Today, we take for granted that the production of each individual is greatly improved by machinery. We own multiple items of clothing, eat a varied diet, and live in homes of concrete heated and cooled by electricity. And this description applies to upcoming economies like Ukraine.
If you take the example of what a feudal Russian lived in the 1700, many built their own homes out of wood using an axe and wood from the forest, they would buy fabric and furs but had to make and mend their own clothes, they would hunt and work the land of their lord for sustinence. Their diet was restricted to seasons and death by famine and disease was rampant. The few coins they could accumulate went towards the purchase of must haves (metal tools, basic textiles, a furnace, and luxuries like animals). In winter, they would sleep on top of their furnace for heat, and their home was filled with smoke.
Urban centres were no different. The 1000sqft apartments we have today are 5-10x the size of dwellings in London or Paris during the same period. You can see this visiting the ruins of Rome too.
Life was tough but we forget how tough it was because most of us idealize the simpler times of the past.
For people in the SI-world (most of the world) confused by this imperial-speak, this roughly equates to 93 square meters.
That's still 1.6-5.3 times more than they used to be, according to the original claim. Seems less dramatic than 5-10x but for an apartment that already feels tiny, it's a lot.
Not so free after all!
Anyone here know which of "less inches" or "fewer inches" is grammatically correct?
Less length, but fewer inches.
You can't deny the economic advantages of this. Who cares about losing cultural heritage? That's just for obstructionists like those filthy Americans. /s
This is exactly how chimpanzees live today, and matches well with most of the archaeological remains we have of primordial hunter-gatherers. Our forebears lived very violent lives.
I've been reading some books on the subject that claim the contrary, also based on archaeological proofs (and on identifying faults with the existing studies). So I wouldn't state that with such confidence.
See RoboTeddy's comment for some details on this POV.
And also, if we look at bonobos, another primate closely related to us, we might get a completely different perspective on life in the distant past. It's just that we discovered chimpanzees first.
It appears that some people prefer to focus on a very specific behavioral trait pinned on bonobos (having sex with group members to diffuse conflicts) just because it fits their preconceived notion of an ideal outcome involving absence of conflicts in general and war in particular. Some people even pin the name "hippie ape" in what looks like a desperate attempt to validate their personal ideals. Yet, bonobos are indeed known for organizing attacks on neighboring primate groups for the express purpose of killing and even eating them.
But could you please shed some light on this sentence:
> Yet, bonobos are indeed known for organizing attacks on neighboring primate groups
Are those primates other bonobos? That could be called going to war. If not, it's called hunting: those other primates are just food. It's not like we go to war against whatever other animals we are eating.
To the parent's comment though, bonobos don't actually form patrols and they tend to avoid contact with other groups, so intra-group conflict is lower for bonobos than chimpanzees.
Could you please cite the names of one or two of those books? I'll start by citing "War Before Civilization" and "Social Conquest of Earth" as in the camp of "our forbears lived very violent lives".
I'm not saying you're wrong, but that's a hell of a simplification. Do you have sources for your two sentence summary of 250,000 years of human pre-history?
* Level of food security (very high -- people only bothered to keep 3 days of food on hand, since it was so easy to get more)
* Their social living arrangements (persistent "living groups" of 10-ish people, multiple of which might be camping around the same water hole at a given time. so there's a collection of people you're often around that rarely changes, and then other groups you see and live with for a time periodically)
* Reasons why their population didn't explode despite lack of contraceptives (no crops --> no e.g. maize that can be turned into mash for kids --> kids breastfeed for years longer, which apparently acts as a contraceptive.
As others are saying, life undoubtedly was quite different for hunter-gatherers in other regions.
Actually, it's far more probable that population were kept low because everyone got killed at a very high rate compared with the rate of reproduction. With no medical care to treat diseases of wounds and with both man and nature invested in killing off people, population growth tends to be kept low.
May I warmly recommend Yuval Harari's "Sapiens":
It discusses this and other issues related to the cultural evolution of our species at length. Some of his views into modern life are especially eye opening.
If you want to explore the other side to that old essay, try this: https://www.google.com/search?q=The+Worst+Mistake+in+the+His...
"After graduating from Cambridge, Diamond returned to Harvard as a Junior Fellow until 1965, and, in 1968, became a professor of physiology at UCLA Medical School. While in his twenties he developed a second, parallel, career in ornithology and ecology, specialising in New Guinea and nearby islands." - Wikipedia
Do you dispute his position on women in science? Or, should we take his position as correct for the same reasons that you list.
