“Capitalism is Feudalism with extra steps”

I browse reddit every now and again and I’ve seen the people that post that “Capitalism is slavery with extra steps”. Now this never made sense to me but I suppose it might make sense to someone that has seen or read “The Great Money Trick“. I’m not here to discuss “The Great Money Trick” and quite frankly, it’s old. I’m sure that there are many criticisms and critiques of the essay elsewhere.

As far as I know, the quote is a reference to a Rick and Morty episode regarding alien beings producing a great deal of energy for Rick for free. When Rick and Morty visit the aliens, Morty says “That’s just slavery with extra steps” as a criticism of Rick’s attitude regarding the tiny alien race. I don’t watch Rick and Morty though, so don’t sass me bro.

For the purposes of this post, we will assert that the world is more capitalist and less feudal today than it was in the past. 

In order to compare capitalism and feudalism, we must first understand what capitalism and feudalism are.

Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets.

In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investment are determined by every owner of wealth, property or production ability in financial and capital markets, whereas prices and the distribution of goods and services are mainly determined by competition in goods and services markets. – Wikipedia

This definition is a little lengthy but it is adequate for our purposes. I’ve bolded some of the more important phrases in the definition. The important bits are:

  1. You own private property
  2. All exchanges are voluntary
  3. Markets are competitive

The other bits are either unimportant or unnecessary. For example, you do not need wage labor to have a capitalist economic system. Suppose I own some land and I grow an apple tree. You own some land and grow an orange tree. You and I decide to trade an apple for an orange. No wage labor needed.

Now let’s take a look at feudalism:

Feudalism was a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Wikipedia

This definition is pretty loose. The page mentions that the definition is still debated by scholars. Now we do see why Feudalism can’t be Capitalism with extra steps: Feudalism is a combination of legal and military customs. Capitalism is an economic system. Ne’er the two shall meet.

But we know what you meant, so I’ll do this a bit more honestly. Let’s say we are going to try to compare the economic consequences of Feudalism to Capitalism and see if we can reach Capitalism.

One thing most people do recognize is the concept of serfdom, a system in which individuals called ‘serfs’ are attached to the land. While we do recognize it in medieval Europe, we see it elsewhere such as in Japan after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s “Hito barai rei” in 1591 {1}. The serfs are, like land, property. Similar to slaves but with the caveat that they had some more rights. Anyway, the reason I bring it up is because if we consider serfs to be part of the land, we can now consider the whole property of an actor in Feudalism.

When these individuals are making a comparison to Feudalism, we need to figure out where everyone lines up:

So I think that the fairest way to view the working poor is peasants. There are no slaves in our capitalist system because we’re going to adhere to that rule before where you own your private property and you are your own private property. There are no serfs, because employees are always welcome to quit and move to another company if they so desire.

The lord of the manor is likely the business owner. They own the land and they have the responsibilities that come with owning the land. But that guy is just a vassal to a king. So from whom do the business owners receive their lands? Well, they buy it. From someone else, another vassal. Hold on, we’re running into a problem here. See, there is no ‘monarch’ analogue in capitalism. Quite frankly, there is no peasant analogue either. Everyone is a vassal with their own plot of land and the rights over what may be done with it. But since we don’t have a monarch, everyone mas as well be their own monarch. The system breaks down. Saying capitalism is like feudalism with extra steps is like saying that Feudalism consists of potentially infinite monarchs when in real feudalism there is only one.

Now, the anti-capitalists are going to maintain that the working poor are still slaves, serfs, or peasants. That’s what those ‘extra steps’ are for. So now we have to try to figure out what extra steps make you one of these individuals.

We can completely disregard slavery. Again, slavery is against the principles of capitalism because we maintain that the individual owns themselves. Serfs, huh. Well, you might have a little bit of a case. If a company is sold to another individual, the employees of that company may remain as companies for the company under the new management. That could be considered a ‘transfer of a serf’ as part of a land purchase. However, there’s nothing systemically preventing the ‘serf’ from quitting their job and seeking gainful employment elsewhere. So again, we arrive at the only possibility being peasants. Now is there a way for peasants to climb the social hierarchy? Yes. There were a few. They could become a knight, clergy, or trade. Peasants were unlikely to have the skills necessary to do so, but as Toyotomi Hideyoshi could do, so too could peasants.

