Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Am I just not getting this joke? (about medieval history)

I think this is meant to be a joke but it can be hard to tell with anything on history. I saw this originally as a Free Exchange link and I'm trying to decide if the journalist is misreporting, the think tank person is just trying to score a rhetorical point, it's a joke, or the think tank person is completely daft. Apparently:

A small farmer in the 1100s would be able to make enough money to live off while taking up to 170 days off a year, but since then work has gradually become more dominant in our lives, he said.

He estimated that a similar person in 1495 would need to work for 15 weeks of the year to earn a sufficient amount to live, while in 1564 the figure was 40 weeks and today most British households need two people on full-time incomes to maintain a home and family.

If I wasn't feeling lazy I'd check references from Braudel but generally speaking up until about the 1800s or so most people lived in the non-market economy. Perhaps there's a kernal of truth in there somewhere but while this hypothetical medieval peasant may have officially had that many holidays most of that peasants time would have been spent making all that stuff we buy today. Would you really consider yourself better off if you could work half as much but had to spend your free time building your home, making your furniture, making your own clothes (out of fibers, not fabrics), etc.

About the only thing I get out of this nonsense is that modern lifestyle is a good thing. If that's the alternative to debt, bring on the credit cards.

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