I did not say his only credit was popularity. I said he's a pop-writer, as opposed to, say, a peer reviewed expert in the domain.
In any case, my primary request is that people consider the long list of refutations to the claims in his mass-market publications.
And history has also shown some experts can be wrong when the paradigm change of new ideas is too big.
However, and I say this is particularly important: all refutations I have read about his work focus on some particular detail, they are of the type: 'this number is wrong'. Of course it can be, he's speculating. And that's the easy part to fix! Just change the number in his argument with the correct one. Be constructive.
But I have never read a refutation that says: 'this line of reasoning is wrong'.
In fact, his work has been cited as an inspiration for 'Sapiens', which is a current best seller and it follows the same modus operandi.
Or, try googling. For example, here is a relevant discussion on NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/01/14/169374400/why-do...
(Tichy’s karma is just 110 short)
For example, perhaps certain facts have been more/less passionately supported after 10 years. Also aspects like tone.
I concede that people adjust their expectations to norms that surround them. But I also feel there are certain floors in the human condition -- the death of a child being one of those rock bottoms.
To further your analogy, would you prefer to be a diabetic paraplegic in the modern era, or the medieval? Because you're not going to be able to medicate yourself with the insulin you need, and there's not much work for paraplegics to do if they're not born into money.
> Our 60 years of wage slavery in windowless offices might seem unconscionable to a medieval peasant drinking mead all day by a stream with his friends, even if he ends up dying at 50.
We have the opportunity to change our lives if we don't want the wage slavery; entrepreneurialism is the whole reason why this site exists. For a medieval peasant, they can't move into the nobility, their inventions are not protected, they frequently aren't allowed to move around, travel is dangerous, communication with anyone outside the area they grew up in is more difficult due to language differences, hobbies are limited largely to what you can build yourself, since trade for items is difficult and expensive... the list of restrictions goes on and on.
In any case, the peasants of yesteryear are analogous to the working class of today, and they don't work in offices, windowless or otherwise.
> We have the opportunity to change our lives if we don't want the wage slavery; entrepreneurialism
Entrepreneuralism often is just another form of slavery. You exchange serving your boss 8 hours a day for serving your customers (and/or investors) 16 hours a day. Most businesses are not innovative problem solving endeavours, they're mundane servitude in highly competitive markets. If you're lucky, it may lead you to significantly more wealth than your dayjob; if you're not, you just wasted years of working 16h/day for less reward than you'd get working 8h/day in a regular job.
The slavery only ends when you don't have to do work for other people in exchange for resources necessary to live a decent life. As a society, we're nowhere near that yet.
(Thinking that starting your own business is freedom from the man is confusing irrelevant freedoms, like the ability to choose your customers, choose your logo, choose your working machine, with actually important freedoms, like choosing whether to have customers at all.)
A person today is less of a slave to his environment than in the past, although this is more the case in Canada and Scandinavian countries, than in the US.
Now you could say that people worked less in past times, but you could also work half a year and enjoy the rest of your time labour-free, so long as you sacrifice a lot of luxuries (running water, police service, paved roads, fire department, any means of connectivity, etc.)
You wouldn't be sent to prison in the first place.
"The tortures and punishments of civil justice customarily cut off hands and ears, racked, burned, flayed, and pulled apart people's bodies. In everyday life, passers-by saw some criminal flogged with a knotted rope or chained upright in an iron collar. They passed corpses hanging on the gibbet and decapitated heads and quartered bodies impaled on stakes on the city walls."
Mead was expensive since it require lots of honey and was mostly used for special occasions. Most they did drink weak beer because they had learned that in some places peoples drinking water did die more often than the peoples drinking beer. The beer was weak because they did not know how east works and it was probably flat. So don't confuse it with what we know as beer now.
I do also have a hard time believing they in general had more freedom, maybe the top 10% had more freedom than what many have now? Which is far from what the top 10% have now
People started growing crops out of necessity. In terms of food security, hunting-gathering was far easier. The average hunter also worked far fewer hours than the average farmer in antiquity.
I'd assume in hunter-gatherer societies, children would not be that useful for hunting until they are fully grown, or in gathering until they've spent many years learning where to go to gather what. Also not useful in making tools, since those would take a lifetime to learn.
Whereas children are readily useful in traditional farming even at a younger age, because there are all sorts of places one can employ unskilled manual labor on a farm.
