Quotations of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 8, 2011

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Complexity & Emergence, Growth, History, Inequality

… are, first, from page 123-124 of Thomas Cahill’s Mysteries of the Middle Ages (2006):

Plumbing was unknown [in the middle ages]….  Because individual bathing in a copper basin in a drafty castle could lead so easily to chill, then to fever and death, kings and queens seldom bathed more than once a month, those with neither washer woman nor ewerer at their command scarcely more than once or twice a year.  Despite their silks and linens, their frequent changes of costume, their liberal burning of Arabian incense, the royals stank, as did their retinues.  More than this, the chamber pot was the sole device for receiving human waste.  A small castle – or even a large one – might become downright uninhabitable after many weeks of residence by such a throng [ellipsis added].

And yet – and yet - Cahill here describes the stinkingest of the stinkingest rich of the pre-capitalist age.  Let’s read Cahill a bit further, to page 188:

What appalls a modern dreamer about the Middle Ages is not so much the distance that lay between peasant and prince as that there was seldom any way of shortening that distance: the peasant would always be a peasant, the prince always a prince.

And yet… the rigid stratification of social roles was shaken by the rise of the merchant class, the medieval bourgeoisie [ellipsis in the original].

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Krishnan August 8, 2011 at 9:25 pm

It is the ability of free market systems to shrink this distance that infuriates many … they cannot stand the fact that the “ordinary” (peasants) today can live better than the kings and queens and princes of the middle ages … The “elites” are not as “elite” anymore – even though the “elites” and royals of the middle ages stank …

today the BIGGEST gap (if you will) between the “poor” and the “rich” is in countries where people are not free … countries that do not trade with others very well – do not let their people “pursue their own happiness”

The reason the US of A infuriates many around the world (and here in the US of A) is the fact that we, the US of A, do allow for almost anyone to succeed – do as well as they can – acquire whatever they can earn – shrink the distance between themselves and anyone they care to shrink it with … anyone can do it here and that is simply too upsetting for the elites

Greg Webb August 8, 2011 at 11:19 pm

That’s exactly right!

Kirby August 9, 2011 at 9:09 am

And the irony is that the richest man in the USA isn’t hugely more comfortable than a millionaire, who is only slightly more comfortable than somebody who makes half that amount. Salaries have diminishing returns.

Economiser August 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm

This is a huge point. When it comes to the necessities of life, a billionaire’s day-to-day existence is very similar to a middle class person’s.

Krishnan August 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm

A walk into any WalMart or CostCo or almost any Grocery Store or a Department store or any store in any mall or a Mom/Pop store should give anyone pause for wonder – the chain of humans from producer to the final destination – the hands of the consumer – the planning and care that took to do that – ALL done by strangers – for the benefit of other strangers …

And as we know – it is this dynamism of our economy and our people that infuriates many – who cannot stand to see variety and choice for all – the ability to live a reasonably comfortable life as long as we can make a real contribution – our skills and talents for that of others –

I had a friend from Greece who was seething at the choices available to ordinary people in the US – “What a waste” was his opinion … “Why have more than one soda?” “Why have more than one cereal?” and so on … The idea that it is through such voluntary exchange that the economy grows – through people sending signals from the markets that people rush in to create, innovate – escaped him – there was no convincing him. No idea where he is – perhaps he is a community organizer creating chaos in the streets of Athens

Economiser August 10, 2011 at 10:15 am


vidyohs August 8, 2011 at 10:02 pm

An interesting aside to this discussion of rich, poor, and the mobility of many up and down the scale. Look at the link below and note that you have to go to number 153 to find a name everyone will recognize as old money, David Rockefeller.


Where did the rest of them, like Buffet and Gates, come from if not up the ladder and very recently.

Chucklehead August 9, 2011 at 1:22 am

” the mobility of many up and down the scale.” Of the top percentage of earners, few stay there for very long. Most have just a few good years or windfalls and fall back to the middle or below.

vidyohs August 9, 2011 at 8:12 am

:-) I think I could be content being number 401 on the list.

Chucklehead August 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Can I be 402?

Methinks1776 August 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Oh neat. Except for anything that could possibly be mistaken for a bourgeoisie and incense to at least attempt to cover up the stink, it appears that the Soviet Union was so progressive that it progressed all the way back to the Middle Ages by the second half of the 20th century. I am particularly fond of blocking from memory the ubiquitous chamber pots. One can never truly put into words how disgusting those things are – especially when they are ubiquitous!

kyle8 August 9, 2011 at 1:01 am

In that stratified atmosphere it was unusual and destructive changes, war and plague, that gave some people the only chance they had for upward mobility. Nevertheless, it was a time when things changed only slowly and incremental, far, far different than our time.

