts at capitalism. Life was not easy for the poor millions. The New Yorker magazine recently ran a cartoon featuring two peasants in rags, dirt, and sores working the fields below a beautiful huge castle on top of a “shining hill.” They are close to shacks where they evidently live. One says to the other: “It sure doesn’t feel like the Renaissance.” The line captures the moment. There is dramatic evidence that we are about to surrender democracy and economics to a rebirth of feudalism. Elites are busy resurrecting huge estates on great expanses.

Democracy is Dying and Its Bones will be Buried in Ossuaries around the World

We have historians who write we are beginning to go through the Fourth Industrial Revolution and are ending the capitalism and democracy that came out of the Third Industrial Revolution. Karl Marx in the 19th Century said capitalism freed workers from being poor vassals who were bound to labor for a noble lord and master on land given to him by a king or queen. Finally, workers were free again to exchange work for money—or were free to starve if they didn’t want to work. Yanis Varoufakis in his book “Technofeudalism; What Killed Capitalism” is claiming “the scales have dipped” to a new form of feudalism that strips capitalism of many of its good features. He is the former finance minister of Greece which has been going through economic troubles and debt crises for at least a decade with the European Union.

His arguments are supported by media theorist McKenzie Wark’s “Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse?” They both blame “Big Tech”—Amazon, Apple, Meta, Alphabet, and Microsoft—for being huge markets themselves instead of participating in the markets of countries. As an example, Amazon is dominant because it can sell things made by somebody else better than they can peddle. The developers and owners of the big five have become the richest people on earth. Bill Gates of Microsoft owns more farmland than anybody else in the Divided States of America. Jeff Bezos of Amazon takes turns with Elon Musk of Tesla, SpaceX, and X in being the richest man in the world. Mark Zuckerberg of Meta and Facebook has built one of the world’s best survival bunkers on a Hawaiian island complete with a runway and private jet. Apple still controls the cellphone market and is the biggest in the latest virtual stuff. Alphabet, Inc. is based on Google and lots of other money making enterprises. These companies have built huge feudal estates where many of their workers serve as vassals because they cannot afford to live close enough to commute.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich was prescient in 1995 about chaos capitalism in the future in a speech that got him in trouble with President Bill Clinton: “My friends, we are on the way to becoming a two-tiered society composed of a few winners and a larger group of Americans left behind, whose anger and disillusionment are easily manipulated. Once unbottled, mass resentment can poison the very fabric of society. The moral integrity of society, replacing ambition with envy. Replacing intolerance with hate. Today the targets of that rage are immigrants and welfare mothers and government officials and gays, and an ill-defined counterculture. But as the middle class continues to erode, who will be the targets tomorrow?” This is a perfect description of what’s happening in 2024.

Evidence We are Returning to Medieval Feudalism Instead of Democratic Socialism

Because of chaos and disaster capitalism of the last half century, new home construction, insufficient in numbers, is down to 2,179 square feet in just the last year. Smaller new homes have been the norm in the last decade, dropping 4% in size in just one year. New homes in 2015 were slightly above 2,500 square feet. Smaller in size means more marketability, lower building costs, and a 6% drop in new-home prices. Townhouse styles are more popular in 2024 because they can be built taller on smaller lots and have fewer expensive windows, doors, and cabinets. They also can be described as starter homes for many, addressing another critical shortage in housing. Andy Winkler, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, says: “This is a trend driven by how just unaffordable housing has become, with sky-high prices, rising interest rates, and so few homes for sale.”

Median house prices have jumped 28% in the last four years to $418,000, mortgage rates have doubled to 7.79%, the highest rate in 23 years. Entry-level homes are presently averaging $243,000. Three large companies based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, are building 600 entry-level homes to attract employees because adequate housing is so scarce in the area. D.R. Horton, the country’s largest home builder, sold 82,000 units last year at under $400,000 that averaged 900 square feet, the smallest in 20 years. Toll Brothers, high-end builders who have been building and selling homes in the $1 million range, have decided to build much smaller homes starting at about $400,000 because of changes in the housing market.

