March 20, 2023

Ever since his takeover of Twitter, Elon Musk has been working the social media firm like a medieval nobleman lording it over his personal private fiefdom.

The tech billionaire clearly believes he is aware of all the pieces higher than everybody else at Twitter, and treats the staff of his new firm as if they’re modern-day serfs. Anybody who’s unfortunate sufficient to work for Musk’s Twitter has solely two choices: undergo his “extraordinarily hardcore” working circumstances and settle for his passing fancies, or be fired.

Musk’s reign on Twitter has been outlined by a mixture of eccentricity, overconfidence and lack of take care of neighborhood welfare. Giving the maddest overlords of the previous a run for his or her cash, the tech billionaire entered his newly conquered realm carrying a kitchen sink and nearly instantly began firing workers for correcting his errors or daring to publicly criticize him. He reinstated the account of a former US president, who was banned for “inciting violence”, after conducting a ballot among the many platform’s customers on whether or not he ought to achieve this. He tried to make the influential microblogging app worthwhile by placing its blue tick verifications on sale for $8 monthly, with foreseeably disastrous penalties, and by unceremoniously eliminating workers who he believed have been doing superfluous jobs.

The conceited incompetence Musk has displayed since taking the helm of Twitter disproved but once more the parable that billionaires are extraordinary individuals with extraordinary minds and extraordinary concepts – that they’re “superheroes” a reduce above us mortals. In reality, Musk’s Twitter antics proved that, very similar to the feudal lords of the previous, at present’s billionaires are, for probably the most half, nothing apart from unusual individuals with unusual shortcomings who’ve been given extraordinary powers.

In fact, there are some vital variations between the likes of Musk and the suzerains of the previous. Our Twenty first-century overlords possess extra wealth, in absolute phrases, than anybody who got here earlier than them however should submit, a minimum of in principle, to higher democratic checks and balances. Nonetheless, the ability they train shouldn’t be confined to a manor or perhaps a state – their fiefdoms are their international companies and unregulated or under-regulated areas of the globe.

Thus, at present’s billionaires have a a lot bigger affect over our collective future, and the way forward for our planet, than any of their medieval counterparts. The likes of Musk not solely have close to full management over the fates of their workers, however unmatched oblique affect over all our lives. They’ll, for instance, determine whose voice will get amplified and who’s banned from the commercialized finish of the general public sphere, which is quickly increasing. They train a disproportionate affect over the place humanity’s consideration and sources are directed – in direction of a commercialized area race and colonizing Mars moderately than feeding the poor and combating the local weather and ecological crises.

Our present social order – the place inequality is rife and billionaires have absolute energy over companies which can be difficult the authority of states, the place our collective capacity to maintain the highly effective in examine resides – has led some teachers to dub our present system of governance dominated by the likes of Musk “neo-feudalism”.

The neo-feudal association we’ve got discovered ourselves in turned extra apparent and far more excessive than ever earlier than prior to now few years, when the vast majority of people on the planet have been hit by a number of interconnected crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic and the local weather emergency to devastating conflicts and disruptions to the vitality market. Whereas all these, and the resultant international financial downturn, made most of us considerably poorer, they by some means added to the wealth and energy of the trendy overlords – the superrich.

Certainly, in response to Oxfam’s current report “Survival of the richest”, the richest 1 p.c devoured up some two-thirds of the $42 trillion in wealth created around the globe since 2020.

“A billionaire gained roughly $1.7 million for each $1 of latest international wealth earned by an individual within the backside 90 p.c,” the report discovered. “Billionaire fortunes have elevated by $2.7 billion a day.”

And all this got here on prime of a long time of historic beneficial properties for billionaires. As an illustration, in Britain, billionaire wealth mushroomed by a jaw-dropping 1,000 p.c within the three a long time between 1990 and 2022, in response to an estimate by the UK’s Equality belief,

The dramatic nature of this upward redistribution turns into obvious when you think about that, within the area of some quick a long time, we went from one of many extra egalitarian intervals of recorded human civilization to one in every of its most unequal.

