Outsourcing And Enfeoffment

There is a fairly precise equivalent to the “enfeofment” of the classic or Gandshofian feudal paradigm in the recent trend towards outsourcing. Under that paradigm, the original companionage of the Germanic chieftain was paid by either loot or peregrinatory extortion, but in time the bossman hit upon the idea of settling his merry men on the land to be supported by the locals. His military force was supported by the lord’s revenue, but consumed it at source, so that the lord saved on not having to collect and distribute it. The warrior was no longer an in-house employee (member of the companionage, castle knight) but an independent contractor with a detailed contract of service. Likewise, in modern business reorganisations, it is not unheard-of for cube-rats to be given home-office equipment and set up as self-employed contractors to their erstwhile employer. The corporation’s main reasons for doing this are to avoid economic obligations to its workers and to weaken their solidarity; they cannot now go on strike, and if after six months the company declares that it no longer needs their services, they have no protection whatever. A free computer does not really compare with an agricultural village as a revenue base, but then the cube-rat may be the wrong comparison; when the modern company outsources its security function, it does not put its guards on individual contracts but hires a security firm, which is more the equivalent of engaging a mercenary company.

One way in which the fief was created was this outsourcing of what had originally been an in-house employee; the other way was what we call – in this technical language that obscures any universal economic structure – “commendation”. In the classic paradigm, that was when a peasant freeholder felt that he could no longer go it alone, and so became a tenant-farmer of his lord, deeding him his land and receiving it back on terms. In other times and places we call this “sharecropping” or “agribusiness”. His reason for doing so might be need for physical security, in which case this looks rather like a protection racket, or else it might be need for tools and draught animals that only the lord can provide, that is, capital investment. Taking a second mortgage on your house is also reminiscent of commendation, as is perhaps the German model of small-business finance, where the bank gives you a loan in return for a seat on the board.

Posted on April 13, 2010 at 10:25 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: GETTING MEDIEVAL, Economic Universals In Funny French

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