Monday, January 2, 2012

Neofeudalism Book Prospectus


Below is a large chunk of my proposal for my book on Neofeudalism. I have to write it still but I've outlined the project. Let me know what you think:


A new term circulates in the electronic sphere of internet-based communications. That term is “neofeudalism.” Neofeudalism is used by social critics to describe the global polarization of wealth and the centralization of power that has become increasingly evident over the last ten years. The feudal lords have today assumed the guise of transnational corporations (TNC) and powerful governmental institutions, which together control the vast majority of global resources, such as energy inputs and production processes, fresh water, and food. Contemporary neofeudal entities, like their ancient prototypes, offer some protection for their bonded workers, even while exploiting their labor. Those individuals lacking contractual relationships with contemporary neofeudal powers are literally left to die. Contemporary neofeudal relations are illustrated by U.S. Gulf area residents sickened by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Fukushima citizens left to die in radiation-contaminated zones. These examples dramatize an evolving social order that fails to protect livelihoods and offers little-to-no opportunities for the vast majority of the world’s population, despite the order’s capacities to generate tremendous wealth for elites. 

                However, the parallels between neofeudalism and feudalism are more figurative than literal and this project does not seek to elucidate specific correspondences. Rather, it aims to describe how late twentieth-century neoliberal economic and social institutions and governing logics are ceding to a new form of social organization labeled neofeudalism. The U.S. is the primary focus for analysis because as the dominant global national actor, the U.S. and U.S. based corporations have tried to impose a narrow set of governance preferences upon other nations across the planet, directly and indirectly, in concert with institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO and through trade agreements, lending, foreign aid, and outright military action. 

U.S. Government and Western corporate imperialism have been well-documented in the literature on neoliberalism so this project will not rehearse the record ranging from the 1980s through 2007.[i]  Instead, this project focuses on the consolidation of wealth and power and the amplification of economic and political dispossession in the wake of the financial crisis that began in 2007.  Emerging in the aftermath of the financial crisis is a world order dominated by a few governments and corporations that have unprecedented control over global resources and appear to have little-to-no-regard for the welfare of the vast majority of the world’s populace, even within developed economies, such as the U.S.

   Monopoly capitalism is name of the game. During the height of the great financial crisis, secret Federal Reserve loans to the biggest banks totaling $7.7 trillion enabled them to reap $13 billion in profits[ii]. As of 2010, six U.S. banks, held assets in excess of 63 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic.[iii] Monopolies are not restricted to finance: energy and food industries are also consolidated. For instance, three companies control ninety percent of the global grain trade (Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, and Cargill) and Monsanto monopolizes seventy percent of the transgenic corn market and more than eighty percent of the transgenic soybean market.[iv] The consolidation of wealth and power in relatively few corporations is mirrored by the consolidation of wealth among the wealthiest U.S. citizens. For example, the top .1% of the U.S. population, about 315,000 individuals, receives half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property and these gains constitute sixty percent of the total income made by the Forbes 400.[v]
 
While U.S. corporate profits have reached unprecedented levels, both in absolute dollars and as a share of the economy, unemployment is at its highest level since the Great Depression.[vi] Over one half (fifty-five percent) of Americans’ wages were affected in the forms of job layoffs, wage and hour cut backs, and unpaid furloughs during the recession years of 2007 to 2009. Thirty-two percent of Americans reported unemployment during that period. On average, U.S. citizens lost twenty percent of their household wealth from 2007 to 2009 (Pew Research Center, 2010).[vii] Data published in 2011 indicate that fourteen percent, or one in six Americans, lives below the official poverty threshold.[viii] The losses of household wealth, wages, and benefits are ongoing and point to the growing impoverishment of the nation at the same time that the federal government is proposing widespread cuts in social spending, particularly in the area of health (but not military spending or financial bailouts).[ix]
 