However, I think the important question would be to ask – is it easier to move up in Capitalism or Feudalism? And possibly more important – is it easier to move down? I would argue that it’s easier to move up in Capitalism, as evidenced by the great reduction of the lower classes since the 1800’s in the West. Worldwide poverty has greatly decreased no matter what people may think. The point of this post is not to argue whether or not capitalism is the thing that caused this reduction in poverty. We are only concerned with whether or not capitalism is feudalism with extra steps.

If we accept that Feudalism is what kept these people poor, and that Capitalism is Feudalism with extra steps, then we need to wonder… at what point does Capitalism make these people poor again? We’ve only seen that with the changes towards Capitalism reduce poverty. That’s the trend. At what point will the trend reverse? And if it’s taking so long to reverse, at what point can we just say, “Alright, maybe it won’t reverse”?

I would also argue that it’s harder to move down save by one’s own fault. In Feudalism, all that is required is some link in the chain of command above you strip you of your lands. In Capitalism, you have to piss away your capital and at the end you still retain the most important capital of all: your mind and body. If you fall in status due to your own decisions, I don’t find it fair to blame Capitalism for your fall in status.

Recap

Recall our three rules for Capitalism

  1. You own private property
  2. All exchanges are voluntary
  3. Markets are competitive

Let’s ask ourselves if any of these apply to Feudalism

  1. It is possible for you to have no rights regarding private property
  2. It is possible for exchanges to be involuntary
  3. Markets may or may not be competitive, we did not examine Feudal markets

So no. I don’t buy that Capitalism is Feudalism with extra steps. Of course, you are more than welcome to try to convince me otherwise. Please list the necessary steps in the comments or something and I will be more than happy to reconsider. That said, that’ll be it from me for now. I thank you for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Offline sources:

  1. Sengoku Jidai: Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu: Three Unifiers of Japan; Chaplin, Danny (Kindle Edition)

 

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“Capitalism is Feudalism with extra steps”

How to Fix Sword Art Online

Alright, I got into a furious Facebook discussion on why SAO is terrible and it got me thinking, SAO is actually pretty easy to fix. So let’s take it from the top with a (relatively) short blog post.

What is Sword Art Online?

Sword Art Online is known to be a popular anime produced by A-1 studios based on the light novel of the same name by Reki Kawahara. Some people have read the light novel. I have not. So everything here will be based on the animation. And I’m doing this from memory so if some of the details are a little fuzzy, my mistake. Not going to go rewatch it. Make of that what you will.

So the animation features Kirigaya Kazuto. He is a gamer in high school. He is incredibly excited for the release of Sword Art Online (SAO). SAO is a fully virtual MMO where you really feel like you’re Batman Spiderman in the game. He is fortunate enough to receive 1 of only 10,000 copies sold. He logs in immediately like any normal person does. Meets his totally-not-homoerotic friend after which he is told by a Game Moderator that no one can log out and if you die in the game you die in real life. The only way to get the logout button back is to beat the game. Thus begins the struggle to beat the game without dying once.

What’s wrong with Sword Art Online?

Well, a lot, actually. Many people I talk to online say that things went down during the second arc (Alfheim). I disagree. I think it was wrong from the get-go. A lot of this next bit might sound familiar if you’ve literally seen any coverage of SAO but I have to put it in for completeness. Also I’m going to keep it to the Aincrad arc because I did say we’d have a relatively short one. If I do Aincrad + Alfheim you’ll be here all day reading this.

It has a pretty good starting premise and for 1-3 episodes it’s actually pretty good. However around episode 4-6 or so, it begins undercutting its premise by making Kirito (oh yeah, Kirigaya Kazuto’s IGN is Kirito) overpowered. He gets mobbed by like 10 guys and they can’t do enough damage to outpace his natural regen. What the $#@! And it only gets worse. Kirito goes through the motions of having a hard time but he always seems to come out ahead and it never feels satisfying. Feels like he got out easy most of the time. Even at the end of Aincrad he loses all of his HP and dies but somehow can break through the death and deal a killing blow to the final boss.

That’s not to say that overpowered characters are bad by design. We can take a look at Superman for a relatively overpowered character that is well done. Superman is effectively god. There’s really not a whole lot that can actually stop the guy barring Kryptonite (we’ll get back to that). So when your character is overpowered, nothing can kill them, how do you manufacture conflict? In the case of Superman, morality is used. Superman’s greatest foe is his own sense of morality and justice. His greatest enemy is his own naivete.

When your gimmick is “If you die in the game, you die in real life”, don’t make us follow a character that can’t die. Make us follow someone that actually struggles and fears for life.

