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The BBC says that Tax Freedom Day came earlier in the Middle Ages

I do not know who David Butcher is, but I like him already on the strength of this, that he wrote in the latest Radio Times – which is published, be it noted, by the BBC. It is part of a plug for a programme to be broadcast tonight on BBC2 at 8 pm:

Having enjoyably milked all the clichés about olden times in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Terry Jones makes up for it here. The idea is to put the record straight by presenting portraits of how real life would have been for eight medieval archetypes, starting tonight with the dirty and downtrodden figure of the peasant.

The gist is that things weren’t nearly as bad for feudal serfs as received history and Monty Python films would have you believe. For a start, they had 80 days’ holiday a year, thanks to all those church feast days. And although they were forced to work 50 or so days in a year for their feudal lord, that’s rather less than most of us today work to pay our income tax. By the end of the programme, you may be feeling almost envious.

Well that may be going too far, but I do like that bit there about income tax, measured in days per year. And I bet these guys will be pleased about this kind of talk too.

8 comments to The BBC says that Tax Freedom Day came earlier in the Middle Ages

  • Guy Herbert

    T’other thing about feudal tenancies for labour is you did get to keep the product of your own labour on your own holding. If you are good at what you do in your own time you aren’t penalised for it. If you had to work 200 days for the state instead of giving it 60% of what you earn*, you would probably be financially better off unless you are already a state-pensioner.
    (Remember, Tax Freedom Day lets the state off the hook, because it averages over the entire population including those whose every penny is subsidised from someone else’s poscket.)

  • Guy Herbert

    T’other thing about feudal tenancies for labour is you do get to keep the product of your own labour on your own holding. If you are good at what you do in your own time you aren’t penalised for it. If you had to work 200 days for the state instead of giving it 60% of what you earn*, you would probably be financially better off unless you are already a state-pensioner.
    (Remember, Tax Freedom Day lets the state off the hook, because it averages over the entire population including those whose every penny is subsidised from someone else’s poscket.)

  • Rob Read

    Why not turn it around?

    Why not protest Tax slavery day? Basically get a bisto carriage (gravy train) to be pulled by taxpayers, on the day of the year we have to work the remainder of the year for the state. It would nicely coincide with the days getting shorter and other such bad tidings!

  • Andy Duncan

    An excellent program, thanks for pointing it out. I had to spank along the M4 to get home to see it, but well worth it. ‘Specially liked all the stuff about the peasants revolt where the peasants burnt all the government’s tax records, and the comparison between peasant working 50 days for their Lord, and BMW workers having to work 80 for ours, Mr Brown. Splendid! ;-)

  • I have a book on my shelves which makes a similar case about peasants vs our situation today. It is called “Mortgage Free, Radical Strategies for Home Ownership” by Rob Roy. He even describes the time when you fulfill your “obligation” to the government as “tax freedom day” as well. If it’s an idea more current in England than on this side of the pond, I note that he used to live in the UK.

    The thing about Rob Roy’s take though, was that if you were a tenant farmer, your obligation to your lord didn’t just cover the benefits of the communal defense system, it also covered the cost of your shelter. I’ve quoted his remarks about this on my website:

    http://life_examined.livejournal.com/#Robroyserfs

  • Dave

    Dunno about you guys, but regardless how how nice Terry paints it. I’d rather live in the early 21 st century myself, even with more tax.

  • Well, I certainly prefer the AMENITIES of the early 21st century, but I can’t help but cackle when people realize that wicked, wicked feudal exactions were so low. It’s kind of like reading actual HISTORY of the Inquisition instead of believing Mel Brooks or Foxe’s Book of Martrys.

    I had a professor in graduate school who had us compare the actual exactions in the Poitou to American taxes — believe me, medieval Poitevins came out ahead on net income. Of course, they were also living with 13th century medicine.

  • Jason Miller

    The sad truth is that taxes are higher today at least in part because we can afford them. Standards of living are so much higher today. If you take away 20-40% of a typical American or Brit’s income, they still have plenty of money left over for food, shelter, and progressive-scan DVD player home theater systems. If you took away 20-40% of a medieval serf’s income, they’d probably DIE.

    I think that taxes were lower because they had to be, not because feudal lords were somehow more just or economically liberal than government today. Now you can still argue that taxes today are too high (I certainly agree that they are), but it would be a mistake, I think, to let that translate into some kind of rose-tinted nostalgia for the past.