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Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time than you (reuters.com)
199 points by saurik 1336 days ago | hide | past | web | 125 comments | favorite



Statistics about how much time medieval peasants spent working can be misleading, because a lot of what they spent their time on when they weren't doing fieldwork was still work, e.g. tending their own gardens, making implements and furniture, working on their houses. They had to make most of the things they used themselves. So when "work" was over they didn't go home and watch TV.

It's hard to be sure exactly what life was like for preindustrial agricultural workers, but the most convincing evidence that it was very hard was that early mines and factories were easily able to recruit all the workers they needed, despite working conditions we know to have been harsh.


>the most convincing evidence that it was very hard was that early mines and factories were easily able to recruit all the workers they needed, despite working conditions we know to have been harsh.

I don't find that evidence convincing for two reasons:

1. Many peasant farmers relied on a commons for food production which was being legislatively destroyed at that time ( See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure ). Factories got peasants who were being pushed off their land due to industrialization. Those peasants might not have opted to be factory workers if they had been able to live a traditional peasant life. Note that this same process was repeated when Mexico grew it's industrial base in the 1990's under NAFTA using Article 27 to destroy common land to create cheap factory labor( see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Free_Trade_Agre... ).

2. People going to work in factories may not have be aware of how terrible the conditions were and once they found out they may not have been able to reverse the situation (starvation wages don't make for many options). In much the same way that sex-traffickers promise one job (working as a cleaner) and then once the person is under their power the traffickers force them to work as prostitutes.


The question of the degree to which enclosure was responsible for the supply of factory workers is one people have debated for a century. The idea that it was was as you can imagine very popular with Marxist historians. Which doesn't make it false of course. But it does have the same neatness that drives urban legends, and in a place like HN we should be wary of this.

There were in practice a bunch of forces that drove people to work in factories. The rise of international trade, which depressed agricultural prices in comparatively unproductive Europe, was another huge one.


> Which doesn't make it false of course. But it does have the same neatness that drives urban legends, and in a place like HN we should be wary of this.

Agreed. To restate in less argumentative terms, the claim made that:

>the most convincing evidence that it was very hard was that early mines and factories were easily able to recruit all the workers they needed, despite working conditions we know to have been harsh.

to be convincing must show that:

(1). there was a real alternative between peasant life and industrial life,

(2). that peasants made the choice with at least a decent understanding of what factory life was like.

1 is, as you state, debatable which weakens the claim (it certainly is not evidence in the affirmative). On 2 I don't have the expertise or the citations to state one way or the other, but I would love to see some evidence on either side before placing faith in the claim.

To generalize, I would say that any argument that "A is better than B, because lots of people from B prefer A" must at minimum meet the test that: it is a true choice, and that the people making the choice have enough information (informed consent). Additionally, I do not consider such arguments truly convincing, in and of themselves, even if they meet both tests because populations can make poor choices (cigarettes, electing bad politicians, buying an inferior product, etc).


> The idea that it was was as you can imagine very popular with Marxist historians. Which doesn't make it false of course.

Then why do you make this quip? It reads as if you are only including it to sow doubt about the claim by association. Maybe I'm overly cynical, if so I apologize.

> The rise of international trade, which depressed agricultural prices in comparatively unproductive Europe, was another huge one.

The idea that productivity of Europe was challenged by international trade was/is also wildly popular with Marxist historians - the rise of well-developed international capitalism as a pre-requisite to reaching the productivity levels required for a socialist revolution to be successful is a key part of Marx ideas. The rising competition from increasingly efficient US agriculture and industrialization was even explicitly called out for its effects on Europe in at least one of the prefaces Marx and Engels wrote to translations of the Communist Manifesto.


I don't think it's a quip. That it fits a popular narrative is evidence that motivated cognition was going on when evidence for the claim was gathered.


People wearing Che Guevara shirts are rarely hired for important positions.


That'd might be so.

But if they're not hired for some idea that they're Marxist, whoever rejects them are looking for the wrong things. In years of associating with various marxists, I've never seen any of them wearing Che Guevara shirts. Most of the people I see wearing Che shirts seem to have little to no understanding of the political signal it might send.

Frankly, I'd think you'd be more likely to find a marxist wearing a suit than a Che t-shirt.


There was also a steady increase in labor effecency and total agriculture output which reduced the demand for agricultural workers.


Agree that there were multiple forces driving people into the factories. But there is a period of time between medivial peasants and the industrial revolution, and during that time a lot of things changed, economicaly and social.


Factory workers were paid handsomely and competition for such jobs was fierce.


[citation needed]

Also, "handsomely" is relative: if the quality of life of peasants plummeted due to enclosure until it was far below the QOL for factory workers and enclosure happened because of the industrial revolution, it would be disingenuous to say that the industrial revolution provided a handsome alternative to peasant life.

The freedom of choice can be immensely powerful or worse than useless depending on circumstances -- a distinction often lost on or intentionally glossed over by free-market drum beaters. If I kidnap you and give you the choice between having your throat slit and your chest stabbed, am I not still a murderer once you lie dead on the floor? I'm not enough of a historian to provide an informed opinion on the situation at hand but I've seen this exact same excuse (the poor people chose X so X was actually good for them) used in so many completely inappropriate circumstances that I had to speak up.


The initial stages of the industrial revolution were not so good for the workers. However, the mass production phase, did increase the standard of living.

The best example is "The five-dollar workday": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Ford


That's the current wage in Mexico!


Isn't five dollars a day more than double the UN poverty line - even today??


Certainly in the early industrial revolution the "paid handsomely" bit was not true. People took the jobs because it was that or starve, and many of them starved anyway. This was especially the case during deflationary periods, as wages fell.


That would suggest a surplus of labour competing for high wages. Are you sure about this? Economically it doesn't make sense and we also know that until legislation finally restricted the practice, the factories were employing kids wherever possible to keep wages down.


