Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time than you

August 29, 2013

Life for the medieval peasant was certainly no picnic. His life was shadowed by fear of famine, disease and bursts of warfare. His diet and personal hygiene left much to be desired. But despite his reputation as a miserable wretch, you might envy him one thing: his vacations.

Plowing and harvesting were backbreaking toil, but the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off. The Church, mindful of how to keep a population from rebelling, enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Weddings, wakes and births might mean a week off quaffing ale to celebrate, and when wandering jugglers or sporting events came to town, the peasant expected time off for entertainment. There were labor-free Sundays, and when the plowing and harvesting seasons were over, the peasant got time to rest, too. In fact, economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year.

As for the modern American worker? After a year on the job, she gets an average of eight vacation days annually.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way: John Maynard Keynes, one of the founders of modern economics, made a famous prediction that by 2030, advanced societies would be wealthy enough that leisure time, rather than work, would characterize national lifestyles. So far, that forecast is not looking good.

What happened? Some cite the victory of the modern eight-hour a day, 40-hour workweek over the punishing 70 or 80 hours a 19th century worker spent toiling as proof that we’re moving in the right direction. But Americans have long since kissed the 40-hour workweek goodbye, and Shor’s examination of work patterns reveals that the 19th century was an aberration in the history of human labor. When workers fought for the eight-hour workday, they weren’t trying to get something radical and new, but rather to restore what their ancestors had enjoyed before industrial capitalists and the electric lightbulb came on the scene. Go back 200, 300 or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze. “The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed,” notes Shor. “Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.”

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the U.S. is the only advanced country with no national vacation policy whatsoever. Many American workers must keep on working through public holidays, and vacation days often go unused. Even when we finally carve out a holiday, many of us answer emails and “check in” whether we’re camping with the kids or trying to kick back on the beach.

Some blame the American worker for not taking what is her due. But in a period of consistently high unemployment, job insecurity and weak labor unions, employees may feel no choice but to accept the conditions set by the culture and the individual employer. In a world of “at will” employment, where the work contract can be terminated at any time, it’s not easy to raise objections.

It’s true that the New Deal brought back some of the conditions that farm workers and artisans from the Middle Ages took for granted, but since the 1980s things have gone steadily downhill. With secure long-term employment slipping away, people jump from job to job, so seniority no longer offers the benefits of additional days off. The rising trend of hourly and part-time work, stoked by the Great Recession, means that for many, the idea of a guaranteed vacation is a dim memory.

Ironically, this cult of endless toil doesn’t really help the bottom line. Study after study shows that overworking reduces productivity. On the other hand, performance increases after a vacation, and workers come back with restored energy and focus. The longer the vacation, the more relaxed and energized people feel upon returning to the office.

Economic crises give austerity-minded politicians excuses to talk of decreasing time off, increasing the retirement age and cutting into social insurance programs and safety nets that were supposed to allow us a fate better than working until we drop. In Europe, where workers average 25 to 30 days off per year, politicians like French President Francois Hollande and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras are sending signals that the culture of longer vacations is coming to an end. But the belief that shorter vacations bring economic gains doesn’t appear to add up. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the Greeks, who face a horrible economy, work more hours than any other Europeans. In Germany, an economic powerhouse, workers rank second to last in number of hours worked. Despite more time off, German workers are the eighth most productive in Europe, while the long-toiling Greeks rank 24 out of 25 in productivity.

Beyond burnout, vanishing vacations make our relationships with families and friends suffer. Our health is deteriorating: depression and higher risk of death are among the outcomes for our no-vacation nation. Some forward-thinking people have tried to reverse this trend, like progressive economist Robert Reich, who has argued in favor of a mandatory three weeks off for all American workers. Congressman Alan Grayson proposed the Paid Vacation Act of 2009, but alas, the bill didn’t even make it to the floor of Congress.

Speaking of Congress, its members seem to be the only people in America getting as much down time as the medieval peasant. They get 239 days off this year.

