Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism?


Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism? by Jodi Dean.

IN CAPITAL IS DEAD, McKenzie Wark asks: What if we’re not in capitalism anymore but something worse?

the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera.

Link distribution in complex networks follows a power law where the most popular item generally has twice as many hits or links as the second most popular, which has twice as many as the third most and so on down to the insignificant differences between those in the long tail of the distribution curve. This winner-takes-all or winner-takes-most effect is the power law shape of the distribution. The one at the top has significantly more than the ones at the bottom. The shape the distribution takes is not a bell curve; it’s a long tail — a few billionaires, a billion precarious workers.

The global market morphed from a system of “national economies integrated through trade agreements into transnational production networks.”

Viewing contemporary capitalism in terms of its feudalizing tendencies illuminates a new socioeconomic structure with four interlocking features: parcellated sovereignty, new lords and peasants, hinterlandization, and catastrophism.

Digital platforms are the new watermills, their billionaire owners the new lords, and their thousands of workers and billions of users the new peasants.

Platforms are doubly extractive. Unlike the water mill peasants had no choice but to use, platforms not only position themselves so that their use is basically necessary (like banks, credit cards, phones, and roads) but that their use generates data for their owners. Users not only pay for the service but the platform collects the data generated by the use of the service.

The rightward shift responds to this intensification of inequality. When the left is weak, or blocked from political expression by mainstream media and capitalist political parties, popular anger gets expressed by others willing to attack the system. In the present, these others are the far right.

What happens when capitalism is global? It turns in on itself, generating, enclosing, and mining features of human life through digital networks and mass personalized media. This self-cannibalization produces new lords and serfs, vast fortunes and extreme inequality, and the parcellated sovereignties that secure this inequality while the many wander and languish in the hinterlands.