That evidence would be convincing if peasants were enticed from working in the traditional arrangements by the lure of working in a factory; but as I understand it the situation was more complicated. Industrialization proceeded alongside the active dismantling of the feudal property system and the enclosure of formerly common land. A former peasant who became a factory worker may have gone through the intermediate step of being evicted from their land and becoming a vagrant.

Edit: wrote this comment before seeing the other reply, which makes almost exactly the same point


There's no real need to speculate about the lives of medieval peasants when similar comparisons could probably be made with many parts of the developing world today, in villages where most people - earning just above subsistence - spend most of the time doing very little, even when there are obvious minor home improvements they could be undertaking given sufficient motivation. As there's nothing they know of that they can do to earn more income or improve their social status in their current environment, they do spend a large proportion of their time watching TV, or playing board games, or snoozing in the shade. The leisure time is real, but so is the lack of real earning opportunity and the certainty of dying - probably prematurely - as poor as the day they were born. And if all their kids survive to adulthood, there'll be even less work to do but perhaps not enough land or other means of earning sustenance to go around...

The number of people willingly leaving those peaceful villages to work in appalling conditions for a couple of extra dollars a day in arguably futile pursuit of prosperity definitely outnumbers those moving in the opposite direction.


It is not that bad, at least in China. Have you heard of Taobao villages [1]? Basically, e-commerce is reaching rural economies also.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2013-08/20/c_13264...


>but the most convincing evidence that it was very hard was that early mines and factories were easily able to recruit all the workers they needed, despite working conditions we know to have been harsh

That's extremely innacurate. Workers had to be MADE to work into factories by force, often by laws and regulations destroying their agricultural and traditional occupations to make them fodder for the industry. In a lot of cases, the industrilization was made at gun point (USSR is an example, but it also holds for a lot of the limited industriliazation in the third world).

That is known (and has been documented) to have happened almost everywhere there was industrialization.


Do you have any citations about the USSR's industrialization at gun point? From what I know it was opposite - the peasants had been bound to their "kolhoz" (collective farm) and could not leave. It was implemented through internal passports[1], which were not issued to peasants.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolhoz#Kolkhoz_life_under_Stali...


From Wikipedia:

>The first Five-Year plan focused on the mobilization of natural resources to build up the country's heavy industrial base by increasing output of coal, iron, and other vital resources. Despite approximately 1,000,000 deaths this process was largely successful, and caused long-term industrial growth more rapid than any country in history.

>From 1921 until 1954, during the period of state-guided, forced industrialization, it is claimed 3.7 million people were sentenced for alleged counter-revolutionary crimes, including 0.6 million sentenced to death, 2.4 million sentenced to labor camps, and 0.7 million sentenced to expatriation.

>While undoubtedly marking a massive leap in industrial capacity, the first Five Year Plan was extremely harsh on industrial workers; quotas were difficult to fulfill, requiring that miners put in 16 to 18-hour workdays. Failure to fulfill the quotas could result in treason charges. Working conditions were poor, even hazardous. By some estimates, 127,000 workers died during the four years (from 1928 to 1932).

But you can find material on the forced industrialization in all historical books on the USSR.



This what I said, peasants were forced to work in agriculture. They were not forced to work in factories, quite the opposite, they had been prevented from working in factories or anywhere else.


First of all, there was a big Gulag-supplied industry (google White Sea – Baltic Canal, also known as Belomorkanal, not to be confused with popular - in the USSR - brand of cigarettes). Second, even outside of Gulag, you couldn't just choose what you'd be doing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parasitism_(social_offense) If you're not engaging in "socially productive" work, you're going to be relocated to unhospitable areas in the north or in Siberia.


USSR needed both (agriculture expansion and industrilization).

So, apart from peasants, million other Russians were forced to work in industry, in horrible conditions, and millions died (and thousands were executed) in the process of increasing industrial production.


The topic of this discussion "if a peasant's life was so sweet why did they run to factories?". You proposed they were forced to do so at gun point. I presented a contradictory fact - peasants were forced to stay peasants at gun point. You go off topic. I concede, there is no way we could persuade each other so you win as you can downvote my posts.


Perhaps given more time to tend our own gardens, make our own tools and furniture and work on our houses, we'd be a happier and more prosperous civilization.


To me,

> make our own tools

means "hacking on Emacs", and indeed, it is fun.


Exactly.


I suppose it's possible. Personally, very little has made me as happy as moving from a house to an apartment and never having to tend a garden or make housing repairs ever again.


Depends on which modern day activities you are comparing those with.


> but the most convincing evidence that it was very hard was that early mines and factories were easily able to recruit all the workers they needed,

They may have needed the money but they sure didn't like it, at least here in the US. There was a large change of working for a wage, on a clock, compared to working on a farm or for a wage, and was a sizable violation of the Jeffersonian ideals of freedom. As to why people left, i dunno. There's probably a history research effort in it.


> a lot of what they spent their time on when they weren't doing fieldwork was still work, e.g. tending their own gardens, making implements and furniture, working on their houses.

It's certainly true that by and large we benefit from an industrial economy where we hire out ourselves for specialized labor and hire others to do things for us. It'd be something of a challenge to be able to furnish a modern household with a full-complement of typical goods without anything pre-made, and since goods are a lot easier to come by, both in variety and cost, people can afford to be selective about what kinds of self-crafting they'd prefer to engage in (or none at all).

On the other hand, tending your own garden, tooling around in the shop, making furniture, and working on home improvement projects are all activities apparently recreational enough that many seem to do them for fun even when it's easier to pop over to Ikea or otherwise hire it out.

I hear some people even seem to like build their own software for fun. :)

The labor you get to personally enjoy the fruits of -- that you can do to your own standards of need and satisfaction -- is a very different experience than work you're obligated to do as a cog in a institutional production arrangement.