PHOTO: Caitlin, an Australian tourist, enjoys the sun on a beach of the Croisette during a hot summer day in Cannes July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard


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No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, a long vacation, en famille, costly, foreign, tedious, and long.

Posted by MossyMorse1118 | Report as abusive

Vacations are for free people. We are not free.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

People have to make choices. There are certainly people who struggle to provide themselves with the necessities of life. That said we need to define necessity. Is it the latest smartphone? Cable? New car? Home? Jewelry? Designer clothes?

Or are we talking things like food? Medication? Shelter?

Choices. I worked hard for almost 30 years and then retired early. I have friends, people I’ve know since I was a kid who work so much that I see them once or twice a year. They make tons of money but all complain that they don’t have time to enjoy life. They waste so much money that in spite of their high incomes they have relatively little savings. Why? They pay others to do just about everything that people used to do themselves. Housekeepers, nannies, lawn service, pool guy (they never have time to swim though). They have cares they rarely use, boats that sit at the dock and families who don’t know them.

When I ask them why they don’t retire, or even slow down, they tell me they cannot afford to, or “I love what I do”. This is nonsense pure and simple. They can afford to but they make a choice not to. This, I believe is the end result of a consumer driven culture gone off the tracks.

Then they say something to me like “I envy you your free time”. Ridiculous. What drives them is money, power or some combination of the two.

Posted by Missinginaction | Report as abusive

Missinginaction – That is certainly true for some people, and consumerism (a major component to a capitalist society) is a major problem. For some people, it is a choice – they choose to work hard so they can have more money and buy the luxurious things they don’t really need, then complain that they don’t have free time or that they work too much or that they are unhappy.

For many other people, it is necessary to work long hours and/or multiple jobs just to make ends meet, just to pay for the necessities like rent, electricity, and food (never mind clothes or soap, and if they are lucky [in the US at least], they have an apartment that includes water and garbage collection in the rent). The only work they can find is part time jobs, so they have to work two or three jobs. Part time jobs don’t get you medical benefits or vacation time; you’re lucky if you get any kind of sick leave. If at that point they are making enough money to cover the basics, maybe they can splurge and pay for their own medical insurance. Some of them walk or take public transportation (which costs money too, and isn’t an option every where), but a job is a job and when you need money, you can’t be choosy. If an available job is 7 miles away, you apply for it, interview for it, and take it if it’s offered. So for many, a vehicle becomes necessary to work, and any kind of vehicle is added expense, especially if you “splurge” to get a newer or more reliable vehicle (which costs more initially, but will probably cost less in maintenance than a cheap, used vehicle that has a lot of problems). For a lot of people, they can’t afford to slow down or take more time off (not to mention, with a part time job, if you take too much time off [even for being legitimately sick] you will likely lose your job). Most people I know are unemployed, underemployed, working while attending college, or in some circumstance where they are struggling to make ends meet, where they don’t have food for as much as a week out of the month (in a good month). Some of these people may be living outside their means with expensive cable, internet, smartphones… but many don’t.

While your testimony is valid and true of some circumstances, it’s often not a matter of choice, but necessity. The middle class is actually quite poor; while everyhing keeps getting more expensive (the cost of living goes up), hourly pay and minimum wages are not increasing at the same or even similar rate. It just isn’t possible to take a day off, because two weeks’ of work might be rent alone, another week or more for other bills, and two or four days’ work might be all you have to feed your family for the month, and that is often not enough. So every day, every hour more you can work, the more likely you are to make rent and keep shelter for another month; the more likely you are to keep the electricity (and thereby the heat) on; the more likely you are to feed your family for another day.

Posted by Dalziel | Report as abusive

Why? Because, as Henry George explains, increases in productivity due to thrift, organisation and new ideas tend to be absorbed into rent, not wages. As long as only some, the land owners, share in that rent, the rest must continually strive to out-work each other to get ahead. The solution? Share the rent (which rightfully belongs to all of us, because it is produced by all of us) – a citizen’s dividend funded from the rent of land would mean we all would gain from the tendency towards greater productivity, and would have less need to constantly accept greater and greater drudgery just to keep afloat.

