Corporations are the Modern Version of Fiefdoms

One of the more overlooked facts about modern publicly traded corporations is that they are functionally almost identical to medieval fiefdoms. While a few others have compared them to 20th century totalitarian states, such a comparison is far too flattering for such organizations.

Totalitarian states, from Nazi-era Germany to present day China, differ from modern publicly traded corporations in many fundamental ways.

1. Successful totalitarian states throughout human history reward their faithful supporters in both obvious and non-obvious ways on a long-term basis. Modern corporations, in contrast, do not reward their faithful workers over the long-term and are only too happy to get rid of them at the slightest hint of trouble or a chance to make more profits.

Fiefdoms did however operate on a similar model and almost everybody in such systems was involved in a game of intrigue, deception, fraud and screwing each other for the smallest of reasons and gains. They therefore tended to be low productivity, low trust systems with frequent outbreaks of overt and covert violence.

2. Successful totalitarian states are capable of attracting, retaining and promoting competent people along with the usual bottom feeders. Nazi-era Germany, pre-1945 Japan had and present day China has a lot of genuinely competent people in very senior posts. Modern corporations, on the other hand, are defined by their ability to concentrate incompetent and deceptive bottom feeders to the exclusion of genuine competence.

Fiefdoms were similar to corporations in that their inner circles were devoid of genuinely competent individuals, and were instead full of witty sociopathic courtiers who owed their fortunes to chance and birth.

3. Successful totalitarian states will often actively better the life of their average compliant follower, if only to justify their rule. Even Stalin did many things to make Russia better for Russians- though some of his methods and actions killed lots of people. However a comparison of the conditions in Russia when Stalin took power to those present when he died do show that he was able to improve the lot of the average Russian (who had survived him and ww2).

Modern corporations expend a considerable amount of effort in actively reducing the quality of life of its compliant workers. The “elite” in medieval fiefdoms also spent a lot of time trying to reduce the quality of life for everybody to protect their power base.

4. Successful totalitarian states are afraid of publicly visible or obvious failures because they understand that their ability to continue ruling is linked to keeping things working. The leaders of modern corporations have no fear of failures of their enterprise as they can simply loot from the failing enterprise and hide behind laws, procedures and the pretense of “justice”. Feudal lords and courtiers, like CEOs and upper management, often looted a collapsing fiefdom with impunity and ran away to nearby friendly fiefdoms or kingdoms.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. January 17, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    I think it is evident you work for a corporation…

    you make waaaay more money than me…..

    so by your logic, I’m more competent cause I make less money….

  2. Conquistador
    January 18, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Great analogy.

  3. Webe
    January 18, 2012 at 5:01 am

    Coporations are, psychologically speaking, sociopaths: single-minded rational and amoral pursuit of private profits without even a hint of concern for others (including their own personnel — strictly mercenaries).
    Fiefdoms, on the other hand, are patriarchal authoritarian tribal/clan groups predicated on mutual loyalties and obligations formed by the need to survive and often bonded by common ancestral claims and lineage: not single-minded, not rational, not profit-driven and steeped in moral obligations. Life is no picnic, and that of course applies unevenly to some people more than others.
    But your point is valid: corporations are the antithesis of “democracy”: heirarchical, anti-social, predatory. At the heart of American democracy lies an institution actively abrogating the democratization of economic and social relationships.

  4. January 18, 2012 at 7:33 am

    AD, while I’m in full agreement with you on the Feudalization of modern economy, one aspect you might want to explore in a future post is the Sword of Damocles concept.

    Briefly, what this outlines is that in past ages, political rulers assumed responsibility for the successes and failures of the state. The authority of rulership in the political arena, while still intertwined with the economic forces of the time, was accountability to the people. The Sword of Damocles could fall upon and kill him because the political class was the ruling class.

    Today corporatism is the ruling class, while maintaining the political class as a buffer between itself and those ruled. Effectively, corporation avoid the accountability to the populace by positioning their ’employees’ in the political arena to take the heat for their predations and/or incompetences. Thus they avoid the sword.

    We just require a longer sword or a few extra thrusts.

  5. January 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    “We just require a longer sword or a few extra thrusts.”

    hahaha, so your ladies told you your boner pills aren’t working any longer….

  6. ingrates
    September 12, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Have worked for a number of corporations to date. Asked the Personnel Department heads what the employees could do, a corporate immediate future question. Answer was usually: Pause followed by “that’s none of your business.” Hierarchically true, however, dimness in the fundament, profound dimness.
    Frames of reference to a few of the above: St. George knew what to do with a Dragon; haven’t found a record of the number of thrusts to date. Likely answer one.
    The case of a Queen of France and her petulant reply; unfortunately for her, overheard by Madame Lafarge, whose answer was “click.” Sic transit wannabe.
    Search term that brought me here: to what extent to corporations resemble fiefdoms. This is an expansion of the earlier term: Explain the rise of economic nation states 1800 – 2012.
    Thanks for your time. For want of an icon, time to go; much ado about learning.

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