And until most people have the option to pick how many days / hours out of the year they'd like to work as an employee, I don't think it's a settled question that the conventional balance we've got right now is optimal or necessarily superior to all past arrangements.


Not to mention that American adults work, on average, 25 hours per week:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-05-13/how-average-america...


You do not have to go back in time to find elements of answers. In China peasants live in very poor conditions far from the cities (and I can tell from experience that it is much harsher that what we can imagine before going there) and it is no surprise that they expect to get a better life working at Foxconn or other industries we like to call as sweatshops in the western media. That is the best real life example out there, and it is taking place much faster than in Europe at the time.


Not to mention the fact that peasants typically worked from dawn to dusk.


Dude, where are your sources?


Don't good engineers also 'make implements', and 'tend their own gardens' when their fieldwork is done?


maybe that was their TV, self projects


This is simply a result of the balance of power shifting ever further towards employers over the past few decades. What incentives does a short-term value maximizing employer have to give his employees paid vacation?

In addition, a perfect storm of automation, globalization and erosion of worker rights has severely reduced the bargaining position of employees worldwide.

Furthermore, by keeping the majority of the population fully occupied at all times, participation in the democratic process becomes an incredible burden. Thus, the political arena becomes a playground for those who can afford the luxury of free time.

It doesn't take a genius to see whom these factors benefit.


Well put, the relationship trends more and more asymmetric. Add in rhetoric designed to convince workers to buy into a system that exploits them: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6240495

In general, employers have far more leverage over employee's lives than the individual employee has over the corporation's well being even though we sometimes pretend that it is symmetric and that the market is fair.

Employers optimize for maximum profit for "the shareholders." Somewhere along the line, morality is tossed out, and shortly afterward even legitimate long-term sustainability is also out (cultivating a strong workforce, valued for their talent rather than purely for their labor).

Add in the feedback loop of political apparatuses being appropriated for profit (lobbying) and the political arena is just another exploitable lever for amassing more resources by those with the resources to do so.


Which creates a fertile ground for Marxism 2.0 . The moment the screws tighten even more and instead of middle class you get technical/service class for the elite you will have a lot of unhappy people to deal with.

And as history has shown time and time again when you have a lot of poor and unhappy people new ideologies could spread like fire.

Another thing that concentration of wealth brings is that when the chant becomes "eat the rich/powerful" there are very few rich people left to mount a solid defense - the Arab Spring, the Fall of the Berlin wall all showed that.

(I mix political/military/economic power because I think in electroweak style theory they are all the same - the ability to mess up with other people's lives)


What I find interesting is how unusual it is for a higher-paid person now to negotiate part-time work.

I mean, I've done so at several points in my life, but it's not particularly easy. it's certainly possible, but you need to establish yourself as important to the business (for me, in the past, this has meant working full time for a while.) then do the negotiation, if you want to go half-time.

But usually? cutting down below 30 hours a week kills your benefits. Sometimes below 35. Even if you reasonably could afford to pay for health insurance, well, pre-existing conditions keep many of us from buying individual coverage (and individual coverage isn't nearly as tax advantaged as employer-paid coverage, and individual coverage isn't as secure as group coverage; it's much easier for an insurance company to later find a "pre-existing condition" that you didn't note.)

But that's the big question. The affordable care act is going to make it so that you can get health insurance on your own, even with pre-existing conditions, (though, I think, employer-paid insurance will still be tax-advantaged) - I wonder how this will effect the number of upper middle class people interested in working part-time.

Speaking of, if anyone wants a reasonable sysadmin contractor half time to 3/4 time, I'm available. I'm looking for around $100/hr, but am open to flat rate or other billing mechanisms. I've got a fairly high revenue business (rather more than you'd pay me even full-time) and as such would be happy to go corp to corp.

Will work for expansion capital.


>But that's the big question. The affordable care act is going to make it so that you can get health insurance on your own, even with pre-existing conditions, (though, I think, employer-paid insurance will still be tax-advantaged) - I wonder how this will effect the number of upper middle class people interested in working part-time

I would be very surprised if there isn't a rush to the exits from people in their mid 50s if it looks like health care will be affordable. I know I'll be able to retire a full decade earlier if I can get health care for a few hundred bucks a month.

As to people working part time... I can see why people would want to (hell, I'd like to do that myself), but I don't think it's going to happen to any great extent. Employers don't like it because there are a lot of per-employee expenses (as opposed to per-hour). Two half-time employees cost more than one full time employee.


>I would be very surprised if there isn't a rush to the exits from people in their mid 50s if it looks like health care will be affordable. I know I'll be able to retire a full decade earlier if I can get health care for a few hundred bucks a month.

Is the subsidy based on income? or assets? or both? 'cause if you don't qualify for the subsidy, the affordable care act doesn't make it any cheaper, it just makes it possible for people with pre-existing conditions to get healthcare.

Without the subsidy, you are still looking at a grand a month or more for healthcare for a 50+ person.

>As to people working part time... I can see why people would want to (hell, I'd like to do that myself), but I don't think it's going to happen to any great extent. Employers don't like it because there are a lot of per-employee expenses (as opposed to per-hour). Two half-time employees cost more than one full time employee.

I am postulating that the affordable care act will make it realistic for contractors-without-bodyshops (or just part-time folks) to cover their own healthcare. that vastly reduces the per-employee cost. All of the times I've been successful negotiating part-time work, it has been as a contractor, where I had to provide my own benefits.

The affordable care act makes being a contractor (or working contractor-style, where you provide your own benefits) much more practical. That is, I believe, what might change things in favor of part-time work.


>Is the subsidy based on income? or assets? or both? 'cause if you don't qualify for the subsidy, the affordable care act doesn't make it any cheaper, it just makes it possible for people with pre-existing conditions to get healthcare.

As I understand it the subsidy is based on income. But I'm not sure. Either way, if insurance companies aren't allowed to charge more for preexisting conditions there are a whole lot of people who used to be priced out that will no longer be priced out. In my case $1k per month is a great deal.