Hunter-gatherer societies had very low rates of demographic growth. And industrial societies are also seeing much lower population growth, because children are an enormous economic burden.
This gives an impetus to at least wait 3-4 years between pregnancies.
There is no such pressure on agrarian societies.
I imagine there was no(t much) fieldwork, crops were raised on the side, if hunting and gathering was indeed easier. What else would explain foregoing that?
Still today I sometimes dismissively assume that sowing seeds and just waiting is the simplest thing ever. Maybe neolithic people didn't need to process the crops either, instead feeding animals and eating them then, which is less efficient, energetically speaking.
It's clear that agricultural societies were more fit than hunter-gatherer societies.
Agricultural societies could breed more people and use them to kill the hunter-gatherers and take their land.
Even if the meat/vegetable eaters were bigger and stronger than the grain eaters, there were simply a lot more grain eaters.
Classic Greek myths are full of references to "golden age" men who were displaced by more degenerate modern, civilized men. I can't help read those myths as a story of the rise of agriculture.
> [Men] lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all devils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace.
> In the 5th century BCE, the philosopher Empedocles, like Hesiod before him, emphasized the idea of primordial innocence and harmony in all of nature, including human society, from which he maintained there had been a steady deterioration until the present.
My original question was a bit cheeky as I already knew the answer.
The Icelandic ancestors didn't have that luxury in their country's bitter cold
People became food raisers because it was a better life. It allowed plentiful food so that others could do things unrelated to food. Art... and science.
For one good documentary (or book), check out Guns, Germs and Steel. (it's usually found online and fun to watch!) A book which documents the reasons some civilizations went from tribes, to eventual empires, while others like one in Papa New Guinea remained hunter-gatherers. That tribe, for example, has no "beasts of burden" on the island, which were the initial "machinery" that multiplied the amount of work output a tribe could produce compared to one of only men.
But at no point does anyone suggest that hunter-gathering was "better." It was the thing everyone wanted to get away from but certain societies had an easier time doing it.
It's like that guy who eschewed modern society and went hiking out in Canada/Alaska with no research or even a map. He died. He died poisoned by simple plants that anyone would have told him not to eat. And he died less than a couple miles from a ranger station full of food, shelter, and an emergency phone/radio. "Oops."
Romanticize all you want. But never forget it's a fantasy.
You believe western civilisation has come a long way from the cesspool it mostly has been, while neglecting to think about the true cost of our material wealth, which is has resulted in much destruction of the natural world.
Unexploited natural resources aside, what are those nice things?
That's 96.87 sqft.
"The rooms usually have a surface area of around 6–12 m2" (65 to 129 sqft)
For example we (2 adults + 1 toddler) live in an old 70m^2 (750 square feet) apartment that's built in a way suggesting it originally housed 2 families in the 2 large rooms (what we now use as 1 bedroom and 1 living-room) and shared the kitchen/bathroom. So it is very likely 8+ people lived here, and it is now considered small for the 3 of us.
The apartment building is from either the late 19th century or early 20th century.
I imagine a lot of these tiny "single-person" apartments in Paris used to house a lot more than 1 person 100+ years ago.
I would say that life was tougher for the poor indeed.
But if you take a rich peasant/small noble - they did not lived that miserable.
And the things we idealize about them - less complicated live (they did not had to worry about china, nor russia, nor korea, nor NSA, etc. only to dangers close to them, big nobleman, enemy neighbours), allmost no pollution/noise. Living close to nature, going hunting, working with your body in the field - are still valid, I think.
If you had a self-sustainable village in times of peace, people had not to worry too much about other things, than the things they could see.
Or a native american hunter tribe. If they were strong - then they had a pretty good, altough simple live. Even though they were hungry in spring and occasionally fought wars.
So the idealisation is not per se wrong, people just don't know, that the image they have in their mind, is not valid for the average person.
So even if there would be a going back, I do not think it makes sense - but while going forward, we can still try to strive for the things we idealize about the past, like simplicity. And by that I do not mean giving up on technology or globalisation, just avoiding unnecessary complications. So ... more decoupling, modularisation, on the technological as well as on the political level, just KISS ... even though that it is not simple, I know, but it is still something worth going for. And not more global regulations, "free trade" agreements you have to study for years to understand and still missing out the secret parts, competing locked down systems going together with companys making their products harder to repair on purpose, and so on and on and on.
