Meet Your New Feudal Overlords
While billionaires like Bill Gates buy up all the nation’s farmland, Wall Street investors snatch up every home they can get their hands on.
For Father’s Day a few years back, my wife and kids surprised me with a trip to Medieval Times, an immersive dinner theater featuring staged Arthurian-styled games, such as sword-fighting and jousting. Anyone can enjoy the forgotten age of kings and queens for a reasonable price, at least for an evening.
For the next several hours, we sank into the fantasy world of wealthy lords and ladies. As we watched knights battle each other on horseback, the wait staff, dressed as lowly serfs, served overflowing plates of food and poured wine into our faux-jewel-encrusted goblets on demand. As much fun as the outing was, the similarities between the feudalism of the Middle Ages and present-day American capitalism are just a little too on the nose.
Classic feudalism was a system where a wealthy land-owning nobility (the 1%) controlled the peasant class of workers known as serfs (everyone else). The elites provided serfs with a small piece of land on which to live. Although they paid taxes, generally, serfs owned no property, had no economic power or upward mobility. During the Middle Ages, as much as 90% of Europe’s population fell into this category.
I admit it’s not a perfect comparison, but it’s something worth considering — especially given what’s happening not just with housing but with land ownership in general. In our system, owning real estate is the most common vehicle for wealth accumulation. So what happens when only the wealthiest Americans can afford to own property?
Before you answer, you should know that billionaires are buying up land like it’s going out of style. Do you know who owns the most farmland in the United States? Bill Gates and his soon-to-be ex-wife Melinda, that’s who. With 242,000 acres of cropland plus nearly 30,000 additional acres of land in their real estate portfolio, they’re playing real-life monopoly.
According to The Land Report, 100 families own 42 million acres across the country. The Gates family…