>I am postulating that the affordable care act will make it realistic for contractors-without-bodyshops (or just part-time folks) to cover their own healthcare. that vastly reduces the per-employee cost.

Health care is certainly the major cost, but it isn't the only cost. If I hire one guy to do sixty hours of work instead of two who each do thirty there are all sorts of savings - one workspace vs two, management overhead, training, and most importantly communication.

We'll see.


>Health care is certainly the major cost, but it isn't the only cost. If I hire one guy to do sixty hours of work instead of two who each do thirty there are all sorts of savings - one workspace vs two, management overhead, training, and most importantly communication.

I think that a boss has to be a first-class idiot to think that one person working 60 hours a week is going accomplish anything near 2x what that person can accomplish working 30 hours a week.


I must be a first class idiot, then, because I'm pretty sure that's the case.


Even if you think your developers are supermen who can work all the time, (personally, I believe that is true in the short term, false in the long term.) in this market, why would a good developer stay with you, when they can get more reasonable treatment (often for the same total salary) elsewhere?

the "for the same total salary" bit is interesting. Most of the long-hours software jobs I've seen are salary gigs. Not only no overtime pay, but no extra hourly pay at all. Why would someone stay with an abusive boss when there are plenty of other jobs (with, in fact, a much higher hourly rate?)

My other observation is that the more you increase pressure to keep people at work, the more personal business is conducted at work. And the more the good people in the group negotiate their way out of the group (either to other parts of the organization, or to other organizations entirely.)


>Even if you think your developers are supermen who can work all the time, (personally, I believe that is true in the short term, false in the long term.) in this market, why would a good developer stay with you, when they can get more reasonable treatment (often for the same total salary) elsewhere?

There are lots of people (mostly young men) who really enjoy the work and are willing to put in those kinds of hours because they live and breath the stuff. That's the way I was in my 20s. It's not "Mistreatment" if you know the score going in and you're getting paid for it.

Of course you can't keep that pace up as you get older, particularly if you have a family.

>My other observation is that the more you increase pressure to keep people at work, the more personal business is conducted at work.

Very few companies increase pressure to keep people at work. They just structure deadlines such that nobody can finish their work in a forty hour week. Usually unintentionally, of course, but not always. When I worked in finance they were pretty up front about it - they expected more than a forty hour week and we were compensated accordingly.


One thing to remember in all these discussions about working hours is that its one thing to work for yourself and another to work for someone else. I've done both. When you work for yourself you don't take much time off until things are going well, and its not a problem. I think the problem arises when people who own the business genuinely can't understand why everybody else doesn't want to put in the same hours that they do. It's about ownership. Doesn't mean that employees can't be very productive for 8 hours and then go home and do their own thing. e.g. take their kids to sport or music, contribute to voluntary organisations, work on a side project. Each to his own.


This comparison is probably nonsensical. Still, I think the part of the zeitgeist it's coming from is interesting.

No matter how rich we get as a society, very little of that wealth seems to be expressed as more leisure time. This is true comparing different decades (We got richer, still work lots) and its true comparing professions/socio economic classes (highly paid engineers & lawyers work just as much as call centre employees).

It is IMO, a failure. Its also very hard for an individual near the median to break out of it without being somewhat of an extremist.


It is a personal decision though, right?

Some choose more leisure and others don't.

Go talk to some ski "bums" or surf "bums" to see what I mean


Bike bum here writing from Whister, B.C. Work 20ish hours a week for Silicon Valley startups remotely and still manage to actually save money simply by not living in the Bay Area. I have a ridiculous amount of leisure time and relocate whenever I feel like it. I know this isn't possible for most people, but I wonder why more of my peers (and those on HN) don't choose a similar lifestyle.


I've worked for an ISP in NetOps Security and Infrastructure, in this position I assisted in on-the-ground project management of a new high power density addition to an existing co-location date centre, along with being responsible for the day to day running and maintenance scheduling, deployed and managed 55 security cameras across three states including some underlying network.

I've worked in a call centre doing Level 1 tech support for retail customers, Level 2 support (escalations), and Faults & Provisioning of DSL & Telephony services.

I am a welder by trade, I hold a Certificate III in Engineering & Heavy Fabrication, I can weld stainless steel, steel, and aluminium, from light gauge sheet metal to heavy wall pipe, structural steel, I've work on construction 60' fishing boats and 8' aluminium recreational fishing boats.

I have a Diploma in Western Herbal Medicine and a Certificate IV in Allied and Complimentary Healthcare, I've studied, in detail, around 220 herbal medicines (some of which has peer reviewed efficacy studies, others clinically proven, others are tradition), including growing and producing my own liquid extracts.

I currently work 22ish hours a week as a carer / personal attendant to two physically disabled guys. My skill set is unique and I'm highly employable.

Working full time is not all it's cracked up to be. I've done lots of it. I've had three six month 'travelling holidays', four years of part time or full time study with part time or full time work. I've had all sorts of mixes of work / study / holiday / travelling.

It'd be worth noting the context my life has happened in: I live in Australia, we have social security / unemployment benefits (yes, there are "benefits" to being unemployed), and free healthcare.

Edited for coherence.


Wow, fellow bike bum in Whistler. Small world.


Isn't it? I came up with a buddy from SF just to ride for a week... and he ended up driving home alone :( If you see someone coding in the public library, it's probably me.


Ski bum and surfer bum is a decision. Living on the margins of what used to be a middle class isn't. For the vast majority of people in the US, they're working longer hours for less pay, and, as the article says, less vacation.

The idea here at HN is that we can create and do things so that we aren't the paper-pushers and moist robots that make up the 'normal' workforce. In past economic times, their hope for those of us that could make life more productive for the gen. pop. was that we were able to make life 'better' for the majority and able to have much more quality of life than quantity. Even if you are 'allowed' your average 8-10 days vacation how disconnected are you really? A lot of people I know are required to have their phone on or be ready to respond to an email request if it comes in.