 

Dying

“Hold up Artemis, there are at least 3 times he almost died and on the third time he did actually die,” I hear you say. Well, let’s actually look at those.

The first near-death for Kirito is against Gleam Eyes, or is it. No. It isn’t. This chump lets a ton of people die because he doesn’t want to show his two-handed skill for no reason. He could’ve won the fight at any time without incurring as large a loss of human life if he had not waited for everyone except tsundere-chan to die.

The second near-death for Kirito is when he’s paralyzed by poison and his assailant takes his sweet time killing him 1HP-by-1HP. Which buys Kirito enough time to pull a deus-ex-machina and have tsundere-chan arrive to save his ass. And then Kirito kills the guy even though it would have been more satisfying (from a writing perspective) to have tsundere-chan kill the creep.

The last near-death experience is at the end of Aincrad when he dies and somehow manages to magic his way through death when no one else can. It’s bullshit. Now you’ve done one step further. For 99% of this series there was no risk of death and when there actually is death, it doesn’t even matter?

Tsundere-chan

Let’s take a moment to talk about tsundere-chan. At the beginning of the series we’re introduced to tsundere-chan and she comes out strong like a total BAMF. She’s made to seem like someone who is naturally almost as good as Kirito. Bear in mind that Kirito had some 2 months or so to play the game in beta while this grill did not. So she’s been given a high initial rating. You see her 4 episodes later and she’s been totally domesticated. She’s cooking and stuff. Cowering behind Kirito from a creep she should easily be able to take out in seconds. Kawahara neutered this character. And he does it with every character. Any time you want a character to come out strong and define themselves they turn into harem bait. Even the guys. The guy from the beginning, his name is Klein. I just remembered it. I ain’t editing this after I finish writing it so if his name is still Klaus from paragraph 2 or something that’s what it’ll be when I hit publish. Anyway literally everyone becomes “X person”. “Blacksmith girl”. “Dragon girl”. “Black man shopkeeper”. “Best guy is a girl”. I think there was one more harem member but it might’ve come after the series. *Shrug*

The Writing Makes No Sense

I’d like to take this moment to point out that this game is definitely rated PG-13 at least. Probably rated whatever the highest rating is because you get naked and (probably) have sex. So now I gotta ask the question, why are there like over nine thousand 5 year-olds in it? Did Mom and Dad let drunk Uncle Rick watch the kids that day? Because after 2 years there’s still like a bajillion 5 year-olds and they’re all being watched by full-time starting town people.

Honestly Kawahara loses track of how many people are supposed to be alive in this game which also kinda takes away from the series.

About half-way through the series Kirito and girlfriend encounter a program (yes, a program) that looks like a little girl that they decide to ‘adopt’. Then, holy shit, she’s as broken as Kirito is. She can delete (yes, right click, delete) boss enemies and chooses to do so to save Kirito. Why, why does such a program exist. Why does it have that power either? It was designed as a psychology robot, being able to delete other programs should be well beyond the scope of its power. Then Kirito suddenly becomes expert hacker, familiar with the system intimately, and manages to save the program as an item. What? Where did all of that come from?

This guy has literally no struggles. The authors try to frame things as struggles but they can’t do it properly because the characters that they’re working with are broken. The source material has to be fundamentally broken by design. There’s no excuse for this.

How to Fix It

Alright, I could go on all day about how the series is bad. We see sub-plots that lead to absolutely nothing, yadda-yadda. But we’re already at 1300 words and I want to keep this relatively short.

Break things down as simply as we can, what is SAO? SAO is a shounen anime with no threat and side-stories that go nowhere. Without the struggle, there’s no point to making this a shounen series. The most enjoyable scenes of this anime were the slice-of-life scenes and the whodunnit episodes in the middle. So how do we fix SAO? Simple. We focus on what it does well and drop what it does poorly. If SAO was purely a slice-of-life anime it would actually be quite decent. The action scenes (while well-crafted) are pointless because we know Kirito will win. Every. Single. Time. Remove them. This life-or-death game isn’t life-or-death. It’s just life. And since it’s just life, just make a slice-of-life anime about a man and his waifu in a medieval world. The music is excellent. The stories are fun enough. At least this way, I’d be forced to give you a 6 for being meh rather than a 1 for being awful. Do something about your characters. We see some characters for all of one episode before they’re relegated to the harem and exist to be an extra voice in a later scene.

So yeah, that’s my fix. Make it full-on slice-of-life. Problem solved. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

 

How to Fix Sword Art Online