Back in the middle ages and medieval times, most of the feudal European population (roughly 90% or 95%) were serfs of some sort or another. Serfs is an aggregate class name for a lot of smaller classifications, like pheasants and even slaves. Life was different back then, and financial interest of any sort was outlawed by the church, so the magic of compound interest didn’t exist so opportunities to grow money were constricted. Without a way to invest money, either you had it in a container hidden in your one room house or is was collected as part of taxes that your superior took.
So how did the serfs make money? Their lords didn’t pay them money, although the nobles did let the serfs use the land that the nobles owned… In fact, the nobles mainly took their stuff like an ant sips the sweat off of an aphid bug. The nobles let the serfs keep some of the food to survive on, and some were even able to sell their food to merchants (the very small middle class back then, less than 9%) for money. So some of the serfs had money, but without a way to make it grow, they were still very limited.
Now the kicker is that although we have more opportunities since interest isn’t illegal anymore, wealth distribution isn’t really that much different from what it was like in the old days, sort of. I can imagine the net worth of individuals back then being practically flat until about the 95% of the population. Then at the 95% of the population line, the line slopes up dramatically, probably much like the wealth line does for the 1% vs the .01% today.
The difference is that today we own land and have our own houses, so this means that the wealth line is much more gentle slope than the dramatic rise of the middle ages. Equity in houses, not matter how many renters claim otherwise enables the bulk of us to have at least a little wealth!
So are we financial serfs? I don’t think so, but we’re still not that much better off except for the equity in our houses (at least for the majority of us). I think that a big part of our problem is that we aren’t raised financially savvy and shy away from investments of the financial sorts.