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For the Evil Empire of my space fantasy WIP I decided to do something a little different. Space Feudalism has been done as has the terrifying all consuming Megacorporation;technically everything has been done. I have deiced to put a feudal face on an otherwise corporatocratic system. Simply relabeling all the corporate titles with ones drawn from feudalism would be to simple. I'd actually prefer to combined aspects of both systems. However I'm besides a few ideas I'm at a loss as to how this would work.

  1. The Empire has "corporate personhood" and everyone with in the it is the property of the Empire. Everyone from janitors to executives and lords is an asset of the corporate state.
  2. There are some people so low ranked that they are chattel.
  3. The empire is quite federal as long as Lord doesn't break any laws and honors their obligations they may do as they please.
  4. Nobility can be bought/given. A citizen with enough money can buy franchises/land or they can be gifted with franchises by a Noble.
  5. The Empire is governed by a council/board whose members are all representatives of their noble house.
  6. In this system the Noble House are Megacorporations,Vassal house are subsidiaries.
  7. How the issuing of stocks and bonds would operate in this society.
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  • $\begingroup$ I like the question but I think it might need a little more focus, remember you can always try multiple questions if you need. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    May 28 '15 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ Hate to tell you but evil corporation are a trope, in fact, I can't think of any positive or even neutral corporations in any fictional works over the last 30-40 years, unless you count Ann Rand as the exception that proves the rule. $\endgroup$
    – TechZen
    Jun 3 '15 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ Frank Herbert's Dune Universe had some kind of implied relationship between the nobel house and specific corporations but I don't think he ever fleshed it out. $\endgroup$
    – TechZen
    Jun 3 '15 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ Have you ever read through the world information for Shadowrun? Might help. SINless people don't exist on the system, so they have no value or rights. $\endgroup$
    – Rowanas
    Jun 3 '15 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Rowanas Yeah I'm a big fan of Shadowrun. that might work a large segment of population living outside the system and periodically culled. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 '15 at 21:22
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I think there's a fairly clear answer to this: corporations act as local lords. Or to say it another way, becoming incorporated replaces ennobling.

When a company is formed, it is given land, citizens/employees, and likely a natural resource pertinent to its business. All the normal structures of corporations would apply - you could buy stock in lordships, take them over, sell them off, and if you had enough money, independently start them.

Formation would require a large payment to the "king" - which might be a corporation itself, but really could be any kind of political authority. That payment might take different forms. Monetary is a clear option, but depending on the setting, military service, relationship to other forms of nobility (ie, being royalty, if there is a king), or simple bribery might be involved. Grants of "nobility" might also come with a license to produce a specific kind of product, as otherwise this might end up looking more like feudal 'socialism' than feudal corporatism.

Of course there's some realistic concerns to address. A single company wouldn't be able to provide everything for people, so there would have to be cross pollination of companies. You might live on Company A's land, but you should probably be able to buy from Company B's grocery store and Company C's fast food restaurant. This might take the form of partnerships and possibly involve brand deals.

Alternatively, corporations might just serve as a part of a larger feudal system. In the setting of a game I am working on, the government of a galactic empire is entirely feudal-monarchist, but new planets are often colonized by entities similar to corporations. You make a deal with the "owner" of a planet (usually an admiral with ties to the royalty) to develop it in exchange to being allowed to run it for some period of time. When that time expires, the owners of the "company" usually end up ascended to nobility, if they weren't already, and continue to run the planet, but paying tribute to those higher up the food chain. There is historical precedent for this system, such as with East India companies and American colonies. However, this will only work if some form of colonization is involved. It can't work as I have explained it with fixed amounts of land.

You might be interested in mercantilist states throughout history. Many of the Italian states in the Renaissance were to some degree mercantilist.

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  • $\begingroup$ You've gotten me a little bit closer. I hadn't factored in the existence of stock. Part of idea was fuse the owner and managers into the new Nobility of this Empire. You become a noble either through amassing enough money to by Entitlement and the land rights that come with it. or by being granted rights by a noble, becoming one of their vassal lords. In this system a Great-House is corporation with hereditary owners/managers,that oversees a planet. Minor houses are subsidiaries that oversee areas with in their parent house's domain. $\endgroup$ May 29 '15 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ How stock fits into the system is still a mystery with the exception of the fact that only nobility can own stock. How the class system of the empire works is nebulous for me. At top are the nobles, at the bottom are Chattel people that may be used in anyway that Houses decided. Somewhere in the middle are the Yomen,the middle class they are the skilled labor and the military and may be entitled and become nobility. $\endgroup$ May 29 '15 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ In Dune there was just a single monster company, CHOAM, $\endgroup$
    – MauganRa
    Oct 25 '16 at 18:56
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Corporatisim is generally not conducive to a feudal order, but rather a totalitarian system (in the original meaning, the totality of the State encompassed the individual, providing support and enhancing the individual's efforts. Given the historical outcomes, it is rather easy to understand why "totalitarian" is now a pejorative).