The growing polarization of wealth and power within the U.S. and across the globe has not gone unremarked. The International Forum on Globalization (IFG) issued a report in 2011 describing an evolving “plutonomy” characterized by corporate power and the unfettered influence of “a new dangerous class of politically dominant billionaires”:
Plutonomy.” A newer threat cited for the first time by the board was the astonishing emergence of a new dangerous class of politically dominant billionaires. Operating on a global scale, as well as within countries, these oligarchs are increasingly able to relate to the world nearly as if it was their own feudal enterprise, generally out of view, and with few controls. Recognizing the realities of resources limits, many of these individuals now see their profit opportunities as no longer solely dependent on corporate economic growth, but equally on systemic control of vital resources, including food and water.[x]
First use of the term “plutonomy” to describe the evolving economic distribution was a 2005 Citigroup document dated October 16, 2005 titled, “Equity Strategy: Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances.” The document describes a world “dividing into two blocs—the plutonomies, where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few, and the rest.”[xi] The U.S. is a “key” plutonomy characterized by “disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments, an international dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law, and patenting inventions.”[xii] Technology that replaces workers, financial “innovations” capable of accumulating wealth outside of production (e.g., through securities transactions), and through overseas colonial exploitation of resources and labor are the mechanisms whereby wealth is accumulated by the evolving order. Governance by plutonomy is a characteristic feature of the evolving neofeudal order. However, rule by a few is but one feature of neofeudalism. Material scarcity is another feature that will play an important role in the conflicts that will define neofeudalism.

The book develops this argument that a new, neofeudal order is arising in three distinct ways. First, it examines the economic outcomes of the great recession in relation to the consolidation of wealth and power among a relatively few corporations and individuals and the lack of opportunity and growing impoverishment for the majority of the U.S. population. The financialization of the U.S. economy will be seen as a primary factor in promoting wealth consolidation, but the shift toward the FIRE paradigm (finance, insurance, and real estate) was itself encouraged by rising energy prices and monopolistic competition between corporations in mature markets. Energy availability and costs are addressed in terms of their economic impact and the monopolistic control of energy infrastructures, resources, and innovations. Energy, finance, and the military-industrial complex are the triadic forces that have governed liberalism and their collective influence is shaping neofeudal trajectories. 

If the power of finance explains the lopsided U.S. governmental response to the financial crisis, it is the power of energy industries that explains the utter disregard for human life that is defining the early years of the twenty-first century. Thus, the second main part of this book provides two very specific case examples that illustrate the global power of transnational energy companies and their blatant disregard for the welfare of populations, even when facing death, using the examples of the BP Gulf oil spill in 2010 and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. The argument will be made that the scale of these crises together eclipse nearly all other human wrought disasters and that they alone are capable of killing millions. Yet, as will be documented, the response of governments, especially the U.S. government, has been to deny risks and hide evidence of contamination threatening the health of the biosphere. 

Third, the book examines the growing climate and water-based vulnerabilities of the world’s food supply, in conjunction with the deterioration of food security and nutrition. Food production is becoming less reliable in a context of increasingly erratic weather brought on by climate change. Furthermore, the centralization and homogenization of agricultural production create the conditions of possibility for mass crop failures. Mass-scale industrialization of farming enables a few transnational corporations to gain control of formerly locally owned agriculture producing “radical monopolies” of a few, homogeneous crops (e.g., wheat, palm oil, corn) that offer efficiencies of scale under ideal operating conditions, but are also subject to mass failures brought upon by drought, crop diseases, and/or transportation disruptions.[xiii] Furthermore, the shrinking availability of fertile land and fresh water in conjunction with land speculation by wealthy individuals, hedge-funds, and sovereign wealth funds are fueling speculative “land grabs,” particularly in Africa, that often take land out of local production.[xiv] Together, these factors suggest that growing, widespread food and water shortages loom and these will exacerbate authoritarian responses on the part of governments and fuel interstate conflicts.

The book concludes by examining increasing authoritarianism in purportedly democratic societies such as the US and, concomitant, instances of spontaneous resistance to the emerging new feudal order. Over the last ten years the U.S. instituted a vast surveillance network[xv], militarized its domestic policing,[xvi] and essentially eliminated habeas corpus with the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill.[xvii] Authoritarianism breeds resistance and resistance is growing, both within the U.S. and globally. Yet, resistance movements face authoritarian responses because widespread discontent is likely to be framed as threats to “state security.” This chapter examines the opportunities and challenges of organized resistance to evolving neofeudal order.

This prospectus introduces neofeudalism as a popular and academic construct before outlining the proposed chapters. Marketing information is provided at close of the prospectus.