So I am dreaming of the day, when I can just print out the small broken part of my vacuum cleaner(or car, ... or computer) with the official specs, instead of having to by a new one, because this model gets no longer produced.
But - to be fair - they wouldn't have needed to buy a new smartphone every two years or so, nor to pay subscription to any mobile carrier.
With all due respect for the map (and the accuracy of the calculations by the econo-historian) that may be very valid, the comparison with modern times (i.e. the linked to article) makes (at least to me) very little sense.
GDP/PPP based calculations on poverty line already (even in modern times comparisons between different countries) suffer from "skewing" because of the different needs:
let alone comparing today with 2000 years ago.
The needs these devices satisfy have always existed.
If having a mobile device is worth more to you than it costs, you GAIN by having one. It's not a net loss to you.
In olden times, we had one phone number for our family. And before phones we had mail. There's are all kinds of ways to communicate, albeit slower than carrying a cellphone.
The fact that you can still mail a letter doesn't help at all when the other party expects something else.
Big emphasis on "can", because usually they don't. Instead we get social media and smartphone addiction.
Don't tell that to the 'digital divide' people
There's nothing innate to the iPhone itself which provides for basic needs: water, food, shelter, clothing. It can play a role in the procurement or execution of task, but does not of itself provide them. Which is rather much the role of much of technology: it may allow us to reach theoretical limits imposed outside of technology in accomplishing a task, but it doesn't move those limits. Electronic engine controls approach but do not change Carnot's rule.
Moreover, by setting a new baseline of expectations for what people have and how they interact in society, a smartphone (or email address, or social media account) creates an effective barrier and set of essential fundamentals.
Karl Marx discussed this in the 1800s:
By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them. In Scotland, custom has rendered them a necessary of life to the lowest order of men; but not to the same order of women, who may, without any discredit, walk about barefooted. In France they are necessaries neither to men nor to women, the lowest rank of both sexes appearing there publicly, without any discredit, sometimes in wooden shoes, and sometimes barefooted. Under necessaries, therefore, I comprehend not only those things which nature, but those things which the established rules of decency have rendered necessary to the lowest rank of people. All other things I call luxuries, without meaning by this appellation to throw the smallest degree of reproach upon the temperate use of them. Beer and ale, for example, in Great Britain, and wine, even in the wine countries, I call luxuries. A man of any rank may, without any reproach, abstain totally from tasting such liquors. Nature does not render them necessary for the support of life, and custom nowhere renders it indecent to live without them.
Oh, silly me. Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776.
Technology needs to be put in context. I saw people in Nepal with mobile phones that didn't have access to clean water.
Rather than GDP I'd measure the likelihood to die of disease, famine, war, etc. Technology is a tool. The same cognitive dissonance is seen when discussing evolution.
See generally: https://ourfiniteworld.com/2012/03/12/world-energy-consumpti...
There's some very interesting work going on in this area, in particular Steve Keen's recent integration of energy into production functions:
now imagine how many people in Romans era could have 30 slaves.
GDP is a measure of the amount of stuff that a society produced that people in that society found valuable. Things that help avoid death are included, but often people have higher priorities; if they find something else more valuable to them, who are we to tell them they're wrong?
I would guess that once you will have a city and a decent number of citizens in it you will quickly find out a possible use for it.
My explanation would be that the economy was less moneytized. Lot of slaves means few salaries means low GDP.
Also the Roman economy was based on conquering and pillaging countries which allowed to sustain a negative import balance. I'm not sure if this translate well in terms of modern economy and GDP computation.
More like 20+, depending on the country.
Was Crassus an ancient Bill Gates though? Not so much. Rome's wealthiest mostly obtained their fortunes from conquest. Crassus, on the other hand, made his fortune by taking advantage of his peers. For example, during Sulla's dictatorship, Crassus would buy the estates of other citizens after they fell victim to Sulla's proscriptions for pennies on the dollar. He even snuck the names of wealthy individuals onto the proscription lists just so he could plunder their estates! Crassus also, famously, ran a fire brigade that would show up to fires and then refuse to put them out until the owner of the burning property sold out to Crassus for cheap.
For a society of mafia warrior lawyers, the Romans sure let each other get away with murder.
Another way to measure wealth in a comparable way is the proportion of the economic production someone is able to control.
So land was a much more important commodity, therefore I don't think you can't compare it reasonably with today.
