Towards The First McDonalds’ Rifles

When considering the economic arrangements of previous ages, we seem strangely content to accept their own “personalisation” of the productive units and thus speak of Lord This, Earl That and the Count of the Other. We are, of course, aware that these magnates have fields, mills, mines, warehouses, ships, licences, trading contacts and every other productive asset under the sun, and also servants and advisors; in other words that they are economic players not so very different from a major corporation today. We may also suspect that the economic activity may be more independent of its titular master than our personalised terminology would suggest, and that like any organisation it attempts to live its own life. When we say that Lord This had his head chopped off and his holdings awarded to Earl That, we may be describing much the same phenomenon as when we describe a modern change of CEO, except that nowadays we would tend to put the corporation at the front of the sentence, and say that Megacorp changed hands.

In order to think straight about the nature of feudalism, we should forget the words “land”, “tenure”, “lord”, “baron” and so forth, and imagine a military obligation on all business. If the Middle Ages wanted to call their production units by funny names, that is their privilege, but we should not be thereby led to think that a great lord’s holdings or household was anything other than an economic operation, employing labour, operating in a market, keeping accounts and owing responsibility to stakeholders. We need to imagine, therefore, that all corporations that enjoyed lucrative contracts with central government – for example, were entrusted with what used to be public functions – had to provide military contingents. Although many aspects of feudalism have reappeared in our time, it has not yet occurred that a company that has won the bidding for newly-privatised governmental functions has been obliged to subcontract for military forces and make these available on contractual terms to its principal. Watch this space.

Posted on April 14, 2010 at 11:31 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: GETTING MEDIEVAL, Economic Universals In Funny French

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