Neofeudalism: The Idea and Project Development

                Neoliberalism names the contours of the global system that emerged in the early 1980s through the efforts of western governments, transnational corporations, and international governance institutions including trade organizations and conventions (e.g., WTO) and international governmental banks (IMF, World Bank, Bank of International Settlements). Arguably, the biggest transnational players responsible for influencing economic trajectories and national industrial priorities include the financial industry, energy industries (oil and nuclear), “defense”/weapons industries, and chemical and seed industries (e.g., Monsanto, Dow). The neoliberal order has been described in greater detail elsewhere, but, briefly summarized, its homogenizing mantra includes privatization, de-regulation, “free” trade, unregulated capital flows, and limits on social-welfare spending. These policies benefit the dominant financial, energy, and chemical/seed industries based in the U.S. by facilitating their expansion globally. Resistance to U.S. energy and strategic agendas by developing nations results in financial and military repercussions, as evidenced by increasing U.S. military assaults against countries in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Pakistan, and Yemen. Defense contractors have thrived in the endless wars that commenced with the US assault against Iraq and Afghanistan after the September 11 attack in 2001.

Although the neoliberal mantra was never fully implemented and its expressions took many forms depending upon the unique characteristics of each country, the net result of neoliberal policies in the developing world was growing impoverishment, inequality and fewer governmental supports for impoverished populations.[xviii] Neoliberal policies in the developed economies were not uniformly applied, particularly in Western Europe by the institutionalized social-welfare state. The U.S., perhaps more than any other developed economy, incorporated neoliberal logics and policies by instituting “free trade” in the absence of labor and environmental protections (e.g., NAFTA), by de-regulating industry and underfunding regulatory institutions, and by dismantling social-welfare programs (e.g., Clinton’s welfare reform) vastly expanding the state’s repressive policing of poor populations while increasingly outsourcing penal operations to private contractors.

                The neoliberal order produced all manner of cultural dissent in both developed and developing economies. Trade unionists, artists, activists and academics across the globe decried the economic instability and insecurity produced by the neoliberal order, as well as the growing use of force to guarantee it in the form of private security forces and invading armed forces, particularly those led by the US after September 11. Within the U.S., leftist critiques of the neoliberal order have proliferated and circulate on the Internet as engaging activists, such as Naomi Klein and John Perkins, and gadfly journalists (e.g., Matt Taibbi and Max Keiser) offer concise critiques in YouTube videos. Right-leaning, libertarian heroes, such as Alex Jones, offer slightly more conspiratorial accounts, but often share the left’s alarm about unfettered corporate power and growing militarization of US policing and surveillance. Anarchist youtube videos warn of a sinister “new world order” aimed at producing a one-world government that would control all critical natural resources while seeking to depopulate the planet.
               
The financial crisis that so surprised U.S. government authorities in the fall of 2007 was not so surprising to the populist critics who had observed two decades of widespread fraud and corruption in US corporate accounting and financial services (e.g., Enron, Waste Management, the dot.com crash, etc.). Perhaps what did surprise observers was the entirely lopsided response on the part of the U.S. government. The U.S. government spent trillions backstopping the banks and insurance companies by while only $787 billion was allocated to stimulus spending, almost none of which was dedicated to relieving the underlying problem of inflated mortgages and collapsing credit for average Americans.[xix]  The U.S. taxpayers’ exposure to the troubled insurer of credit default swaps, AIG, was $163 billion alone by March of 2009. Goldman Sachs, which was not part of the FDIC program and therefore ineligible for government aid, received $70 billion in combined funds from TARP, the Federal Reserve, AIG, and the FDIC.[xx]  In contrast, struggling homeowners received no government assistance and many continued to lose their homes in the wake of evidence of widespread foreclosure fraud and evidence that banks that received bailout funds had deliberately indebted local communities.[xxi]

Government’s priorities were reflected in the lopsided allocation of funds to banks, including investment banks that should not have been eligible for relief, and the unlimited backstopping of AIG’s credit default swaps while average Americans saw work hours and income collapse. Furthermore, the US government declined to prosecute those financial agents responsible for the crisis, for betting against clients, and for profiteering subsequently in rampant foreclosure fraud.[xxii] Economist Simon Johnson observed: "The US increasingly displays characteristics that we have seen many times in middle-income “emerging markets” – new dimensions of vast inequality, forms of financial instability that benefit the best connected, and consistently easy credit for the privileged."[xxiii]

                The collective welfare of the population was clearly not the priority of US policy makers nor was it the priority of the U.S. based transnational corporations it succored. The dispossession of the population was confirmed by the events and response to BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 and then subsequently by the dispossession of US populations subject to (at the time of this writing) nine continuous months of Fukushima fallout from the explosion of aging General Electric reactors in Japan after a large earthquake and tsunami. The welfare of the population had apparently ceased to exist as an end of the U.S. government. 