Take those calculations for what you will, but according to papers like these ancient Rome acutally had a comparable Gini index to today's US:
This is objectively true, but what if being satisfied with your life has more to do with being better off than your neighbours than with being objectively wealthy?
I know I would not trade my admittedly slightly above average life for the life of any Roman.
I don't feel so confident he would take that decision - not if he knew he would become one peasant among millions - and I certainly don't feel so confident that he'd be happy with that decision five or ten years on.
We take for granted so much that was beyond the richest and most powerful people in history. Just being able to sleep safely in bed without fear of being killed while you slept was something that was beyond almost all emperors.
Old roads in Europe that are subject to truck and car traffic crumble very quickly unless meticulously maintained.
Skip to page 4, where it covers ESAL. A standard trailer is expected to do around 800-1000 times the damage of a standard passenger car. The conclusion:
"When discussing road wear cars don't matter: road damage is effectively caused by trucks."
So, if road use is charged by a steeply progressive schedule, and driver cost is not an issue, will we see fleets of light autonomous trucks replace the heavyweights?
That's possible too, but would be tremendously less efficient as you'd have the same air resistence (or at least a substantial amount) but without the same cargo capacity.
Railroads tend not to develop potholes.
Also, remember that roads aren't made out of head-hardened solid steel - if they were, they'd probably nearly forever.
Rail itself may not get quickly damaged (though they do) however rail wheels, which are made of relatively softer metal, develop all kinds of damage, require the machining away of the damaged surface periodically (as in, wheels shrink over time as mateiral is cut off it to get to new metal below) and only last a matter of years for heavy haul environments:
Search for spalling, shelling and rolling contact fatigue as examples.
(There might be a paper in figuring out the sweet spot given hypothetical costs ...)
Though the Romans didn't make heavy use of them, one of the first major inland cargo transport systems was canal networks. Canals are almost the equivalent of railroads (trading speed for bandwidth), and have the useful property, I realised a while back, of not requiring roadbed maintenance or resurfacing. Canals don't develop potholes, get muddy, or suffer from the carriage of heavy loads.
The canal boom in Europe began proper in the 1500s, though there were some earlier instances.
One element is infrastructure depreciation. As you note, the materials and construction of Rome tended to last. Stone and Roman concrete both in particular don't degrade with time (though they may suffer earthquake damage). Things built tended to remain built over timescales we are not familiar with, at the very least, centuries rather than decades. Depreciation expense was far less.
Another factor was a much smaller natural capital expense. Not an entirely absent one, and there were problems with deforestation, salinisation, and cropland depletion throughout the Roman empire, as well as hazards introduced by commerce of plague and disease. But the major capital depletion of the modern world, the draw-down of fossil-fuel reserves at rates millions of times greater than their formation, was not present, nor various consequences of such actions, including of course, greenhouse-gas induced global warming and ocean chemistry changes.
(Among the issues Rome did have to deal with was heavy metal pollution, particularly lead and mercury, and particulates emissions. It wasn't all roses. But by relative magnitudes this was a very small fraction of present capital expenditures.)
Vaclav Smil's Energy and Civilization is an epic exploration of the role of energy in history, including the Roman Empire.
It seems like our country, and many others, are optimizing for GDP growth. I assume at some point in the past, it presumably did correlate to wealth, so this made sense. But I think our attempt (and success) at maximizing GDP has shown that such a correlation was indeed just a correlation, and not a causal relationship. Nonetheless, we continue to focus on GDP, and this is simply bemusing.
And now to compare GDP optimized modern nations, to an out of left field ballpark estimate for an ancient empire? I think that's clearly not a very reasonable thing to do.
So what would you measure instead? At least empirically GDP gives a good ballpark estimate of the general level of development in a country. Not that itself alone makes sense, but in a global world it's a pretty good indicator at where a country is economically.
GDP of a pre-modern empire is far more debatable, of course. But, the life of a roman peasant was not that much different from that of a rural worker in, say, india. Except, no cell phones, not even the slightest chance for vaccination, the cultivated species were probably less productive, etc.
This focus on the lifestyle approximation also makes much more sense than even factors like inflation. For instance inflation today is ostensibly very low, with the Fed becoming increasingly aggressive with monetary policy to try to sustain it (deflation is not fun). Nonetheless, that doesn't really mesh well with the 50% who have seen many of the necessities of life (housing, education, healthcare, etc) inflate at rates vastly greater than the reported inflation rate.