A real vacation like in Europe (where many countries equal or better US productivity) might be good for the US economy in general. Talk to anyone that is a creative, that ruminates on new things, and you'll find that most ideas come at the least time of thinking (the shower, a random walk, etc). When we're relaxed and living and letting our conscious slide a bit that sometimes we're at our best in coming up with the greatest thoughts.


IMO, it's more complicated than that.

We live in a more individualistic world than before, but customs are still a big determinant of how we live. The custom among professionals is working 9-5+. I'm saying its a pity customs haven't evolved to take better advantage of our modern wealth.

But, I'm talking about the median. People with kids. Median salaries. etc. There are lots of example of individuals and subcultures that do optimise for leisure time. The 10-4 job for the accounts receivables guy that can do so much more work in a 6 hour day than his pre-computer predecessor did in a week.


"Ski bum" is not an option for people that want to have economic security and maybe buy a mortgage and raise a family.


A <noun> bum is simply someone who has realized they love something in life more than money, and is immune to the FUD of "economic security" - it's not hard to get by with a little intelligence and resourcefulness. These same people (from my experience) tend to be the best parents simply because they can switch from spending their leisure time from <noun> to child.


Economic security and a mortgage are mutually exclusive for most people.

And raising a family is unrelated to both.


> Economic security and a mortgage are mutually exclusive for most people.

Oh wow no. For "most people", a mortgage represents the only means of escape from throwing all your money into a rental trap.

Having access to a mortgage represents a giant step up in economic security.


You could easily afford same vacation time - work only half a year, consume at the level of medieval peasant (no TV, no internet, no modern medicine, no car, no fancy foods or clothes, one clothes change a decade, no electricity, no running water, no sanitation/WC) - and you'll have plenty of money left to live the dream second half of the year. I'm sure if you forgo the modern civilization, you can get through pretty cheap. In fact, if you qualify for welfare, you could probably give up working altogether and still live better than medieval peasant (they had no free healthcare, free housing, no foodstamps and no free cell phones). So if you wanted, you could live much better that medieval peasant with 100% "vacation" time. Most people, however, want to live even better, so they work to make this "better" happen. Modern civilization doesn't fall from the sky, you know - people make it.


Of course, with no running water and sanitation, one clothes change in a decade, no car, and no internet connection or electricity you might be hard pushed to find and hold a job for even half a year in the modern era.


Why, I'm sure there are some jobs in agriculture always available, and nobody cares how you smell when you're in the fields. There are probably other options too. But there's always 100% vacation options, many people are using it right now.


and what a great civilization!

Anyway... I think this analysis is shortsighted, for a start, you can't forgo the modern civilization because you can't have a home and you can't leave it, and if you're in it, there's a cost... And it's understood that the right to have somewhere to live is essential but you can't leave the city and get to a piece of land, land is not produced anymore and it belongs to the rich, you can't buy it, you can't raise cattle or chicken and you can't plant, so, you'll die.

And then everything else comes after this. Also, lets be honest, the level of education you need to even start pondering this you can't get either, because by then you'd already have had to have eaten and lived somewhere, and maybe you have bills and you can be arrested.. Not such a viable option. Then it's also probably a big fallacy that people can really live off of welfare policy goods, I don't know how it is in the USA, but here in Brazil I'm pretty sure what you get is barely enough for you not to live like a wild animal in middle of 'modern civilization'


>>> Then it's also probably a big fallacy that people can really live off of welfare policy goods

People are living on welfare. Here's one paper on how welfare compares to working in the US: http://www.cato.org/publications/white-paper/work-versus-wel...

>>> you get is barely enough

Barely enough means enough but without extra things, right? I'm pretty sure a random medieval peasant would kill for a promise of being guaranteed not to die from hunger, always have shelter, have basic medical needs taken care of, not counting such things as free education, free communications, etc. I'm not saying we should let people die on the streets, just when you compare something to medieval, be aware how far we are removed from what happened there.


Those commenting here who haven't done so already should go read A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. It's a great primer on what life was actually like back then, and what is and isn't known about the details.

http://www.amazon.com/Distant-Mirror-Calamitous-14th-Century...

The discussion on enclosures and factories seems like a red herring, as that whole mess took off too late in the timeline to be considered Medieval. At the point at which enclosures were happening in a widespread way in (for example) the UK, the economy was transitioned into a state of fairly steady growth in wealth and life expectancy over the long term that would, via compound gains, form the foundation of the Industrial Revolution.


What surprises me here is that virtually all comments are about whether peasants really had many holidays.

And not about the current situation (+ the macho 'my hours are longer than yours' trap that most of the California Software world seems to be in...) that drains much of the possibility of having a life besides work.

One idea that crossed my mind when I still worked in the Vallley, was that the situation might be reversed by a 'Union' that only concerns itself with working hours. Leaving salaries up to everyone for themselves to negotiate as currently.

This would:

1) Allow people a coming-out in terms of favoring work-life balance. Which many people confessed to me in private, but did not dare say in front of their boss/team (has nothing to do with a lack of love for the job/project/company, even love itself you can't enjoy 10 hours a day 50 weeks a year, or that would be the length of billionaires honey-moons. Also what is wrong with loving your life and family/friends in addition to the job, and needing some time for that?).

2) Create a bargaining position and a public face for it.

3) Dispel myths of long-term productivity gains through longer hours. Especially in a creative industry like Software Engineering long hours reduce productivity (there are studies of this + the many self-evaluations on HN over the years of people being able to code consistently and productively 4 to 7 hours per day max).

Just an idea that crossed a mind.


We get weekends off -- so that's around ~100 days at least.


Well then, let's petition for a 3 day weekend. That'll give us the 150 of our medieval brethren.