                What kind of global (dis)order is emerging in the wake of the dislocations of the global financial crisis and the disaster-amplified environmental apocalypse affected (primarily) by carbon-based and nuclear-based fuel production and consumption? This book describes the contours of the emerging global (dis)order using neofeudalism as its organizing frame. The critical point organizing this discussion is that neofeudalism rejects the premise that the population is the primary (or even secondary) source of value.  Therefore, the organizing logics that are emerging out of the wreckage of the neoliberal global system can no longer be regarded properly as “liberal,” since liberalism, as an economic and political philosophy first articulated at the close of the eighteenth century, represented the welfare of nations in terms of the productive capabilities of populations. 

What comes after neoliberalism is neofeudalism. It is appropriate to examine Wikipedia’s definition of the concept given that its discourse is primarily electronic:
Neofeudalism literally means "new feudalism" and implies a contemporary rebirth of policies of governance and economy reminiscent of those present in many pre-industrial feudal societies. The concept is one in which government policies are instituted with the effect (deliberate or otherwise) of systematically increasing the wealth gap between the rich and the poor while increasing the power of the rich and decreasing the power of the poor (also see wealth condensation). This effect is considered to be similar to the effects of traditional feudalism.
Wikipedia’s definition emphasizes economic policies and practices that shift wealth from the majority of the population to elite groups. 

Academic use of the term has been relatively limited. Harold J. Perkins 1999 book, The Third Revolution: Professional Elites in the Modern World, described neofeudalism as the concentration of the production of goods and services in large corporations. Noam Chomsky’s 2003 book Hegemony or Survival doesn’t actually use the phrase neofeudalism, but suggests that the gradual reduction and planned privatization of social-welfare programs such as social security and education are “reminiscent of feudalism.” Mark Mirabello’s 2009 Handbook for Rebels and Outlaws briefly describes neofeudalism as “a system in which an elite of technocrats, strategists, and corporate barons control the country, with the rest of the population effectively denied any meaningful decision-making role”[xxiv] (p. 188). Chris Hedges’ 2010 Death of the Liberal Class argues that unfettered capitalism is “plunging” society into a state of “neofeudalism” (p. 156). Hedges uses the term twice in his recent book but doesn’t elaborate in detail what is meant by neofeudalism. Garrett Johnson’s 2011 essay, “Slouching Toward Neofeudalism,” published at Huffington Post, probably offers the most detailed exegesis of the concept:
Neofeudalism is a concept in which government policies are designed to systematically increase the wealth gap between rich and poor while increasing the power of the rich over the poor. It's a party-neutral idea. There is no cabal pushing the plan, merely the sum effect of pressure from the wealthy elite… Another manifestation of neofeudalism is the growing power of corporations, that leave the poor dependent on private interests more powerful than the government, a situation resembling traditional feudal society. Currently the top 1% of society own 40% of the nation's wealth. The lower 50% of the nation have the mean assets worth less than $28,000. The richest 10% are worth, on average, 143 times that, or $3.976 million.
Neofeudalism emerges across these accounts as an evolving form of social organization dominated by corporations and elites capable of subordinating both individuals and the state to their ends.

                This book examines the idea that neofeudalism is emerging as the dominant logic of social organization. The defining features of neofeudalism to be examined empirically and theoretically include the following:

Oligarchic transnational corporate control of domestic and international markets in the critical areas of food and energy

Population’s feudal-like dependence on corporations for sustenance in a context of job losses and structural adjustment to government education and anti-poverty programs 

Subordination of state purpose to private corporate agendas, as evidenced by the Deepwater Horizon incident and handling of nuclear regulatory policy and radioactive fallout in the wake of Fukushima

Militarization of state and society in defense of overseas corporations’ neofeudal pursuits

State dispossession of population as an end of government

Criminalization of poverty 

Several of the bulleted items have been well documented, primarily in economic analyses and sociological critiques of neoliberalism. However, there has been no systematic integration of the literature that explicates an emerging form of social organization fundamentally disconnected from twentieth century liberal, western capitalism. 

In examining the evolving neofeudal order, this book will be among the first to demonstrate how neoliberal structural adjustment programs formerly reserved for developing economies are being applied in the U.S. and Europe in the wake of the disaster capitalism of the financial crisis. This discussion of structural adjustment is considered in tandem with developments in the state’s surveillance and repressive apparatuses, including Internet surveillance, legislative erosion of habeas corpus, and militarization of domestic policing (e.g., through the proposed Sections 1031, 1032, and 1036 in S. 1253, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012). Finally, these developments are considered in the context of the rising threat of scarcity caused by depleted fresh water supplies, erratic climate, and looming energy constraints. The book contends that human resilience and the resilience of the entire biosphere are threatened by the convergence of austerity and ruthless exploitation.