Henry George, from Progress and Poverty:

There is and always has been a widespread belief among the more comfortable classes that the poverty and suffering of the masses are due to their lack of industry, frugality and intelligence. This belief, which at once soothes the sense of nobility and flatters by its suggestion of superiority, is but natural for those who can trace their own better circumstances to the superior industry and frugality that gave them a start, and to the superior intelligence that enabled them to take advantage of every opportunity.

But whoever has grasped the laws of the distribution of wealth, as in previous chapters they have been traced out, will see the mistake in this notion. For as soon as land acquires a value, wages, as we have seen, do not depend upon the real earnings or product of labour, but upon what is left to labour after rent is taken out; and when land is all monopolized, rent must drive wages down to the point at which the poorest paid class will be just able to live. Thus wages are forced to a minimum fixed by what is called the standard of comfort – that is, the amount of necessaries and comforts which habit leads the working-classes to demand as the lowest that they will accept. This being the case, industry, skill, frugality and intelligence can only avail the individual in so far as they are superior to the general level – just as in a race, speed can only avail the runner in so far as it exceeds that of his competitors. If one man work harder, or with superior skill or intelligence than ordinary, he will get ahead; but if the average of industry, skill, or intelligence is brought up to the higher point, the increased intensity of application will secure but the old rate of wages, and he who would get ahead must work harder still.

One individual may save money from his wages, and many poor families might be made more comfortable by being taught to prepare cheap dishes. But if the working classes generally came to live in that way, wages would ultimately fall in proportion, and whoever wished to get ahead by the practice of economy, or to mitigate poverty by teaching it, would be compelled to devise some still cheaper mode of keeping soul and body together. If, under existing conditions, American mechanics would come down to the Chinese standard of living, they would ultimately have to come down to the Chinese standard of wages; or if English labourers would content themselves with the rice diet and scanty clothing of the Bengalee, labour would soon be as ill-paid in England as in Bengal. The introduction of the potato into Ireland was expected to improve the condition of the poorer classes, by increasing the difference between the wages they received and the cost of their living. The consequences that did ensue were a rise of rent and a lowering of wages and, with the potato blight, there followed the ravages of famine among a population that had already reduced its standard of comfort so low that the next Step was starvation.

And so if one individual work more hours than the average, he will increase his wages; but the wages of all cannot be increased in that way. In occupations where working hours are long, wages are not higher than where working hours are shorter; generally the reverse, for the longer the working day, the more helpless does the labourer become – the less time has he to look around him and develop other powers than those called forth by his work; the less becomes his ability to change his occupation or to take advantage of circumstances. And so the individual workman who gets his wife and children to assist him may thus increase his income; but in occupations where it has become habitual for the wife and children of the labourer to supplement his work, the wages earned by the whole family do not on the average exceed those of the head of the family in occupations where it is usual for him only to work.

http://www.henrygeorge.org/madsen/chp15& 16.htm

Posted by dan_1 | Report as abusive

Yet again I am thankful to be in Europe… Where is this land of the free?

Posted by bobdvb | Report as abusive

Notice that the author does not actually answer the question put forward in the title of this article… For the answer, look to understand the concept of David Ricardo’s “the law of rent”, then consider the “enclosures” of the commons, and investigate the silver bullet: Land Value Taxation.

It is a little known fact that feudalism was economically superior to what we have now. It left some land open as part of “the commons” and the land that was privately owned was subject to “land value taxation”.

Politically, on the other hand, feudalism relied on aristocracy and a caste system, which was of course a disaster.

Posted by wmyl | Report as abusive

For those who live off of privilege (rent, basically), life is a continual holiday. The rest of us pay that taxes that rent could be paying, and have to work all the harder, or even work to find work. This is not a new revelation.

“The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich. Civilization, therefore, or that which is so-called, has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.”

