Late stage capitalism is all the rage right now. This is especially true for younger generations — mine included — who believe there is no way out of the economic mess we’re in.
Despite all the doom and gloom, there is light at the end of the tunnel. To get there, however, we’ll have to give up capitalism as we know it and embrace something entirely new.
We’ve been here before. Following the Black Death, Europe underwent radical political, social, and economic transformation. With the death of millions of peasants, feudalism came to an end. But that didn’t happen overnight. It took centuries for a new economic model to emerge — capitalism.
If the United States is indeed in late stage capitalism, a new alternative economic model is in the process of being built. Maybe it will be a digitally native and decentralized economy. Maybe it won’t.
History tells us that transitions take time. We may be instrumental in building the new system that emerges, but it’s likely we won’t have the opportunity to benefit from it.
This essay will examine how the Black Death was a catalyst for massive economic change in Europe during the Middle Ages. It will argue that capitalism emerged as a reaction to the failures of feudalism rather than being an organic source of original innovation.
This tells us that whatever replaces capitalism today will likely be an economic reaction to a catalyst that has already happened — or to something that is to come. We can use the lessons from the past to chart a course in the sea of uncertainty that lies ahead.
The Black Death was a catalyst for major economic disruption, initiating the end of feudalism.
An outbreak of bubonic plague — commonly referred to as the Black Death — struck Europe in the mid-14th century. Based on population data available from that time, about half of Europe’s population was wiped out.
England, one of the largest European powers of the time, was a feudal economy. The church and nobility owned the land, and the peasantry worked it. Mercantilist trade was growing but limited. While craft guilds were…