Quantification makes things seem much more scientific, but the key word there is seem. Without a strong 1:1 mapping of a quantification to what it implicitly represents, it becomes less than useless -- it becomes actively misleading. So for instance I think based on what I said above you might suggest I'm just referring to median personal income. Of course in nations where e.g. women do not work, median personal income would be incredibly misleading. So perhaps I am talking about median household income. Yet in countries where large numbers of poor individuals reside within a single household, again the value becomes meaningless.
I do not think there is any singular consistent and clear way to compare wealth over time and circumstance, other than to compare an average approximation of a lifestyle. I think this thread is a good example of this. Many have mentioned that by many metrics today, the average person today is wealthier than a medieval king. Yet how many people would rather be an average individual today than a king of a medieval era? If people like the things that these metrics represent, the answer to that question should cohere with their measured increase today. In other words most people should prefer to be an average person today. I strongly suspect that is not the case.
I agree, because one thing these comparisons miss is that people judge almost everything relatively - there's research showing more people would choose to earn $20k amongst peers averaging $10k than earn $50k amongst peers earning $100k, even though on an absolute scale the latter would mean earning $30k more.
Being king means being top of the pile, and that's a much bigger draw than shiny gadgets - many of which would be replaced by servants anyway - or modern health care - because nobody thinks they'll need it until they do.
I presume you approach this from the vanity angle? Given the type of person who hungers after such vain glory I presume the persons who would like to be a medieval king, and who would choose to remain in such a role after trying it out is very small. I know, some prefer a challenge of violence and filth for it's own sake. The best thing one can say is that you can be drunk the entire time and no one will complain.
In my opinion at the most fundamental level it is just a representation of access to raw materials and especially to labor. Everything else is ultimately just a derivative of those. Being a king would provide a practically endless supply of both. That wealth enables you to have the resources to try to make the world a better place, and certainly to be able to enjoy all the world has to offer.
Of course we have become vastly wealthier in some ways. Education in particular is something that has always been a product of wealth, and to this very day still is. Nonetheless, any individual with an internet connection now has access to what is, at least ostensibly, an MIT caliber education - for free. The lack of education is no doubt a part of the reason for why the peasants stayed peasants.
But nonetheless, royalty of past times would of course have had access to the absolute best education available of the time. It's phenomenally interesting reading things like 'The King's Mirror' . Various translations are available at the bottom. It was written in the 13th century intended as a childhood educational tool for a king. It's surreal considering that it was written about 800 years ago.
Ultimately I think things like having a fluffier bed (to reference an anecdote from this thread) or access to electronic gadgetry is hardly a meaningful measurement of wealth. As you mention, if somebody wants to just live their life in pure hedonism now a days there are many ways to do so - much as in the past people could have just drunk themselves to death in the past (or present). But hedonism becomes rapidly unfulfilling. And it leaves us wanting to create, to produce. And wealth is what enables one to fulfill this most fundamental and intrinsic desire that's what brought us from primate to man. And the middle today are vastly far away from the middle of times past, yet simultaneously still vastly far from the elite of times past.
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konungs_skuggsj%C3%A1
I though we were discussing economics and not happiness?
People tend to conflate the two. Just because something is not economically measurable does not mean it's not valuable.
But, when we are discussing attempts to understand the world through measurement it's not really helpful to point out that the measure does not capture every facet of reality as that feature is built in to every measure.
The whole point of the article was the estimated wealth gradient in roman empire - not how happy the average roman was.
This also reminds me that GDP isn't a measure of overall wellbeing, and the article doesn't claim it is. I'd be interested to see a map of relative wellbeing. I don't think people then were 1/100th as happy as us on average.
Your user name is oddly appropriate for that topic.
In ancient Greece, the Epicureans (a form of Hedonist) supposed that people's pleasure and pain depend on the satiation (or lack thereof) of their appetites. Related is the idea of "Hedonic Adaptation" which has it that people's appetites tend to adapt to conform to their expectations and that, as a consequence, different people in wildly different circumstances tend to be about equally happy.
Perhaps you knew all of that already. But you seem to be rejecting the idea of the Hedonic Treadmill without properly mentioning it.
My neighbor had a 1600s era farm in upstate NY. The original taxes were denominated in pigs, chickens and wheat. Cash was rare for normal people until recently.
I'm not so sure. Actual starvation, death due to lack of food, is extremely rare in the modern world. Far less than 0.1% of the human population actually starves to death today. But in Roman times it was not uncommon. It was a relatively normal occurrence for a region to starve should the weather not play ball. Add in all the various diseases and I'm open to the idea that the average Roman was far less happy than the average person today.
