dailyreckoning.com / By Bill Bonner / December 17, 2012
When wealth was easy to identify and easy to control — that is, when it was mostly land — a few insiders could do a fairly good job of keeping it for themselves. The feudal hierarchy gave everybody a place in the system, with the insiders at the top of the heap.
But come the industrial revolution and suddenly wealth was accumulating outside the feudal structure. Populations were growing too…and growing restless. The old regime tried to tax this new money, but the new ‘bourgeoisie’ resisted.
“No taxation without representation,” was a popular slogan of the time. The outsiders wanted in. And there were advantages to opening the doors.
Rather than a small clique of insiders, the governments of the modern world count on the energy of the entire population. This was the real breakthrough of the French Revolution and its successors. They harnessed the energy of millions of citizens, who were ready to be taxed and to die, if necessary, for the mother country. This was Napoleon’s secret weapon — big battalions, formed of citizen soldiers. These enthusiastic warriors gave him an edge in battle. But they also ushered him to his very own Waterloo.
Napoleon Bonaparte himself was an outsider. He was not French, but Corsican. He didn’t even speak French when he arrived in Toulon as a boy. But there never is one fixed group of people who are always insiders. Instead, the insider group has a porous membrane separating it from the rest of the population. Some people enter. Some are expelled. The group swells. And shrinks. Potential rivals are brought in and bought off. Weak members are pushed out. Sometimes, a military defeat brings a whole new group of insiders into power. Elections, too, can change the make-up of the core group.