[i]         David Harvey. A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

[ii]            Bob Ivry, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz . Secret Fed Loans Helped Banks Net $13B. Bloomberg.com (2011, November 27): http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-28/secret-fed-loans-undisclosed-to-congress-gave-banks-13-billion-in-income.html.


[iii]             Bill Moyers, Simon Johnson and James Kwak Bill Moyers Journal [on-line] (2010, April 16): http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04162010/profile.html.

[iv]              National Family Farm Coalition. “Food, Inc. and Fresh: Facts and Solutions Needed to Fix the Food System.” NFFC.Net (no date): http://www.nffc.net/Learn/Fact%20Sheets/food%20inc%20and%20fresh.pdf.

[v]              Robert Lezner. “Capital Gains: Top .1% Earn ½ Capital Gains. Forbes (2011, Nov 20): http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2011/11/20/the-top-0-1-of-the-nation-earn-half-of-all-capital-gains/.


[vi]              Henry Blodget. “Here Are Four Charts That Explain What The Protesters Are Angry About...”Business Insider (2011, Oct 15): http://www.businessinsider.com/here-are-the-four-charts-that-explain-what-the-protesters-are-angry-about-2011-10?utm_source=twbutton&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=bi#ixzz1b3DqeIBh.

[vii]             Pew Research Center. “The Great Recession at 30 Months.” Pew Research Center [on-line] (2010, June 30). Available: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1643/recession-reactions-at-30-months-extensive-job-loss-new-frugality-lower-expectations.

[viii]            Frances Fox Piven. “The War Against the Poor.” TomDispatch.Com (2011, Nov 6): http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175463/tomgram%3A_frances_fox_piven%2C_the_war_on_the_home_front/#more).

[ix]              McKinnon, J. D. (Deficit panel stresses spending cuts. The Wall Street Journal (2010, July 1): A6.

[x]             International Forum on Globalization Results from the IFG Board of Directors Meeting January 28-30, 2011. http://www.ifg.org/pdf/IFG-2011-Strategic-Program-Plan-8pg.pdf

[xi]             Citigroup Equity Strategy: Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances (2005, October 16): 1, http://www.scribd.com/doc/6674234/Citigroup-Oct-16-2005-Plutonomy-Report-Part-1.
[xii]            Citigroup, 1-2.

[xiii]             Ivan Illich. Tools for Conviviality. 1973. Available: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/IllichTools.html

[xiv]             See J. Vidal, J. (2010, March 7). How food and water are driving a 21st century African land grab. The Guardian (2010, March 7): http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/07/food-water-africa-land-grab and World Bank. Rising Global Interest in Farmland. Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits? (2010, September 7):  http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTARD/Resources/ESW_Sept7_final_final.pdf.

[xv]             See Dana Priest and William  M. Arkin. Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2011.

[xvi]            Arthur Rizer and Joseph Harman. How the War on Terror Militarized the Police. The Atlantic (2011, November 9): http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/how-the-war-on-terror-has-militarized-the-police/248047/.


[xvii]            ACLU letter to Honorable Patrick Leahy concerning Detention Authority Provisions in S1253(2011, July 1). Available: http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/aclu_letter_to_sjc_on_ndaa.pdf.

[xviii]           Mike Davis. Planet of Slums. London: Verso, 2006.

[xix]             The May 2009 Atlantic states only $787 billion went to the stimulus spending (i.e., “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act”) compared to $3.25 trillion for the bailout “Cash Machine,” 58-59.

[xxi]             For instance, Goldman and J.P. Morgan indebted local municipal entities and school districts by selling interest rate swaps that ended up exponentially increasing the interest rates these public entities were forced to pay on their debt, resulting in bankruptcies, raided public pensions, and/or higher local taxes.[xxi] Goldman and other investment banks also sold synthetic collateralized debt obligations to public entities, which they subsequently wagered against See for example, Janet Tavakoli “Goldman Sachs: Spinning Gold,” Huffington Post (2010, April 7): from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janet-tavakoli/goldman-sachs-spinning-go_b_528144.html.

[xxiii]          Simon Johnson “Who is Carlos Slim,” Baseline Scenario (2009, October 17): http://baselinescenario.com/2009/10/17/who-is-carlos-slim/.

[xxiv]           p. 188.

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