– Tom Paine, *Agrarian Justice*

“The property of this country [France] is absolutely concentred in a very few hands… These lands are undisturbed only for the sake of game. It should seem then that it must be because of the enormous wealth of the proprietors which places them above attention to the increase of their revenues by permitting these lands to be labored. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable, but the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind….

Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. If for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be provided to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not, the fundamental right to labor the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment, but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Posted by Dan_Sullivan | Report as abusive

I don’t see any mention of what the women did – I would imagine that the women didn’t get a vacation from cooking, cleaning, sewing, laundry, child care, etc. While most of us don’t think of this as work, it’s certainly not vacation activity either.

Posted by pokietooth1 | Report as abusive

Gonna play the skeptic here… farm work is definitely seasonal. Work would need to be taken off by default during the winter (excluding care for livestock)

Backing off the urge to make a Monty Python reference

Posted by TheNikolaism | Report as abusive

Sounds like chattel slavery to me.

Posted by JackHartoonian | Report as abusive

What happened? Simple, all the free time we used to have in addition to all the extra free time generated by new technology and cheap energy was given to the growing elite and their families so that they wouldn’t have to work at all and so that they could afford super luxury goods like yachts, private jets and sports cars! Luckily for them improvements in propaganda and law enforcement have made that fact all but invisible to most of the working population and in any case protest and democracy have been clamped down on to the point where the elite no longer fear the masses ending their parasitism through the ballot/law or revolution.

Posted by ChrisB2 | Report as abusive

Our ongoing (and miserable) failure to objectively measure productivity in the modern workplace leads to the sorrowful situation where the illusion of productivity is more important than the actuality of it.

The shallow office politics of presenteeism and aggressive self promotion rule the roost, whilst humility, self-criticism and honesty suffer.

Our culture promotes lies over honesty; where the skin-deep appearance of power, prestige and success cover an invariably rotten and dysfunctional core.

Is anything going to change? No. Not for as long as we allow ourselves to be subject to the weakness of being human.

Posted by wtpayne | Report as abusive

“Go back 200, 300 or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze. “The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed,” notes Shor. “Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.””

It always amazes me that anyone at all believes this nonsense. They were animal owning peasants. Animal owning peasants do not get 70 days off a year. If you try to do that when you own animals the animals die.

What Shor (and others) have been counting is the amount of time that the villeins had to work for the lord. The farming they had to do on the demesne as their rent. They then also had to farm their own land, take care of their own animals.

Oh, and also spin and weave their own cloth, cook their meals over an open fire, collect firewood for that fire and so on.

” According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the Greeks, who face a horrible economy, work more hours than any other Europeans. In Germany, an economic powerhouse, workers rank second to last in number of hours worked.”

And here everyone is forgetting the hours of work involved in household production. And the numbers look very different when you look at total working hours instead of just market working hours. For example, the average German woman works longer total hours than the average American one.

Posted by TimWorstall | Report as abusive

I have to agree with Tim – I have a hard time believing peasants in the middle ages had much more free time than people today. Nor could they afford to live at a leisurely pace – many times their very survival was at stake each day.

Along with all the tasks Tim pointed out, peasants also did not have running water or plumbing so had to deal with hauling water for cooking, cleaning, etc. And because they most likely had no means of transportation, they had to walk everywhere which takes considerable time. They also had no machinery to dig or assist them in building so had to do everything by hand which takes a very long time. They had no refrigeration so had to procure food on a daily basis. Some communities had to cut and haul ice during the winter. And usually food was not processed so they had to get their wheat or rye ground for them. As for the land they took care of, it could be anywhere from 5 to 40 acres – I can’t even keep a small garden clear of weeds so can’t imagine how much time they spent keeping that clear using only basic tools. Building and maintaining fences with only hand saws, hammers, hatchets, and shovels would be very difficult and take a lot of time. I guess I could go on and on, but all of this information is readily available in most history books about the middle ages.

People can also get an idea of the time people in the middle ages spent doing basic tasks by trying to do them today without using any modern inventions or conveniences. It doesn’t take long to realize the significant time we save by having these things. The reason people might not have much vacation time today is probably more due to the points made by Missinginaction.