Maybe suicide has the precondition that you have enough basic security for the most basic needs to feel hopeless about the next level of needs.
After all, there are plenty of examples of people that had a lot of things and opportunities that elected to commit suicide. And maybe lack of struggle might be a prompter of this action.
Jeez, this sounds horrible.
> But American whites have higher rates of depression than blacks. There are the usual contradictory studies and arguments about how to adjust for which confounder, but I’m pretty sure this is something like a consensus position right now. More solidly, white Americans have much higher suicide rates than black Americans.
Why do you perpetuate this myth, even when the source you posted yourself talk against it?
One metric we can use is hours worked per week. Obviously, the less hours of required work needed, the better for the average worker. Of course measurements like this are not the focus of many blog posts. And you yourself are probably deficient in this respect to many hunter-gatherer bands, who do less than 40 hours of work per week. They spend the rest of their time in leisure activities. Marshall Sahlins "Stone Age Economics" goes into this. You yourself are probably required to work more hours per week than native people in Polynesia and other areas.
Then once you start looking at individual incomes, you can look at the median income rather than the average income. Could be interesting to compare GDP per capita (which is an average) with the mean income, but I don't know if that's another apples to oranges.
As for number of hours worked, that's more a feature of the economic system and culture than wealth. We're so wealthy and so much is automatized compared to the middle ages that we could provide for everyone's basic needs with 15 hours of work a week or something, but we've decided that we need cars and cell phones and new clothes every year, and we've turned homes into investment vehicles, so we need to work more.
This isn't obvious at all. Because of increased capital (skills, knowledge, labor-saving and output-multiplying machinery and technologies) an hour of my work is worth, in real terms, more in a contemporary society than were I to be raised in a h/g society. The net marginal benefit of an additional hour of work is a factor of both this, and the value of leisure time.
With the capital, human and otherwise, at most of our disposal, anyone here could subsist on a native polynesian standard of living with considerably less work than a native polynesian.
But that's the problem with a naive metric like GDP, which suffers from every documented problem with arithmetic mean.
Median income would paint a starkly different picture for the likes of India and Brazil.
The median income is a little over half that at ~4,800$ per year. But no single person or family's income when distributed among the population would change that much.
Also, median also has issues dealing with things like the US's vast undocumented workforce. So, you really want to slice things up by income percentile, family type, PPP and non etc.
The dataset plugged in and the mathematical operation performed on it are two distinct concepts and shouldn't be confused. It's the same reason the IRS lets undocumented citizens and documented citizens performing unsavory work (including drug dealing and prostitution) to file taxes :)
For an extreme version southern slaves made ~0 income but because they made up less than 50% of the population they disappeared from that statistic.
Their presence in the tally means that the median skews their way. For each undocumented person earning under minimum wage, the median shifts one person over to the left.
I agree that there should be a better way of displaying that info (at least quartiles) but the median is a surprisingly effective measure.
Those places are now devastated by war, revolutions or overpopulation, or just were invaded by other empires.
It is a reminder of the powerful forces of change.
An interesting related question would be the rate tailors charged in the past vs today. I'd imagine more today since fashions have veered so dominantly to mass produced clothing that there's no demand for what what today would essentially be in the realm of costume making.
There was a priest whom I used to know. His vestments were of exceptional taste and quality - it was his mother who made them; she knew how to sew and embroider, and where to get the proper brocade from. I never asked him about the amount of labour that went into this, but it must have been a lot.
I'm pretty sure that someone in the SCA has made one of those outfits. In fact: https://i.pinimg.com/564x/1b/9a/4b/1b9a4b90019bef529ca2e4cd0...
About two weeks of sewing (14 days) with approximately 7-10 hours per day (every day!); resulting in approximately 100 hours of work before the dress was finished.
As you can see, at that zoom level the words look like parts of the letters and it is the shape of the text area itself that was reminiscent of Arabic characters.
Of course, once zoomed in it's a different story: https://i.imgur.com/4oQ5R2F.jpg
(Take that https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall ...)
"""Honestly, I wouldn’t be remotely tempted to quit the 2016 me so that I could be a one-billion-dollar-richer me in 1916. This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire. It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller in 1916. And if, as I think is true, my preferences here are not unusual, then nearly every middle-class American today is richer than was America’s richest man a mere 100 years ago."""
