The Middle Ages in Europe are often romanticized as being a time of castles, jousts, and chivalry, with brave knights setting off on noble quests to battle against evil, and to rescue beautiful princesses held in captivity. Such ideas form the staple fare of many a classic cartoon for children. But in reality, the Middle Ages are synonymous with the Dark Ages – a time of rampant warfare, ignorance, plague, and injustice, when the vast majority of people worked as serfs, slaving away their days in servitude to advance the interests of their feudal lords and masters.
As modern citizens of a free democracy, we can be justifiably proud of the many advances we have made to ensure the rights and liberty and happiness of our populace. But could it be that we are slowly sliding our way back into feudalism under the mantra of “free-enterprise”?
Since the founding of our nation, and especially since the Homestead Act of 1862, we as Americans have defined ourselves by our independence and self-sufficiency. The writings of Horatio Alger, from around this same time, further fueled the notion of the American Dream – the idea that with enough patience and hard work, any of us can rise up from poverty and achieve security and comfort for ourselves and our families.
For the millions of unemployed workers who are currently struggling to feed their children and keep their homes from going into foreclosure, and for the growing ranks of protesters joining “Occupy Wall Street” and related movements, this dream is beginning to look more and more like a nightmarish delusion.
Over the past forty years, the average annual income of workers, when adjusted for inflation, has flat-lined, remaining more or less stagnant or even declining slightly, while the price of everyday goods and services has continued to rise, year after year. Meanwhile, over this same period, median CEO compensation has grown by over four hundred percent! According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CEO’s in the U.S. make somewhere between two to four hundred times the average wage of the employees at their companies – the largest gap in pay between chief executives and blue-collar workers anywhere in the industrialized world. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s only getting worse.
As the recession drags on and unemployment numbers stubbornly refuse to budge, large corporations – many of whom were bailed out by the taxpayers through the TARP program – are sitting on larger cash reserves than ever before, and they’re using it not to hire more workers or invest in more infrastructure, but rather to give their leaders record bonuses at the expense of their workers and the general public.
Historians view the de-centralization of government influence after the fall of the Roman Empire as the driving force behind the rise of feudalism. With no one to answer to but themselves, feudal lords were able to exercise near-absolute power over the people beholden to their whims. As the Tea Party cries out for the further dismantling of regulations put in place after the Great Depression, expressly to prevent such economic catastrophes, the power of corporate titans begins to resemble more and more that of their medieval predecessors.
We have privatized the ownership and running of our prisons. We have placed the execution of our wars in the hands of private security contractors. And now, through the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court has granted corporations the unlimited ability to influence the political process without even having to divulge the source of their financing. In the name of the free market, we have given free-reign to massive, international financial interests who are unelected, unaccountable, and non-transparent in their dealings, since they are not bound by the Freedom of Information act as are government agencies.
Viewed through the long lens of history, this current period of ever-widening income gap and obscenely large compensation for a small number of CEO’s will be seen for what it is – a vassal state of inequality and economic slavery. Let’s take back our democracy. Let’s reaffirm the American Dream – for everyone, not just the one percent who have hi-jacked it and who are using the rest of us as pawns in their games of power and greed. Each of us has a voice; each of us has a vote. Let’s use it!
Colby Hess is an avid photographer, a concerned citizen, an active writer, a free-thought activist , and an avid photographer. Colby is currently writing a book about science, philosophy, and freethought.