Posted by pbroviak | Report as abusive

Where did your vacation time go? To the elite of course, that’s why they and their families don’t have to work at all and can spend all day on their yachts…

Posted by ChrisB2 | Report as abusive

Good article, but what about Bangladesh?

Posted by Chasmodai | Report as abusive

Another poster cited their friends, who are making high incomes and working all the time to sustain them, as though they are part of the norm.

THAT IS NOT NORMAL!!!! Most people in this country are working long hours with no breaks not because they’re in love with the high amount of money they’re making, but because they have no choice. They’re not living paycheck to paycheck because they’re spending lavishly, they’re doing it because they’re not getting paid dirt, and to stop for even a moment would mean disaster for them and their family.

When you’re making just enough to keep you head above water if you’re working all the time, you are literally nothing more than a slave. Sure, you get to pick where your slave quarters are, what slave food you eat, and you theoretically get to pick who you’re a slave for, but you’re still a slave.

Posted by adamdoesmovies | Report as abusive

I agree with TimWorstall. This is a crock. Every single day, the WOMEN of the household have to start the fire, boil the water, make and serve the food, wash the dishes and pans, 3 TIMES A DAY. Bake the bread, can the fruits and veggies, clean the clothes, clean the area, feed, clean, diaper, and watch the children. Even IF the men are collecting the fire wood and caring for the animals and milking the cows. Bad article.

Posted by KathleenFla | Report as abusive

I’d like to just take MY vacation without the Boss feeling like he’s been put out or something. He sure takes his when he wants.

Posted by TKK1959 | Report as abusive

8 days a year? You’ve got to be joking! I knew things were bad in the US, but I didn’t realise they were that bad. Here in Australia we can expect a minimum of 20 days paid leave a year, plus public holidays. And I’m pretty sure you’d find the same situation everywhere in Europe too. Why do people in the US put up with it?

Posted by WillKemp | Report as abusive

Notice that the author does not actually answer the question put forward in the title of this article… For the answer, study David Ricardo’s “the law of rent”, then consider the “enclosures” of the commons, and investigate the silver bullet: Land Value Taxation.

It is a little known fact that feudalism was *economically* superior to what we have now. Some of the land was left open (“the commons”), and privately held land (owned by land*lords*) was subject to “land value taxation”. Politically, on the other hand, feudalism relied on aristocracy and a caste system, which was of course a disaster.

Posted by wmyl | Report as abusive

What the writer has done is make a fundamental error of translation. “Holidays” is a modern word derived from the expression Holy Days. These were not days where the faithful did no work. They were days they owed duties to the church. Maybe attending a mass or other function.This would be in addition to the usual work of the rural community.
And a common mistake is to assume Holy Days were universal. Medieval Europe was extremely regional. A saint that was celebrated in Northern France might be almost unknown a couple hundred miles south, as they were often connected to local industries or local history.

Posted by perduenfrance | Report as abusive

” the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off”

on what planet ? so, cattle and pigs fed themselves half a year ?

what a load of ….

Posted by emilper | Report as abusive

Holy Days were indeed holidays. What is different is not that medieval holidays were not fun, but that modern holidays are no longer sacred.

Posted by averym | Report as abusive

The 6 to 10 months a peasant was “working” doesn’t mean he spent the remaining 6 to 2 months not working. The peasant spent that part of the year in the employ of someone else. The time this article says he was “not working” was spent entirely on subsistence. It takes a lot of work creating or procuring enough resources on your own for survival.

Think about how much time you take keeping a simple vegetable garden alive. It’s a regular chore and one that certainly won’t sustain you on its own. Now imagine that it needs to be large enough to provide food for an entire family, that you don’t have modern agricultural equipment like sprinklers or a hose and are therefore at the mercy of the weather, that crops hadn’t yet been bred to be as productive as they are now, and that you don’t have the benefit of modern pesticides and herbicides, and that if you failed to produce enough food it meant going hungry.