In top down systems, such as Fascist Italy in the 1930's, or the American "New Deal's" system of corporate syndicates, it is quite clear that the corporations, unions and other elements incorporated into the "total state" are subordinate to the central authority. A quasi feudal structure may result if the experiment can last long enough; the leaders and functionaries of the State are the upper layers of nobility and clergy, leaders of the corporate cartels, syndicates, unions etc. are the middle layers of nobility, while the workers are the toiling serfs. Given the Great Depression lasted a decade and the depth of the depression in America was actually 1938, it seems reasonably clear in the historical record that this sort of corporatism is not a good deal for anyone (eventually the "nobility" is going to face an armed uprising of the "peasants", or the entire society will suffer economic collapse). Read "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression" by Amity Shlaes for a more detailed account of this.

The alternative "bottom up" approach is fostered by the Catholic Church and generally endorsed by political parities like the Christian Democrats in Europe. In this model, groups like guilds and unions work together in harmony to advance their mutual interests. Variations of this idea also exist (such as "Liberal corporatism, Progressive corporatism and Corporate solidarism), but this form of corporatism is generally more democratic, rather than feudal. In the real world, these models would probably drift towards forms of oligarchy, as the leadership of the various groups gained and exercised power, and changed the nature of their society to secure their positions.

Communitarian Corporatism, with its emphasis go "natural hierarchies", and Absolutist Corporatism which explicitly used the idea of corporatism to "lock in" social structures and hierarchies to secure the power of absolute monarchs such as Louis XIV (The "Sun King") seem to have the most promise for your idea, but Communitarianism presupposes such a social hierarchy already naturally exists, while Absolutist Corporatism is used to lock in an existing structure (absolute monarchs such as Louis XIV could not exist in the middle ages, where the ability to exert and project power on such a scale did not exist, so Feudalism predates Corporatism).

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One of the basics of Feudalism is the notion of a landed noble. This, moreso than the social and religious constructs present in what is referred to as Feudal Europe could serve as a compelling basis for corporate Feudalism.

In this sort of a model, corporations would own all of the land, likely either leased from the government or else granted to the corporation with the expectation that the corporation will pay the government some portion of its profits and provide military support for the land it owns.

The inhabitants of that land, of course, fall under corporate law, which requires that the work for the betterment of the community or face harsh penalties. Of course, "the good of society" is defined by the corporation who owns the land, and generally means "in a manner which maximizes corporate profits." In essence, the inhabitants of the land owned by the corporation are corporate serfs.

A corporation need not manage all of its own land, of course. It can form vassal companies, which are incorporated to develop and manage certain plots of land for their parent corporation. In exchange, the vassal companies provide military assistance and funds as required by their parent companies.

In essence, this system replaces all of the nobles in classical Feudalism with corporations, though the presidents and major shareholders of these corporations are effectively in a similar socioeconomic position as the nobles in Feudal Europe.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your on the right track, the nobles are hereditary owner/managers. Great Houses are Megacorporations that rule planets, Minor Houses are subsidiaries. Being landed is either granted by a noble or much more rarely bought directly from the throne which is seated by the Emperor/Empress. $\endgroup$ May 29 '15 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ I'd go a step further with the corporate structure: there are not necessarily hereditary owners/managers, as people don't have any inherent power in this system, only corporations do. Corporations could have a board of shareholders, or a single owning family, or anything else. That's up to the corporate charter to decide. The only way to get land would be to form a corporation and have that corporation buy it. (Or to lease new lands from the government, which could itself be a larger corporation. $\endgroup$
    – ckersch
    May 29 '15 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ You favor the system leaning more corporate than feudal. Where as I'm trying to make the two the same thing. How could stock work if a noble house and it's holdings were the same a corporation and its assets? How would the social classes work? Nobility as manger/owners at the top,Yomen in the middle as the skilled labor. Then at the bottom chattel. $\endgroup$ May 29 '15 at 20:45
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I think your going to have problems with this idea because the corporation evolved in the first place to route around the stagnation and ineptitude of feudal dynastic government. The two really can't go together as they are antithetical on almost every level.

The central functional core of corporation is voluntary association through negotiated trade. The central functional core of feudalism is forced association through conquest and constant intimidation. Corporations function through meritocratic advancement. Feudalism functions through privileging individuals by lineage regardless of merit. Corporations exist to create and build. Feudalism exist to exploit and destroy.

Game theorist say that corporations are "non-zero sum, win-win" systems in which the system will not work unless both sides of exchange "win" by coming out better than they would have without the exchange. "Non-zero sum" means that for one side to gain something the other side does not have to lose something.

Feudalism is based on "zero-sum, win-lose." The nobles when their station by violently defeating their competitors, one side wins the other loses, for one side to come out better, the other side must come out worse. The same applies to the rest of society. The wealth of the nobles comes from literally taking the food from the mouth of the farming peasants at the point of a sword.

You can't combine two such opposite systems.

