Economic Bullshit in the Guardian

Asked what aspects of the 12th-century economy should be exported to modern Britain, Boyle said: “Debt-free living; a lot of holidays and parties and a lack of work ethic; the idea of a ‘just price’ for goods; some aspects of the medieval guilds and the importance of craftsmanship; and a more spiritual response to money.”

He said, “When you dig up 12th-century skeletons you find they are taller or as tall as skeletons at any other part of history other than our own. That suggests they were getting economics right.”

Boyle said that for a small farmer in the 12th century to make a sufficient amount to live on for a year, he would be able to take 170 days’ holiday. The trend ever since, it seems, has been for work to take over. In 1495, he estimated, such a person would have to work 15 weeks of the year, but by 1564 the figure was 40 weeks and in 2010 most British households require two adults to work full-time to support a home and family.

There is, I think it is safe to say, nothing I want to bring back from the 12th Century.

Without debt there’ll be no savings. A spiritual response to money is why Bernake, Trichet and King aren’t using monetary policy to boost employment and the economy and we are in real danger of a lost decade.

It is idiotic to report that people only had to work 160 days a year; they only could work that many days a year. The person working 40 weeks in 1564, an oddly precise figure, was significantly better off than his 12th century forebear.

That is from Maddison’s famous reconstruction of past GDP, from 1AD to 2005AD, a very useful source here actually, book mark it.

You’ll notice that its a bit truncated between 1820 and 1, that is because there’s not much data. But from what we know most of that time, including the 12th century, was spent in utter poverty. Somewhere between $400 and at best $500 per person per year (thats 1990 PPP dollars).

It is not worth romanticising the past.

We have problems now, but they are nothing like having to bury most of your children before they reach adulthood. No one has to till the earth by hand or by oxen anymore.

You work in a call centre? You only work 35 hours a week? You have a computer that is more powerful than the one used to put man on the moon. That is unimaginable compared to 99% of all the humans who have ever lived.

Things can be better, of course they can. We’re going to deport children to Afghanistan for example, but the answers lie in the future, not the past.

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3 thoughts on “Economic Bullshit in the Guardian

  1. Historian here. I completely agree. Romanticising the past is absurd. If anyone ever tries to tell you they’d “rather have lived in x time period”, slap them in the face.

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