All too many people simply don’t grasp how truly poor the past was. And I’ve long been looking for a way to try and make this clear. Here’s another attempt:
Bread has become the latest household to be slashed in cost in the supermarket price wars which have reduced milk to cheaper than bottled water.
Branded loaves have now been reduced to as little as 75p and own-label bread can be bought for 55p in some stores, according to new research.
Greg Clark has some interesting numbers on what wages would buy. 1650 or so, in England, the labourers’ wage would buy 9 lbs of wheat calories. He needed 2 lbs of wheat calories (2,400 kcal) to keep going. Some say this equals 1 lb of bread but that seems low. Call it 2 lbs instead (there’s obviously a difference between the caloric value of the husks that are milled off etc).
On a 10 hour working day therefore the labourer earned his daily bread in 2 hours of work, near enough.
Call that two loaves of today’s bread. £1.10, or 10 minutes at minimum wage.
By this measure we are 12 times richer than the English of 1650. And that’s not far off the increase in income that we generally assign over that timescale using other measures. If we use meadian wage (which is probably closer to that past labourers’ wage) then it’s 5 minutes of work. Giving us as being 24 times richer: which more closely accords with those other methods of measurement.
The past really was shit poor.