Shorter history: For a long time people had short brutal lives. Then the industrial revolution happened.
For one example of how the comparison breaks down, consider the cost of adding up a page full of numbers in 1950 vs. today. In 1950, you'd need to hire an accounting clerk. Nowadays it's essentially free.
In 1950, the clerk would have added the value of his labour to GDP, Today, the computer doing the same job contributes little or nothing.
The same problem crops up everywhere. If I develop a $1000/month treatement for hepatitis, I might add a vast amount to GDP. If I develop a $5 one-off cure, not so much.
GDP can't 'see' goods and services that are so cheap to produce that they're practically free.
>The numbers for the map come from historian Angus Maddison who uses Sestertius records to find wheat equivalent figure for national disposable income and makes comparisons based off that.
But all that says is that some guy used historical records for Roman income figures. It doesn't tell you anything about how to relate income in Roman times to income today.
When historians were going over the archives of the medieval Khivan Khanate, they found out from tax records that ~12% of all households in Khiva and Bukhara had over 10kgs of gold.
Yet, if you were to apply the same methodology there, you will get same contradicting results
Can you explain this point further? Are you saying that Khanate tax records are inaccurate or that the Khivan Khanate were more wealthy than people today?
US GDP per capita is around $50k and households in the top income decile all have household wealth in excess of a million dollars
10kgs of gold is about $40k, so is entirely consistent with Khivan GDP per capita being in the $500-$2000 range
10kg of gold worth around $0.5m USD today. You are off by 10 times
It'd be interesting to see how the figures compare when taking into account how long the gold took to accumulate and the size of the household whose wealth it represented, and the wealth of the wider region. But more basic goods that enhance standards of living are probably a better representation of a civilization's wealth than the notional modern value of their gold hoards, especially if the gold was being hoarded precisely because the Silk Road couldn't supply them with things even today's poor can acquire
The productivity difference between a modern worker is multiple orders of magnitude more than an ancient one. GDP comparisons are of questionable value.
Links to several of Angus Maddison books, I assume it is this:
Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History
I doubt we will ever sink back to the lows where as much as 2/3rds the population is slave labor to a ruling class (Rome, Vikings, US South). When fossil fuels become too expensive, we’ll have figured out how to have gotten more efficiency out ofbthe remaing 50 renewable energy slaves.
I believe Edward Gibbon said that "modern" life only overtook that period during the early 19th century.
Also I wonder how these numbers would look like if slave population is excluded.
Take away iPhones, cable bills, insurance, college, cars....and you may do just fine (eat 1-2 times a day :)) with their Capita GDP.
I think the references to "almost every person" and "modern country" are sweeping away a lot more people than you let on.
"""Looking back over the years, as old-timers are apt to do, I see huge changes, both for the better and for the worse.
In material things, there has been almost unbelievable progress. Most Americans did not have refrigerators back in 1930, when I was born. Television was little more than an experiment, and such things as air-conditioning or air travel were only for the very rich.
My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.
It is hard to convey to today's generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.
Most people living in officially defined poverty in the 21st century have things like cable television, microwave ovens and air-conditioning. Most Americans did not have such things, as late as the 1980s. People whom the intelligentsia continue to call the "have-nots" today have things that the "haves" did not have, just a generation ago."""
So for much of history Catalonia and parts of Occitania were tied together to varying degrees.
As for the rest of France, Caesar conquered Gaul sixty years earlier, slaughtering up to a million Gallic people. That's the kind of thing that can set your economy way back.
In the news I keep hearing about how closely related Occitan and Catalan languages are I figured there was more of a connection geographically.
There wasn't really energy infrastructure like there is today, outside of firewood/charcoal supply, which the Romans had in great supply.
But the average roman did not require much energy outside of cooking, as the temperate Mediterranean weather did not require heating energy.
The modern concept of energy running the world is really an Industrial/post-Industrial concept. Coal, then oil energy driving mass industry is the driver of modern power. Energy -> +Industry -> +Economic activity -> +Money -> +Power
Romand knew waterwheel as a source of energy but rarely used - compared to medieval Europe.
Myrrh, on the other hand, was valuable, and so was olive oil which could be used for lamps.
How much did the Romans value 'clean air'? Because they don't breathe fumes, whereas we do.
'Comparative Value' makes it impossible.
We can only say: "this is what the average Romand had and did - and this is what the average American/European/Asian has" etc..