There are now 110 million renters in the Divided States of America and the latest Harris Poll says flatly: “The American dream of owning your own home is dead.” The median rent today is $1,964, up 29% in the last three years. Evictions are soaring and the homeless rate is at its highest. Renters want to buy a home, but 61% of renters said they are worried they will never be able to, and the same percentage reported that no matter how hard they worked, they will never be able to afford a home. To the statement “my area has become so unaffordable it’s barely livable,” 62% of renters and 38% of homeowners agree. To the statement “my rent/mortgage is the number one reason I can’t get ahead financially,” 65% of renters and 34% of homeowners agree. The housing market is suffering from inflation of prices. In 2013, 50% of the listings were affordable to the typical household, but in 2023, only 16% were affordable to the same household. Four of ten homeowners say their home insurance went way up, because of so many natural disasters in their general area. In fact, many large insurance companies are pulling out of Florida and California because of losses to climate change disasters. Many homeowners in those states are living without home insurance.

The elite and noble rich have so much money left to spend from dodging the IRS and filing tax havens from Panama to the Bahamas to little islands in the Pacific back to South Dakota and Delaware, they are putting cash in hedge funds and buying thousands of rental properties to gouge money from the poor and middle class. The largest provider of single homes to rent is the private equity firm Progress Residential which has purchased 90,000 properties in some of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the US. Tenants in Minneapolis, forming a group called United Renters for Justice, maintain a list of horrors created by Progress Residential: “Rental homes are badly maintained, with black mold, pest infestations, broken windows, cracked foundations, insufficient heat in winter, insufficient air conditioning in summer, basement walls crumbling, and back and front doors which are not secure.” Now, that is plain ugly. I wonder what is happening in Florida where it has 18,000 homes, in Georgia with 15,000, and in Arizona with 8,000.

Trickle-Down Economics has been used for Thousands of Years with same Result

This economic policy has been used by pharaohs, kings, queens, tribal leaders, governors, presidents, and popes and it always has had the same climate change-it rains more poverty. Senator Bernie Sanders, who wants a 32-hour week instead of a 40,describes the conditions in the country with the greatest economic inequality in the world: “Today, the weekly wage for the average American worker, despite the huge increase in technology and worker productivity, is actually lower than it was 50 years ago, back in 1971. Unbelievable. So what we have seen for fifty years is workers and the middle class falling deeper and deeper into economic despair. People are working incredible hours, in many cases, they’re going nowhere in a hurry.” Like the vassals and peasants in the feudal estates, like the pyramid builders in Egypt, like the Mayan stone cutters. A recent National Economic Commission report revealed: “For the first time in a century, the 400 richest American families paid lower taxes in 2018 than people in the middle class.”

Homelessness, which by public count, had stayed between 500,000 and 600,000 for a decade, has jumped to 650,000 in 2023—and most guess the count is low. And now we must add to the count 1.5 million Americans who attend college classes but cannot additionally afford food and shelter, so they live on friend’s sofas, in tents, and in their old cars. Many 18-34 year old students still live in their parent’s basements. This, while many European countries offer free college. Why? Because we rank 31st in tax rate of the top industrialized countries according to Gross National Product and tax rate. Positively feudal. Comparing life expectancy with countries that offer free college is revealing: Japan-87.6, France-85.5, Australia-85.4, Sweden-85.0, Canada-84.7, Germany-83.4, United Kingdom-82.8, Divided States of America- 79.3. Sanders ruminates further: “While the very richest in America are becoming richer, we have more income and wealth inequality than we’ve ever had in the history of the country. 60% of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and half of Americans between the ages of 55 to 66 have no retirement savings. Meanwhile, workers continue to struggle with unaffordable healthcare and childcare.”

Perhaps we should start figuring out what an extra year of life is worth.

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