I propose we couch it in terms of equality legislation: Fridays for the Muslims, Saturdays for the Jews and Sundays for the Christians. This serves all Western monotheistic (Abrahamic) religions equally. In order to balance things out though we will need to raise hourly wages across the board by 20% because we'll be only working 4 out of every 5 hours that we do now if I've got my math right.

Thursday will be the new Friday. TGIF will become TGIT.


25% would be needed to get to equal wages. (4 * 1.25 = 5)

The 20% is the amount by which your income would be reduced if you were paid 4/5ths as much as today.


To be inclusive should add a day for atheists and misc religions too. Monday works for me


So that's why North Carolina Republicans just outlawed "Shariah law".


This article statement, "His life was shadowed by fear of famine, disease and bursts of warfare. His diet and personal hygiene left much to be desired" explains why I don't want to go back to the life of my peasant ancestors.

The author's background, "Lynn Parramore is a senior editor at AlterNet, co-founder of Recessionwire, and founding editor of New Deal 2.0 and IgoUgo.com. She is the author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture" and has taught cultural theory at NYU" suggests to me why I won't take this opinion piece kindly submitted here as a guide to current economic policy. Actually, today's economy in the United States offers unparalleled opportunities for each worker to make the worker's preferred trade-off among cash income and leisure time, especially if the worker is part of a family household of persons who agree to make different trade-offs from one another.


Other than adding the fear of famine, I'm not sure how different that is from today.

Fear of disease? Check. Both realistic (as in, the huge fraction with no/minimal health insurance or any dental at all). And unrealistic, like fearmongering politicians (as in, send lots of money to X or we'll all die of some made up thing)

Bouts of warfare, check. Both actual for kids in .mil, and imaginary daydreams of terrorism.

Inferior diet? Check.

The personal hygiene thing, I donno about. I'm not so foul but seems like many people are allergic to soap and water, and others who think smelling like an ashtray is a perfume.


Sorry, but if you think that we have equivalent fear of disease then and now, you don't know what life was like then.

How many people did you personally know who died of disease as a kid? I knew one. (Cancer.) But this was a period where people would have 8 kids in the hope that 2-3 of them would survive to adulthood. And disease was the big killer.


Don't forget about a significant chance of dying or losing limb from any simple cut.


What I find amazing is how recently things like germs[1] were given real attention. I'd heard about Ignaz Semmelweis from a book I read and to think less than 200 years ago you would go to a hospital and they didn't bother to wash their hands between patients? Now maybe it was just the hospital in Vienna, but I imagine many were like that.

Just the things that are taken for granted as common sense now before they were.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germ_theory_of_disease


It is worse than that. Ignaz Semmelweis did not come to broader attention. It was not until Joseph Lister (the Lister in "Listerine") independently discovered this and popularized it that the English speaking world became aware of how they were killing people.

I have encountered mention of memoirs from US surgeons who were most distressed to have learned, shortly after the Civil War, how their failure to take simple sanitation measures was responsible for the death of many of their patients through gangrene.

Within living memory we had a similar shock from antibiotics. I remember an older professor telling me about a doctor he knew who had been unable to save his brother, but would have been able to do so a few years later.

I am sure there are still things out there like this. Heck, I lost my nephew because my sister followed her doctor's instructions to have him sleep on his stomach...less than 6 months before the American Academy of Pediatrics switched the recommendation to putting babies on their backs to reduce the odds of SIDS. If you've taken a parenting course in the last 20 years, sleeping babies on their back probably just seems like common sense to you.


The amount of progress in knowledge and technology in the past 200-250 years or so (pretty much all of the Industrial Revolution) really is staggering. Take someone from 1750, drop him in the world of 1500, and things would have been pretty familiar. Move 250 years in the other direction and he'd be hard-pressed to make heads or tails of anything (assuming you're taking someone from a part of the developed world -- for the developing world, the changes would be less pronounced, but still likely significant).


I had a strange notion recently that if you were to drop the average person (not an Einstein or a Hawking) and dropped them into say the 1500s Europe.

Most people think we'd be regarded as super smart and awesome. This comedian explains most people don't know crap[1], we only know the high-level. I think that even if we could find things we understand to teach it would be largely not viable (how much stuff around us requires machines and precision?) and likely wouldn't reach any audience to become a mainstream idea (even above people thought it ridiculous that germs exist).

I think we'd find people of any time to have clever methods to do their tasks and we'd learn from them and become indistinguishable from the average guy at the time.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVxOb8-d7Ic


I'm not saying that humans are smarter in a generally useful sense now than they were 500 years ago. Especially at the median, where what most people know isn't how things work but what they need to do to make things work within their environment.

Take your average man or woman off the street today and drop them into 1500s Europe, in all likelihood they'd be unable to function.

Now, an engineer (or a Connecticut Yankee) with both a specific understanding of materials science, a knowledge of history sufficient to know the broad outlines of circumstances in the past, and where the gold (or more importantly: coal and oil) are buried, might be able to accomplish some interesting things. If he could convince someone to go along with his proposals.

But that's not my point.

It's that you could pretty much take a European from 1500 and from 1750 and have them swap places. Most of the general nature of day-to-day life would remain largely similar. There were very few significant changes (among the biggest would have been in how business and banking were organized, as financial systems were developing over this period).

Socially and culturally there may have been a few bigger differences. Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis in 1517, and the changes that this triggered in the Church would likely have dwarfed much else.

And really, you could move another 500 or 1000 years backward and you'd see some incremental change, but nothing at all like the past 250 years.

But again, 1750 -> 1500 is going to be a hugely different change than 1750 -> 2000.


Thanks to the Flynn effect, it is likely that most of us would be significantly better at abstract thought than the average person 500 years ago. Thanks to diet, we'd also mostly be out of shape giants.

