The New Feudalism

The New Feudalism by Jeffrey A. Tucker for American Institute for Economic Research

On February 28, the idea of locking down and smashing economies and human rights the world over was unthinkable to most of us but lustily imagined by intellectuals hoping to conduct a new social/political experiment. On that day, New York Times reporter Donald McNeil released a shocking article: To Take On the Coronavirus, Go Medieval on It.

He was serious. Most all governments – with few exceptions like Sweden and the Dakotas in the US – did exactly that. The result has been shocking. I’ve previously called it the new totalitarianism.

Another way to look at this, however, is that the lockdowns have created a new feudalism. The workers/peasants toil in the field, struggling for their own survival, unable to escape their plight, while privileged lords and ladies live off the labors of others and issue proclamations from the estate on the hill above it all.

Consider a restaurant at which I dined one week ago in New York City. The mask mandate is in full force except that diners can take them off once seated. The staff cannot. The wait staff of restaurants wear plastic gloves too. Here you have diners enjoying themselves with food and drink and laughter, many of whom work at home and have faced relatively less economic deprivation, which I assume given how much this class of diners is throwing around on evening revelry.

Meanwhile, you have this wait staff and the kitchen staff too with their faces covered, their voices muffled, and forced into what seems to be a subservient role. They appear like a different caste. Society has decided to treat them as the ranks of the unclean. The lockdowns have turned a dignified equality that once existed between the staff and customers, all cooperating together to live better lives, and turned it into a theater for feudalistic absurdism.

The symbolism of this troubles me so much that my own dining experiences have been changed from a time of socializing into a vision of tragedy that breaks my heart. Think for a moment about the main victims of lockdowns: working classes, the poor, people who travel for a living, those working in arts and hospitality, children locked out of schools, people who can’t just convert their office jobs into living-room jobs. They were never asked their opinions on policies that destroyed their lives and degraded their choice of profession.

The main victims do not typically have Twitter accounts. They do not write academic articles. They do not write articles for newspapers. They aren’t talking heads on TV. And they sure as heck aren’t economically protected with a tax-funded job in a public health department in a state bureaucracy. They are out there getting food to the groceries, delivering things to your front door, hopping around in restaurants to make sure you get your food. They are in the factories, the warehouses, the fields, the meat-packing plants, and also in the hospitals and hotels. They are voiceless and not only because their masks impede their ability to communicate; they have been robbed of any voice in public affairs even though their lives are on the line.

Lockdowns have done nothing to drive the virus away. This virus will become like all others of its kind in history: it will become endemic (predictably manageable) as our immune systems adapt to it, via naturally acquired immunity in absence of a vaccine that may never arrive or will only be partially effective just like the flu vaccine. Which is to say: we will reach herd immunity one way or another.

Ask yourself who is bearing the burden of achieving this. It’s not the blue checkmarks on Twitter, the co-authors of articles in the Lancet, and certainly not the journalists at the New York Times.

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