As for the stench, it might not been quite as hopeless as the writer makes it out to be. People washed themselves often from basins without full immersion of the body, and there were natural herbs and rosewater’s used for deodorant.

What was probably the worst smells came from poor dental hygiene and rotten teeth.

Gil August 9, 2011 at 1:31 am

Strange how the Romans had plumbing and bathing and yet this knowledge seems to be lost? Then again the Christianity of the time welcomed dirtiness.

Mattheus von Guttenberg August 9, 2011 at 4:20 am

It also had to do with how dangerous the water was in Medieval times. Beer and wine, not water, was frequently drank – and bathing in water that one would not drink was not often a smart choice.

Kirby August 9, 2011 at 9:11 am

Beer bath!

So wait…. the barbarians of Rome dirtied up the world’s water supply after they looted it?

Adam August 9, 2011 at 10:50 am

I don’t believe it’s true. According to various sources, bath houses were very common in the Middle Ages, at least relatively to early Medieval times and Renaissance, when the belief that dirt protects you from getting sick (i.e. Black Death) eventually prevailed.

EG August 9, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Maybe Christianity had a problem with being naked. To bathe, you kind of have to be naked and that may have send you straight to hell. Weirder things have been done in the name of God(s)

tdp August 11, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Bathing was 1) seen as a sign of vanity and many people had no idea how disease spread and thus thought the only object of bathing was to make one more sexually desirable 2) bathing may have been associated with higher status, and thus again vanity/worldliness

Fearsome Tycoon August 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Being sacked and looted by barbarians because you can no longer afford to defend yourself tends to be less than beneficial for the intellectual capital of society. But hey, they had a good century or two of free bread and publicly funded amusements, so it was worth it, right?

Preva Ichi August 9, 2011 at 4:45 am


Any true freemen here who are thirsty for battle, or are you all slaves who cower in their cages?

Lemonade Freedom Day is 8-20-11.

kyle8 August 9, 2011 at 8:31 am

cute little girl, not sure what it has to do with this thread though.

muirgeo August 9, 2011 at 9:48 am

“… that there was seldom any way of shortening that distance: the peasant would always be a peasant, the prince always a prince.”

There were and are unfortunate ways of shortening the distance… sadly we will be seeing more of them….


Craig S August 9, 2011 at 9:57 am

Looters in London are rioting because they want to live at the expense of others. The part you and other statist seem to miss is that the rich of Middle Ages were the state. They got their wealth by use of force. The government you advocate will return us to that.

muirgeo August 9, 2011 at 10:40 am

“…the rich of Middle Ages were the state.”

If you don’t understand that that IS what is going on now it is YOU who is missing the bigger picture. Lobbying, campaign donations, Supreme Court rulings, regulatory capture ect… they own this “democracy”. Until it is taken back and PEOPLE are represented the only solution after democracy is what you are seeing in London and Greece…. likely here if austerity kicks in the same way as there. These are people with their backs against the wall and still people like you call them thieves and protect the real thieves as some sort of Modern day Royalty that apparently you believe did NOT steal for their property. You are talking JUST like the Kings Vassals of the day. Yet you think you have insight.

morganovich August 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

as ever muirgeo, it is you who are missing what is happening as yu mistake democracy for freedom.

democracy is just a particularly nasty kind of tyranny (that of the majority over the minority).

the key to freedom is rights.

what you call theft is actually property and industry.

what you call “taking what’s yours” is really theft.

what right do you have to the production/wealth of another?

you are just another entitled crybaby looking for a free lunch and assuming that a lack of success must be because someone else cheated and stole, not that you/they were lazy and unindustrious.

if the rich OWN the democracy, why do they pay pretty much all the taxes?

70% of income tax in the US is paid by 10% of the population.

the rich in the US pay a larger % of taxes relative to percentage of overall income than any other OECD nation.

why, if this ruling junta is so powerful, do they allow themselves to be so severely squeezed?

you are exactly wrong about who owns the democracy.

it’s the 51% of americans paying no net tax.

they own it.

they vote for all spending increases because they know they do not have to pay.

the welfare classes have hijacked the demos.

how else can you explain that the % of people paying no net federal tax has doubled in 10 years?

it’s a cute populist rant, but you have no evidence at all to back up your febrile imaginings.

MWG August 9, 2011 at 5:56 pm

muirgeo is really smart about history douncha know? The revolution wasn’t about throwing off monarchy, but fighting evul korporasions.

muirgeo August 9, 2011 at 11:38 pm

morganovich August 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

democracy is just a particularly nasty kind of tyranny (that of the majority over the minority).