Corporations are how Europe escaped feudalism. The verb incorporate means to make many entities into a single one. Originally, this meant merchants and artisans combining to found trading cities, either out on mudflats no one else wanted or by buy "liberties" from the local feudal lord. In England many towns and cities are still called corporations.

As cities began to trade with one another, they found had to manage everything voluntarily because the feudal lords jealously guarded their monopoly to wreck violence on the rest of society under whatever context. They developed a complex set of rules, enforced non-violently, called the Lex Mercator, the merchants law.

Later, it occured to some people that the same type of corporate system used gather resources to build and then manage trading towns could be used for other large projects, like building dykes, canals and trading fleets.

As technology grew more complex and trade grew more far flung, artisans and traders had to survive on merit. The technology did not care for how much pull one had with the local lord and neither did trade partners hundreds of miles away from the lords domains. Individuals could create their products, sail their ships and make deals with people far, far away or they couldn't and it didn't matter who their daddy was or how many connections they had.

In a fast couple of centuries, the people who invested in corporations learn pretty quick to also stop caring about the lineage, religion, class etc of the people who worked for or managed the corporation and started to care about their merit in the task. When you bet the farm on far sea trading venture, you didn't care who the captain's relations were or for that matter how many eyes and feet he had, you just cared if he could sail the damn ship back home at a profit.

By contrast a feudal domain outside the free cities, everything was radically different. An individual could do nothing with a lords a permission and ones family and personal alliances within complex patron-client networks dictated ones personal success in all fields of endeavor. As a result, individuals, families and patron-client network did everything to promote their own, merited or not, while simultaneously tearing everyone else down, warranted or not. Power is zero sum. For one person to gain power, another must lose. There is no win-win in systems dominated by politics.

(Note that in history,the pattern is that pre-corporate societies grew so stagnate and corrupt that they were routinely conquered by "barbarians" with tiny populations and inferior technologies.)

How are you going to combine two system when in one, merit drives promotion and the other actively suppresses it?

Why would anyone voluntarily buy stock, thus giving risking their money in the corporation, when the managers would be chosen purely by birth or occasionally by warfare and murder? The King/CEO in such systems could be a congenital idiot or a 10 year old child. The "company" org chart would be defined by marriages and deaths not proven management skill?

Corporate governance is based on a form of democracy wherein one's vote or say in the company is determined by how much you risk investing. Feudal governance is determined by victory in war of being the descendent of a victor in war. How do you combine those to systems?

I could go on but you get the point. Feudalism and all form non-mericratic, non-democratic, coerced organization cannot be combined with corporations meritocracy, democracy and voluntary associations. Fascist tried it, didn't work. Communist tried it, didn't work. 3rd world Kleptocrats keep trying it. Doesn't work.

But don't let all that history stop you. It certainly doesn't stop anyone else. Every single depiction in every story about corporation you have every seen literally since toddler hood (e.g. everything Disney has made in the last 25+ years that depicts anyone in business at all) has depicted evil corporations and quite often completely unfleshed out, never explained and always utterly implausible evil corporate "governments."

So, I say don't bother to think about it at all. Just mumble something in one line of your story about "Lord Dark Strange, Baron of Marth, CEO of Pangalatic Baby Eaters Inc" and absolutely no one will stop to think about how it would be an utter violation of basic human self interest for anyone to voluntarily thrown their money into such a system knowing that if didn't like how Lord Dark Strange did things, they couldn't do anything about it.

Relax. No writers great or small are starving by shilling this thoughtless trope so neither should you. No one one who writes fiction, screenplays, games, children's shows etc appears to know anything about how corporations work now, much less their history or evolution or what the world was like before them. Corporations are just naturally evil for some vague reason, everybody knows it.

It's a modern writers freebee villain, you don't have to think out a plausible world system of any kind. Just say, "corporation" and bang, instant suspension of disbelief for anything in your story you attach to said "corporation." Having the executives be feudal lords will be a nice stylistic touch that will be swallowed without thought by everyone.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wanted to bring to gather the Evils of the Oligarchical Megacorporation and the Feudal system into a single oppressive state. With the owners as Lords,Skilled labor and middle-managers as Yomen,and unskilled labor as serfs. Part of my premise is that Empire has corporate-person hood and that all assets people included belong to the Empire. The three classes are all indentured to the corp,just at different tiers. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 '15 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Company towns with shops that only take the Company scrip,that set up seems dangerously close to serfdom. And if the culture that your dealing with has indentured-servitude it's closer still. My goal is putting a Feudal veneer on what is actually a Gigacorporation. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 '15 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ I don't like corporations because they allow the actions of individuals to be dissociated from the consequences. Economically this is a Negative Externiality (economics.fundamentalfinance.com/negative-externality.php), and it can lead to Really Bad Things. And no, obviously not all corporations are bad or evil, but who wants to read about Good Guy Inc which gives out flowers and candy to babies and never does anything bad? Stories are told about "evil" corporations because they're evil - that's the story. It's the same reason most stories don't have an average protagonist. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 '15 at 17:31

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