A Modern Neo-Feudal State, The Tech Lords Ushering in a Return to the Medieval

A Modern Neo-Feudal State, The Tech Lords Ushering in a Return to the Medieval 

(Photo : Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images) Tents for the homeless are seen on August 16, 2023 on a Skid Row sidewalk in Los Angeles, California, where homelessness has seen a 10 percent surge compared to last year.

California, the Golden State. But is it still? Not for most. According to a California State Auditor brief in 2021, "Californians make up 12% of the total U.S. population but 28% of its homeless population and 51% of its unsheltered homeless." A December 2023 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated the number of people experiencing homelessness in California to be 181,399, the highest in the United States. California's homeless population far surpasses that of New York's 103,200 homeless, the second highest number of people experiencing homelessness in the nation. On opposite coasts and separated by about 2,500 miles, the two states have some distinct commonalities directly corresponding to their homeless populations, namely income inequality and a shortage of affordable housing. 

But California also has something that New York doesn't, a concentration of wealth in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area related to the science and tech industries and an increasingly apparent class divide between its wealthy, property-owning "mostly white and Asian population located along the California coast, and a largely poor, heavily Latino working class in the interior." According to the November 2023 Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure estimates, the number of Californians living in poverty was the highest compared to all other states, reflective of the high level of inequality within the state. As modern society has become more dependent on the few tech companies that control today's digital information space, the socio-economic worth of these companies and workers has grown exponentially while that in other sectors has declined.

Tech-Haves and Non-Tech-Have-Nots

(Photo : Photo by MANDEL NGAN,ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images) COMBO/FILES) This combination of file photographs created on June 22, 2023 shows SpaceX, Twitter and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk during his visit at the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris on June 16, 2023 (R) and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC on October 23, 2019.

The resulting disparity in California between the wealthy tech-haves and the non-tech-have-nots has created what Joel Kotkin, the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author of "The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class," calls a neo-feudal state in which the level of inequality is on par with that of underdeveloped countries like the Dominican Republic, Gambia, and the Republic of the Congo. With 186 billionaires residing in California in 2023 - the highest number of billionaires of all U.S. states - whose fortunes were primarily derived from tech, finance, entertainment, or real estate, the concentration of tech industry wealth in recent years has created a new aristocracy dominated by tech oligarchs.

Like the steel and railroad barons of the 19th and early 20th century, these tech lords excercise considerable economic and political influence. Far more frightening though, as Kotkin says, is the "extraordinary and terrifying amount of economic power" wielded by this new aristocracy of tech moguls and their ability to control the flow of public information. Not only do they possess considerable national economic sway, but as they acquire a growing ability to directly influence public discourse through censorship and targeted information, their power to exert their will on issues of political importance is significantly greater than that of the railroad industry titans. With the ability to control what is being communicated via their various digital networks, a small, powerful minority can manipulate the will of the majority, going against a fundamental principle of American democracy. 

Threat to The Majority

(Photo : Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images) Starlink satellite antennas are seen at the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA), the international trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances, on August 31, 2023 during a preview at the fair grounds in Berlin. Starlink is a satellite internet provider operated by Elon Musk's American aerospace company SpaceX.

Such power concentrated in the hands of a few goes directly against the founders' intended "coalition of a majority of the whole society" with "justice and the general good," as it was written by James Madison in Federalist Paper 51. While for most of American history this idea has survived, a powerful minority with the ability to exert such economic and political influence and influence public discourse did not emerge until recently. As California's homeless population and disappearing middle class can attest, the uberwealthy aristocracy that has emerged in the state is one that primarily benefits an elite minority while the majority suffers. In perhaps what would have been the Founders' worst nightmare, the threat of tyranny by a powerful minority aristocracy in today's America may come in the form of tech lords clad in "jeans and hoodies" rather than armor or a crown. 

But the end result will still be the same. If ever such tech lords decide that their will should supplant that of the majority's, or that through their influence they might alter the course of history by sustaining one country's war of aggression on another or by manipulating the political landscape, democracy will be the casualty - in America and throughout the world. 

Related Article: A Decade to Trillionaire Status: How Wealth Hoarding Aggravates Woes

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