You little POS.. f’ers like you truly deserve to live in a TRUE tyrannical state. You grew up a spoiled brat in this great country and are fully prepared to tear it down into a true tyranny with your brain dead cultist beliefs.

muirgeo August 9, 2011 at 11:44 pm

morganovich wrote,

“…if the rich OWN the democracy, why do they pay pretty much all the taxes?”

“you are exactly wrong about who owns the democracy.
it’s the 51% of americans paying no net tax.”

“it’s a cute populist rant, but you have no evidence at all to back up your febrile imaginings.”

What a pathetic display of illogic. If the 51% majority were in charge would’t their incomes be rising faster then the top 1%. AND wouldn’t the top 1% tax rates be going up and not down?

The evidence… the facts are ALL on my side. Just look at any legislation that gets passed… it all favors Wall Street and not Main street.

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 11:58 pm

And Wall Steet donates heavily in favor for demoncrats.

Dan J August 10, 2011 at 12:02 am

Following up on Morganvich question,



tdp August 11, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Again, YASAFI, the largest special interests and lobby groups are all left-leaning: http://butwhatthehelldoiknow.com/2011/02/21/about-public-unions-wisconsin/
^ ^
ll ll
Here is a list of the 20 largest special interests and where their contributions went.

The moneyed interests want more government intervention to protect them from free market competition and want to make it easier for them to make money at other peoples’ expense. The ambulance chasers, the far-left lawyers who want the US to cede control of its judicial system to international law, the auto unions who want to force everyone to pay for their benefits with bailout money and then want to force people to buy their cars at extremely high prices (note that all the union bosses have very short work hours and are quite well off). Those are the people who pull the strings and reap the benefits of the giant welfare-nanny state the Dems have created while the middle and, yes, the lower classes get bent over.

Kirby August 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm

So the richest 1% of the country has a majority of the vote? Go back to your hole.

Seth August 9, 2011 at 5:35 pm

‘Lobbying, campaign donations, Supreme Court rulings, regulatory capture ect… they own this “democracy”’

If by ‘they’ you mean special interests of all stripes — corporations, unions, trade associations, the AARP, the AMA, the NEA, green groups, etc. — then I agree with you. But, somehow, I think you probably only consider the first one as the culprits.

“Until it is taken back and PEOPLE are represented the only solution after democracy is what you are seeing in London and Greece”

I wish that were true. What you are seeing there is the endgame of a system where everyones’ self-interests have been pitted against everyone elses’ self-interest in politics, rather than coordinated in cooperation through markets.

A smart person once said, “the problem with socialism is that you eventually ran out of other peoples’ money.”

They’ve progressed a step further down the road. Now it appears that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people and then there’s no one left to pay your bills.

muirgeo August 10, 2011 at 8:45 am

Go look how policy gets written you stupid sob. It’s written by the lobbyist and lawyers of those with wealth or large corporations while legislation that might hurt their bottom line and help people and small businesses is regularly quashed. You are a simpleton DF.

tdp August 11, 2011 at 10:34 pm

According to research done by John Papola, 19 of the 20 largest, most powerful, politically connected special interest groups in the US measured by campaign donation amounts gave an overwhelming majority of their money to Democratic candidates. The Democrats are the party of patronage, moneyed special interests, and giving out goodies to one’s supporters at the expense of everyone else, especially the poor they claim to care about. Go look up Anita MonCrieff, the ACORN whistleblower, and read what she had to say about the way the Dems treated the poor people they were “helping”.

Also, in a feudal system the people who were rich WERE the state, as morganovich said. Taking more money from people who worked for it to give to the state and its cronies is exactly the feudalism that all decent human beings, but not you, deplore. The bourgeoisie, aka the people who are wealthy in the US, were originally peasants who saved money and attained enough wealth to buy their freedom and rise to form a new class despite the predations of their overlords. Marx’s theory of class conflict was wrong: it is not capitalism or the bourgeoisie who create communist revolutions, it is feudal societies with no economic freedom that lead to such revolutions.

Krishnan August 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Re: Craig S – What is happening in Britain (and what happened in Greece …) is indicative of what many in the US want to happen here … We see an almost constant assault on the “rich” (translate that to mean: those who have some, earned some) – Class Envy and Class Warfare has been the main weapon in the hands of “progressives” – They are NOT INTERESTED in working to improve the lives of those that do not have – but to BRING DOWN the lives of those that can and have something …

It is NOT really about taking from those that have and giving it to those that do not – BUT to make sure that those that do not have ENOUGH MISERY and UNHAPPINESS are given misery and unhappiness

“Progressives” will be happy only when those that can are forcibly downgraded to live like those that cannot – … In their mind, this would “equalize” everyone … No difference between the “rich” and the “poor” – EVERYONE is poor. (Except for the elites of course, the “progressives” – those that MEAN WELL)

Craig S August 9, 2011 at 11:06 am

If you don’t understand that that IS what is going on now it is YOU who is missing the bigger picture.