Posted by Machariel | Report as abusive

It seems like the people that do work, work too much and then there are tons of unemployed people.

How does that make sense? Why does it seem like most people work more then they want to or less then they want to? Why won’t businesses hire more people to spread the work load out?

It makes sense because it is often cheaper to pay someone overtime then it is to hire someone else. There are layers of burdensome regulations and taxes making it more then just a matter of wage for each employee.

Posted by celticelement | Report as abusive

Oh come on. Anyone with half a brain knows that working conditions in the West have drastically declined over the last few decades because of the mafiosas posing as politicians and their corporate/banking masters.

Ever since the Federal Reserve Bank (which is neither Federal nor has any reserves) was instated in the U.S. in 1913, the Western global mafia, which originally and still does consist of the corporate and banking Robber Barons along with the royal families of Britain and Europe (and some nouveau riche thrown in like Buffet, Gates, etc., are the reason why the rich continue to get richer and the poor continue to get poorer in this country.

From the Opium Wars to Iran/Contra, the same stinking, putrid powers still rule today. Some call them the Illuminati, the New World Order, etc. I simply call them the scum of the Earth (who are going to start WWlll if they are not stopped).

Posted by Barishka | Report as abusive

Missinginaction – I’d say that we haven’t flown off the consumerist track; we’re right on it. It’s just that the stokers of the engine (government and mega corporations) just keep throwing coals on the fire to keep the damned thing running and going full throttle even while they’re stomping on the brakes and wondering why they’re not working…

Posted by LifeUniverse | Report as abusive

I wonder how much of the peasants labor was required by the various governing bodies as taxes. Were I not to pay Federal Income, Social Security, Medicare, State Income, State/Local Sales & property taxes, I could take 5-6 months of vacation per year too. Maybe the problem is that we have so much more government than the peasant did.

Posted by Kingfeanor | Report as abusive

We must never romanticize the life of feudal society. It was a terribly exploitive economic model that stifled innovation and progress at every turn…The very innovation that could have made peasant life more bearable by lifting them out of poverty. They didn’t call it the “Dark Ages” for nothing. The lack of technology put a limit on the number of hours people could work. Had there been electricity back then, I’m sure the 19th century sweatshops would have abounded.

The result was that people were able to get adequate SLEEP. We are now living in a 24/7 society where sleep deprivation is a very serious problem. Stagnating wages have created a terrible problem for the underemployed and employed alike. Instead of reasonable pay for reasonable work 1 person is doing the job of 2or 3 people without additional compensation.

If you are part of the rentier class – this is wonderful! You hardly have to lift a finger or do ANYTHING truly productive for society and the money keeps rolling in. Something like what we have in a feudal society. So with modern technology this has the potential to become a feudal society on steroids unless the power base is shared by all. The concentration of WEALTH is creating a concentration of POWER and that is what is truly dangerous about our present situation.

Posted by Ruthmarie | Report as abusive

Shocking how ignorant people are about the Middle Ages. That’s old news. Known that for ages. By the way, if you check the author’s link to the MIT you’ll see the sources are from more than 50 years ago.

Someone above asked about the condition of women back then. Check out Regine Pernoud’s “Women in the days of the cathedrals”. Her “Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths” is also a must-read.

Posted by caiorossi | Report as abusive

The Federal Government should have no hand in whether or not people get “mandatory vacations”. What a load of drivel.

I agree overworking people can be more harmful than beneficial for a company, but this idea that government should step in the middle of whatever contracts workers and employers share amongst themselves is insane.

The reason people worked shorter hours in the Middle Ages – if that’s even really true, for what is the definition of “work” if not the expenditure of energy, the burning of calories – then it’s because in an agricultural society, there isn’t much to be done between planting season and harvest. Then after harvest, there isn’t much to be done through the winter months.

