At the end of the 14th century, the peasants had had enough. Their numbers had been ravaged by plague but although there were labor shortages, the lords of the manors still demanded unpaid work from most of them. They weren’t serfs, exactly, but their free status didn’t exempt them from mandatory labor on land that belonged to the local strong man in addition to the work on their own land.
The peasants started to get the knack for this “supply and demand” thing. If labor is scarce, shouldn’t it be more valuable? That worked in some cases with peasants getting paid a bit better. And that in turn gave peasants all kinds of ideas about their human worth and what they were entitled to. They started getting ideas. But the aristocrats quickly caught on and started to clamp down, making all kinds new laws keeping the peasants down on the farm, like fixing wages at pre-plague levels. So, the work got much harder and longer to make up for the reduced population but wages actually started to go down again to pre-1347 levels.
Then there was a new Poll Tax that was used to raise revenue for new wars. Ahhh, the military industrial complex of the middle ages. Some things never change. The tax was harsher on some peasants than others. Women were especially hard hit for some reason, regardless of their employment status or hardships. The King’s ministers probably just eliminated some deductions and futzed with the cost of living adjustments or something. They probably had their own Bowles-Simpson commission.
So, the peasants revolted. Simon Schama picks up the story:
Well, that ended well, didn’t it? Not to fear, the English common man does get his due in less than 300 years during the reign of Oliver Cromwell. But it never really ends, does it? There will always be a bunch of rich assholes trying to force austerity on the peasants and peasants deciding they’ve had enough.
Oh, look! Tim Geithner is telling us that we’re going to get nailed again. Isn’t it swell that those of us who have given up a good portion of our skins are now going to be completely flayed? Remind me to review how much in income taxes and social security taxes I’ve paid in the past 10 years. I think we all need to pull out our tax returns and report on this. Why should my kid be penalized by these spending cuts after the decades of taxes I have paid into my social insurance policies and all of the other things I expected from my hard earned money?
How come we paid so much money and have so little control over how it gets spent? Why can’t we decide to spend that money on *ourselves* and not some stupid war or a giant border fence or Alabama? Why am I, a New Jerseyan, spending so much money per year on states in the south who insist on electing selfish, aristocratic hardasses to Congress? Why am I forced to participate in my own oppression? Will someone answer me that?
And for gawd’s sakes, shut the damn TV off! We don’t need any more selfish media lackeys shoving deficit reduction down our throats when we really need good jobs. The aristocrats have gone too far.