I do understand that’s what’s happening but it is you and your ilk that are missing the big picture. You are the ones that want the government as the focus of economic lfe. Sadly you do not seem to realize that lead to lobbying and vote buying that you decry. Corporations love regulation, it helps the lock in profits and keep out competition, they are the ones that write the regulations after all and they somehow convince people like you that is protecting you.

“These are people with their backs against the wall and still people like you call them thieves ”

People who live at the expense of others are theives. Sorry, we can not afford to have people that work for the government retire at 50 with full pay. That is simply not sustainable.

“protect the real thieves as some sort of Modern day Royalty that apparently you believe did NOT steal for their property”

That depends on who you are talking about. The rent seekers or the “too Big to Fail” Banks and Car Companies? People like me and other free market advocates oppose the bail outs. Those people are also theives, living (extranagantly) at the expense of other. Crony capitalism is not the free market. True Entrepreneurs do not steal for their property only the government can do that. It are policies that you advocate that make it possible for the crony capitalists to thrive. You are the ones responsible for the “modern” royalty like Immelt.
Just look at the street vendors case in Atlanta. The government granted a “private” comapny a monopoly that will force independent street vendors to rent kiosks from them. The libertarians support the street vendors. The democraticly elected government does not.


tdp August 11, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Even if the leftists in the gummint did mean well, putting restrictions on the market hurts those who aren’t already rich the most. Big corporations have the advantage of economies of scale and can make profits without hiring people (like now when Obama makes it too costly to do so) and can earn money when the economy is restricted and corporate taxes are the highest in the world. Either that or they can use their connections to get out of the regulations. The rich can afford to pay higher prices for goods when the government makes it more expensive to do business with regulations and restrictions that jack up the costs of production. The rich can afford to pay more for items that are scarce because the free market is hindered so the price of the items does not fall (*cough* cancer drugs*cough*). The rich have money stored up to use if they lose their job or if the economy crashes, and they can retool their skills and find new jobs quicker. The poor and middle class cannot escape these problems, and when the government screws with the free market for the ostensible benefit, they are the ones who take it up the ass. The current government is slowly strangling the American economy to death and hurting the people it claims to be helping the most.

tdp August 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Finally, the economy is not a fixed pie on a table that only the rich can reach while the poor fight for crumbs at the bottom, it is a level plane where, when there is no intervention, money spreads around evenly and all parts of this plane benefit from society’s increased wealth. Restrictions and regulations cordon off parts of the plane and keep poor people from accessing this flow of money. More regulations cordon off increasing sections of the plane so that fewer and fewer people can reap the benefits of economic growth until only the state is left with any money.

tdp August 11, 2011 at 11:00 pm

The above post made more sense when I conceived of it as a visual representation. I hope people understand what I am getting at.

DG Lesvic August 9, 2011 at 11:30 am

You don’t have to go back to the Middle Ages or even Europe for those conditions. I spent a lot of time as a little boy in the thirties on a farm with no running water. Everybody washed their hands in the same pot and dried them with the same towel, took their business to an outhouse over a hole in the ground, and wiped themselves with pages from a Sears Roebuck catalog.

And the biggest difference today is that I bring my business here to the Cafe.

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 11:52 pm

No argument.

tdp August 11, 2011 at 10:43 pm

You’re in your 80s?

Jim August 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm

It is the lice and bed bugs and disease, especially those associated with excrement and the lack of sanitation, that must have surely made life brutish and short. I can only imagine the mice, rats and other varments that thrive in such a place, biting sleeping babies and spreading infection as a regular life occurrence.

Ken August 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm


You can ask New Yorkers about bed bugs. Then you can ask what government banned substance could have prevented the invasion had the government not banned that substance.


Jim August 9, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Just think Ken. We could have wiped malaria from the face of the earth.

Ken August 9, 2011 at 8:08 pm

I know, but then how would environmentalists feel all morally superior if millions of Africans didn’t die?


Stone Glasgow August 9, 2011 at 8:07 pm

What is the alternative to DDT, and who owns the company with its patent?

Ken August 9, 2011 at 8:10 pm

If you ask Bill Gates, it’s nets. What a savior.


Jim August 9, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Folks spent millions handing out mosquito nets. Hardly anyone used them. After all, they don’t just bite at night.

Now they are coming to the poor with converted bicycles to pump water instead of diesel engines. It’s all part of the Al Gore CO2 inititative; you pay money so you can pollute, and the money goes to poor folks so they don’t (Never mind that you turn the farmer into a diesel engine). You know, like indulgences.

Kirby August 9, 2011 at 8:22 pm

But DDT will kill the rare African Eagle!

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