Saturday, December 13, 2008

Web of Debt and history

I happen to be browsing through Web of Debt, a recent book on the conspiracy theories involving bankers. Most of it is stuff I've heard before, but I found Chapter 5 interesting. It is on the "historical revisionism" of the Middle Ages. It cites Thorold Rogers and William Cobbett in making the case that the Middle Ages was not as backward as it is typically perceived. They quote Thorold as saying that "a labourer could provide all the necessities for his family for a year by working 14 weeks".

I haven't checked their sources, although I plan to at some point. But I know the same point is also made in reference to Paleolithic societies, see the reference to Sahlins in this part of the Wikipedia hunter-gatherer article.

There's a couple reasons why we might work so much more in modern society. One, there are dwindling natural resources combined with a much larger population. Probably more importantly, however, there is just a greater demand for various material goods.

These reports could be exaggerated. I'm not sure how these reports are compared to modern hunter-gatherer societies, such as those in the Amazons, but such comparisons may not be realistic to other regions, since that is an extremely tough region. I would expect other hunter-gatherer societies to have more leisure than Amazonian tribes.

The book attributes the difference to usury, which seems dubious, although it is perhaps true that our current banking system puts greater emphasis on infrastructure and investment, which requires that we forego present consumption to a greater degree.

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