If we are defining “work” in the scientific sense where Work=Force * distance, and if we measure that amount of work done over an average year, I doubt the modern man expends any more watts of energy toward his “work” than a man from the Middle Ages or even up to the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Most modern jobs involve sitting down in air conditioned spaces, talking on telephones, driving vehicles from point A to point B, not harvesting wheat or barley under the baking Autumn sun with a handheld scythe, carting bushels of product manually. Today, even the agricultural jobs are nothing like they were then.

This notion that FDR “saved” the people from a fate without vacations is revisionist and frankly a little contradictory. In the same way manual laborers in the Middle Ages worked harder on average during the time they were technically “at work”, 19th Century workers chose to work harder in an effort to accumulate capital, which in turn could allow them to work less hard as wealth accumulated and life wore on.

People through the 19th Century didn’t necessarily work longer hours against their will. The age of industry was an exciting time for people. It saw the creation of a middle class and a means out of poverty for people willing to work hard and put in, in some cases, longer hours on the job. In fact, the New Deal may have done more harm than good in those cases where people would rather work longer hours in their youth, while their bodies could handle the stress, to save capital for earlier retirement or as a means of starting their own businesses where they directly control their hours.

All in all, this article seems to be pushing more labor (wage) controls that will only signal less freedom for the individual.

Posted by electrictooth | Report as abusive

You want a solution to too much (useless) work? You need to get some income that comes from some other source than your work. You need to get paid not for your labor or your capital (your savings / investments). You need an income from your land, or, more precisely, from all the land in your region — sort of like Singapore’s dividend to citizens from its high land values, sort of like Aspen’s assistance to residents for housing from a tiny partial land tax, and sort of like Alaska’s oil dividend to residents. With that extra income, then you could negotiate not just more time off but also higher wages, better conditions, and more say in management. And you’d become more productive too, so then you could take even more time off! Help win it at progress.org.

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[…] […]

Posted by Perché un contadino medievale aveva più tempo libero di te | DANIELE PACE | Report as abusive

[…] passamos a caçar menos devido a uma dieta em grande parte composta por coisas que plantávamos, nos sobrou tempo para pensar, e habilidades sociais passaram a se tornar mais importantes que a simples […]

Posted by Fundamentos da Dieta Paleolítica – Lucio Amorim Blog | Report as abusive

Everyone agrees to work and how much vacation time is known before accepting the job. If you want more, then negotiate for more. The only reason you would have trouble is if somebody else has similar skill sets and is willing to do the same job for less vacation.

Posted by libertysurvival | Report as abusive

Didn’t really take a vacation last year. Took one day off to see Billy Bragg. Took another to walk a beach to save sea turtles. I cannot afford to live anymore.

Posted by StevenLindsey | Report as abusive

[…] http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/20 13/08/29/why-a-medieval-peasant-got-more -vacation-time-than-… […]

Posted by Why A Medieval Peasant Got More Vacation Time Than You | For Economic Justice | Report as abusive

[…] the simulation of exercises formerly necessary to our survival. On average, medieval serfs worked less hours at a slower pace than expected of the residents of capitalist liberal democracy, and payed no more than a quarter […]

Posted by Confession of an ex-LARPer: An Open Letter to Pragmatic Conservatives | Dungeoneering | Report as abusive

[…] This article talks about the role of leisure in medieval societies. Despite our image of the peasant as work ridden and dead at 30, the reality was rather different. So ask yourself: the medieval serf’s responsibilities included feeding his family, pleasing his Lords on earth and in Heaven, and staying alive through plagues and wars, and yet he still was able to make room for leisure and play. Why can’t you? […]

Posted by Of Salarymen and Siestas | This Rough Beast | Report as abusive

[…] Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time than you by Lynn […]

Posted by EPHEMERIS | Who works harder: medieval peasants or modern American workers? | Report as abusive

One assumes that mediaeval peasants would have rested from manual labour on major feastdays (holydays of obligation in modern parlance) but they would still have had to attend to the essential needs of the household and animals (obviously). Comparison with Bangladesh isn’t appropriate since that is not a Christian country. The British word for vacation is “holiday”, which is derived from “holy day”.

Posted by rjt1 | Report as abusive