Regardless of getting off to a extremely unequal first decade and ending with an more and more unequal final decade, the twentieth century was, in lots of components of the world, one of the crucial egalitarian intervals we all know of, with some international locations experiencing a narrowing of inequalities on a scale by no means seen, or a minimum of measured, earlier than. A part of the explanation for this rising equality was the devastation wrought by two world wars and the need to construct a greater world these international conflicts invoked.

Different elements embody political empowerment, the rise in mass democratic political participation, egalitarian political ideologies getting into the mainstream, together with social democracy and socialism, in addition to communism and the response to it by prosperous societies. In lots of growing states, financial equality initially improved within the early years of independence, partly impressed by a quest for postcolonial justice and improvement, however the scenario worsened considerably in lots of international locations as new elites emerged or previous ones returned and consolidated their privileged standing.

So what triggered the fortunes of everybody however probably the most lucky to take such a relative battering in current a long time and the way did the wealth hole turn out to be a chasm?

One main issue was the neoliberal financial mannequin that has conquered a lot of the world. This eroded social security nets, reversed or decreased the speed of progressive taxation, deregulated markets and weakened labor protections. On this deregulated Wild West section of globalization, unscrupulous companies are in a position to find their manufacturing amenities the place labor is least expensive and employees most abused and underpaid, whereas promoting their wares in markets the place income are highest and headquartering themselves the place taxes are lowest or non-existent .

However there are different causes too. One is the quasi-feudal rentier economies which have emerged, which extract their revenue from the hire they impose on the property they management.

A main instance of that is petrostates, which aren’t depending on the labor of their populations for his or her revenues, and fossil gas firms, which may extract monumental worth with comparatively no use for labor. This helps clarify why some research have discovered, regardless of the paucity of correct information, the oil-rich Center East to be probably the most unequal area on the planet.

Regardless of its modern, empowering and futuristic picture, Large Tech has additionally developed its personal model of the rentier mannequin: many apps and platforms – Amazon, Apple and Uber, for instance – produce no actual merchandise themselves however extract hefty rents from suppliers.

Automation is one other main issue. in wealth inequality, as computer systems, robots and apps make up what features as the brand new slave or serf underclass – which works relentlessly, precisely and obediently while not having sleep, paid holidays, medical health insurance or organized unions – upon whose again so many billionaires have constructed theirempires.

Tackling this gross inequality and bringing us again to the heyday of the mid-to-late twentieth century, and even higher, requires tackling all these myriad points. We’d like progressive taxation, international regulation to sort out the tax avoidance of multinationals and the superrich. We additionally have to rethink how wealth is distributed at supply by, for instance, giving employees a good slice of income in extremely worthwhile sectors and by distributing the large beneficial properties from rising productiveness to employees not simply shareholders and prime executives. We additionally want to make sure that automation serves to liberalize and enrich everybody by distributing the beneficial properties extra pretty and evenly, by way of increased salaries, shorter working weeks and common fundamental incomes.

Regardless of what some declare, there’s nothing pure, inevitable, not to mention fascinating, within the huge inequalities the world presently suffers. Via most of human pre-history, egalitarianism was truly the traditional order.

And this quest for egalitarianism has by no means gone away and can by no means go away, even on the most unequal of occasions. Furthermore, egalitarianism isn’t just a query of excessive ideas, it’s also a realistic alternative. Given the instability and battle that’s triggered in occasions of maximum inequality, it’s in everybody’s curiosity to construct a fairer and extra equal world.

Simply as we reject and resist the tyranny of political autocrats, we do not need to, and should not conform to, dwell within the modern-day corporate-dominated fiefdoms of the likes of Musk. Feudalism belongs within the dustbin of historical past, and we should always work to dump its newest iteration there as quickly as potential.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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