We would, however, be sorely lacking on basic survival skills. Also, not knowing Latin would mark us as uneducated and not worth listening to.


I don't disagree with anyone here. It had occurred to me that communication would be difficult (I don't think impossible). Mostly I thought the survival skills is what would be learned and then you'd be just like everyone else trying to survive. Maybe some of the knowledge could make it a bit better (locally) but a lot of what we know is really built on things that would be out of reach.

What someone said about geologists and knowing where resources are hadn't even crossed my mind. I was thinking more of a general high school graduate. Anyone with a specialty (math related especially) might do better (again I assume coping and not freaking out or getting a disease immediately).


Now your whole family is merely bankrupt and homeless if you need medical care, unless you are one of the lucky fraction with insurance or live in a civilized country.

I lived without medical insurance for awhile in my 20s. Its not some picnic.


I remember running across estimates that in Europe in the 1700s, 20-30% of the population was permanently displaced, and a large portion of those were bound to die unpleasant deaths. (Starvation and death through violence both ranking high.) This was not considered exceptional - this was considered an inevitable and unexceptional fact of life that nobody could change.

There would be good years. There were also bad. For bad consider that during the 1300s the population of much of Europe dropped by half due to climate changing the carrying capacity. (The Black Death didn't help either.) Despite a reproduction rate that was much higher than todays.

I submit that your idea of "not some picnic" is MASSIVELY nicer than what was accepted as daily reality.


> Other than adding the fear of famine

Er, that's a pretty huge other.

> Fear of disease? Check. Both realistic (as in, the huge fraction with no/minimal health insurance or any dental at all).

As far as the developed world goes, that's largely restricted to the US. And, of course, most of the diseases that killed people back then can be treated with a few euro worth of penicillin.

> Bouts of warfare, check. Both actual for kids in .mil, and imaginary daydreams of terrorism.

It's highly unlikely that the neighbouring lord will burn your village in the developed world today, however.

> Inferior diet? Check.

Not really on the same level. Even those who got enough food often had severe malnutrition issues. Nowadays, some people have poor diets; in the developed world this is largely a function of personal choice.


Following up on some of the comments here, I thought the submitted article was implausible because I have lived in a country that has gone from a poor, subsistence-peasant economy to a post-industrial wealthy economy in the lifetime of my in-laws who still live there. Nobody wants to go back to a peasant's life. It's just dumb to suggest that that would be a good trade-off.

On the issue of health risk, people have really got to learn from statistics that were shared here on HN earlier. Life expectancy has been increasing at ALL ages all over the developed world,

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=longevity-w...

and correspondingly the risk of being seriously sick at any age has been steadily declining here in the United States and all over Europe and other developed places. Girls born since 2000 in the developed world are more likely than not to reach the age of 100, with boys likely to enjoy lifespans almost as long. The article "The Biodemography of Human Ageing" by James Vaupel,

http://www.demographic-challenge.com/files/downloads/2eb51e2...

originally published in the journal Nature in 2010, is a good current reference on the subject. We have no good reason to go back to peasant days, and no reason to take an article that is basically just made up as a basis for evaluating our current trade-offs of modern living.


What's in your background that means we should care about your comment?


Yet again glad to be in Europe...


Any article on quality of life in agrarian societies should also be contrasted to what life was like in pre-agrarian (hunter gatherer) societies. Jared Diamond wrote the most well known/accessible essay entitled [The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race](http://www.ditext.com/diamond/mistake.html):

> "Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, "Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"

Of course, that's sort of besides the point... Before the mid-70's productivity and median compensation were correlated, however for the past 40 years this has diverged. Since 1973, median hourly compensation grew 10.7% while productivity has increased by 80.4%[1]

Keyne's prediction in 1930 on the leisure society in the US would have been correct if the public had continued to share in society's gains. Instead these gains have been increasingly captured by the top centile. The share of income by the top 1% has increased over 120% since 1979 [2]. While the top 20% has also nominally increased (~30%) all the other quintiles have had a negative share as a result.

Now, knowing this, is there anything that can be done to reverse these trends? It seems that we've been locking in socio-economic mobility [3] and our entire government has entered "regulatory capture." [4][5]

[1] http://www.epi.org/publication/ib330-productivity-vs-compens...

[2] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequalit...

[3] http://www.ibtimes.com/us-social-mobility-casualty-income-in...

[4] http://i.imgur.com/PVpFY.png

[5] http://www.the-american-interest.com/article-bd.cfm?piece=10...


>One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, "Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"

This sentence illustrates one of my main gripes with JD's "sunshine and happiness" view of hunter-gatherer societies. Hunter-gatherer lifestyle is fantastic for that small fraction of folks who live where there are plenty of mongongo nuts (so to speak). He sort of handwaves the majority, who are eking a bare subsistence out of the land, or worse, alternately subsisting and starving.


Well, the whole point is that the populations for successful hunter gatherer tribes would be stable. Barring drastic ecological changes and (more commonly) attacks/displacement from technologically superior outsiders, aboriginal tribes have continued living as they have for centuries (even millennia).

Of course that type of society wouldn't be able to support a population of 7B people, although based on the 2.4B in poverty you'd be hard pressed to argue that technological society is really doing much better (ignoring the whole carrying capacity question entirely).

As someone enjoying typing on the Internet right now, I'm by no means arguing any return to the past, but it'd be silly not to acknowledge how much longer we work than our ancestors.


Don't discount the state of constant warfare most aboriginal societies live in. If you have a neighbor, he wants your mongongo nuts.


Hmm, while this the assumption (in some pretty flawed) early anthropology, I think the modern consensus is that hunter gatherer societies were relatively peaceful, both amongst themselves[1] and between each other[2].

Of course, successful/stable hunter-gatherer societies are pretty geographically isolated, since encounters by tribes w/ more "advanced" (post-agrarian, colonial, modern) societies usually has meant obliteration.

