Posts Tagged ‘serfdom’

Incompetent Bureaucrats and Overachieving Fleas

Posted in On This Day on June 12th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

June 14, 1381: The Chancellor of England Overestimates His Popularity

Simon of Sudbury really was an innocuous, well-meaning sort. In our day, he would have found fulfillment as a vice president of human resources. Unfortunately, he did not live in an innocuous, well-meaning time. The 14th century was anything but. However, Simon’s ineffectuality was his charm.

John of Gaunt liked the hapless and affable English cleric. The Duke was a critic of the Church, practically a Proto-Protestant, and it suited his heretical proclivities to have the passive Simon as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Simon also seemed the Duke’s ideal candidate for Chancellor of England. The compliant Simon would do the bidding of his royal patrons, levy another poll tax (the third) on the peasantry and try to reestablish a strict application of serfdom. But the serfs were not as compliant as Simon was.

The Bubonic Plague had turned out to be quite a liberal development. Half of the peasantry had died, and the survivors realized that their luck also extended to supply and demand. The supply of labor was now limited, so it could exact greater demands from the nobility. The peasants might now expect to be treated as well as the livestock. Some even demanded the end of serfdom. Of course, the nobility resisted. It tried to reimpose the legal shackles on the peasantry. The monarchy thought that additional taxes might restrain the peasants’ upward aspirations. Instead, those taxes incited a peasant revolt in 1381.

A peasant horde terrorized the nobility, swept aside the barely organized resistance and marched on London. Ransacking the capital, the peasants destroyed government offices and killed any bureaucrats they captured. Simon of Sudbury was among them. Being an Archbishop, he thought that the mob might show some deference to him. His head was ripped off. (Would I be so cruel as to call that deed a head tax?)  

The mob demanded an audience with the young king, Richard II. In what turned out to be the high point of an otherwise abysmal reign, the royal youth confronted the mob and demonstrated a majesty and courage that impressed his subjects. He addressed the peasants, representing himself as their advocate and leader, and promising to fulfill their demands. Awed and gratified, the mob dispersed and returned to their homes. Richard really had no intention of honoring those promises but he didn’t have the power to reestablish the status quo either. For all practical purposes, serfdom had ended in England.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paulson

Posted in General on September 22nd, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

“Don’t think of it as extortion,” said Secretary of the Treasury Paulson of his “don’t ask, just pay” demand for $700 billion dollars to bail out Wall Street’s current embarrassment. “You are investing in a ransom.”

Congressional Democrats objected to Paulson’s insistence on dictatorial authority in carrying out the financial rescue. Republicans countered that their plan already was a generous compromise: “We are not going to blame the Jews.” However, with the Democrats’ insistence on relief for homeowners, the Bush administration responded with a new economic plan: the Secure Employment and Resettlement Foundation.

Under the SERF system, anyone who lost a home would be welcome to stay on the private estates of designated participants. In return for this free housing, the guests would be obliged to express their thanks with a little work: cleaning pools or moats, yard work, windows, crops. In certain locations, the SERF assignments would include building walls along the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Guests can be reassured: SERF housing and employment would be in perpetuity. The system includes a food plan–and it is a dietitian’s dream: all the advantages of root vegetables and none of the risks of meat. As for healthcare, life expectancy would not be an issue.

When asked if the SERF system would pay its workers the minimum wage, the White House replied, “You don’t need to pay your guests.” The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal praised the plan, noting that it had been used in a previous Dark Ages “And look how well things turned out.”