[1] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201105/how... [2] http://www.sott.net/article/264152-Warfare-was-uncommon-amon...


Recently I read Pinker's "Better Angels" [1]. Using archeological records, he argues that dying from a violent death was extremely likely in hunter gatherer societies.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature


Not an anthropologist, so take my casual observations with a grain of salt, but I can think of quite a few examples of latter day stone-age societies that are notably bloodthirsty. The few remaining indigenous tribes in the amazon, for one. 'Headhunters' in Indonesia, for another.


My other gripe with it is that as a member of a non-hunter-gatherer society I value the fact that my diet is more interesting and varied than just mongongo nuts.


The frustrating thing to me is that this article simply shows that a medieval peasant got more vacation time than I do - but doesn't say anything at all about why, even though it's in the title.


The thing is that medieval concept of time was not linear. So we cannot really compare how medieval peasants perceived their leisure time with perception of the modern worker. It is like comparing cabbages with golf balls. They are both round, right? I also strongly disagree with the author where it comes to fulfilment. In many cases work is more fulfiling than leisure. What would be really worthy to compare is average length and intensity of copulation, family sizes. But scientific approach has no methods for such s comparison. Yet.


"His diet and personal hygiene left much to be desired."

Does it means these poor people that happen to be our ancestors had a faint body odor surrounding them? Can we stop with this crasiness? We are animals, animals have "body odor", and it have been considered a good thing for a long time.

Every time I hear about personal hygiene I remember this American girl who was learning Chinese with me in a university in south China. She was there on the behalf a sort of NGO and her goal was to "teach Chinese personal hygiene". She was talking about "spreading the use of perfume and deodorant" and such things.

So now we have no more colonization, but we still have missionaries, and hygiene missionaries. And they still do harm.

(Because yes, abuse of perfumes and deodorant IS harmful in many respects)

So, to come back OT, it is ok to wonder if middle-age peasants had more free time, and if their life was pleasant (I guess it was not), but please let our own crasiness out of the discussion.

We are the anti body age, anti-body hair, anti-body odor, shaved-porn-age (which is anti-sex), etc. We have our crasiness too. It is very optimistic to believe we are less crasy than the Middle-Age. And God knows Middle-Age was crasy...


Only someone living in the relative safety of a hygienic society would assume the point of that statement is smell.

Medieval peasants died from their lack of hygiene.


I know that.

But, without context, if you hear about someone that his "personal hygiene left much to be desired", it just means "he stinks", right?

Then when you write about Middle-Age peasants who died for some lack of understanding of contagion mechanism, you do not write "personal hygiene left much to be desired", unless you want to be ironic, sarcastic, or whatever figure de style you are trying to add.


Hygiene is much more about 'health' than it is about body odor. Several examples:

- brushing one's teeth (minimizing decay and tooth loss)

- properly washing one's hands (minimizing the spread of disease)

- having toilet facilities (http://www.satoilet.co.za/projects/)

http://www.wordnik.com/words/hygiene


I was thinking about this the other day- why don't some start ups implement a 4 day workweek? That would be a huge incentive for me to join.

Yes, it's less productive, but with 33% more weekend think about how happier the employees would be.

I would love to try this with my startup once we get into the profitable stage.



In Guns Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond, I don't recall the exact quote but it is stated that the advent of agriculture with its seasonal work gave those in command a labor pool to use for fighting armies during the low-agriculture work seasons.


The average American adult works 24.99 hours per week.

Just sayin...

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-05-13/how-average-america...


The BLS study linked in the article is from 1996. Anyone have a more current source on average vacation time for US workers?


that article suffers from the same fallacy as the ol 'back on your heads' joke: -- a guy dies and goes to hell. upon arrival, the devil allows him to pick one of three rooms where he will then spend eternity.

in room one, people are being devoured by horrible beasts. in room two, people are being burned alive ( thats harsh). in room three, everyone is up to their waist in the smelliest, most putrid, disgusting shit he ever encountered -- but they're chit-chatting away, drinking coffee and having donuts. after a brief reflection, the guy chooses the room with waist deep shit, coffee and donuts.

a few minutes late the devil comes back and yells "alright scumbags, everyone back on your heads". --

...in medieval times you got one of the three rooms with the occasional coffee and donut break.

nowadays, in our briefer vacations we can be ON A BOAT mf'er - don't you ever forget! :):):)


Should be tagged [opinion]. This is not a news piece.


The fact that our elected representatives have voted themselves so many perks, as well as raises, highlights the double standard which has become prevalent in the USA.

Exempt from the Obama care fiasco, retirement eligibility after a ridiculously short period of employment, an enviably short work "year."

It makes me wonder why I didn't go into politics...


Lawmakers already had health insurance so the Affordable Care Act didn't really affect them in any substantial way.

In general the ACA won't have a huge immediate impact for those who already have health insurance.


And those without health care insurance can presently walk into any community health center to receive subsidized health care free of charge. Even illegal aliens can get free health care right now, so how will the ACA affect those without health care insurance?


> It makes me wonder why I didn't go into politics...

There's nothing stopping you but yourself, you know.

It's not like West Point or something where you have to start right out of high school.


I don't have the resources to cease working in order to campaign for office, and no big backers are supporting my positions, so although it may be only me holding myself back in the eyes of some, there are extenuating circumstances which work to keep me in my place.


the true one percent are the politicians.

In regards to the time and life of medieval peasants and the like, I think I will take my work week over theirs.


There's not opinion in the piece. Just numbers. Perhaps you meant to tag your comment "don't agree".


It's published with an "Opinion" heading right at the top. The whole piece is clearly advocating an opinion that more leisure time is a good thing, for one.


>The whole piece is clearly advocating an opinion that more leisure time is a good thing, for one.

There's a disagreement on the issue?


What opinion is expressed? All I see are tons of facts on working hours, vacations, leisure time. With plenty of supporting links for more information / verify for yourself.




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