Dancing With Death (cont.)

11/09/2011 § Leave a comment

Dancing With Death: The Black Death
A Little Bit Of A Lot Of History

The second activity actually had to deal with dancing with death. We actually danced with death.

The Black Plague was the topic of our second activity. The Black Plague is also known as the Black Death or the bubonic plague. It was primarily an endemic disease centered at Mongolia but after people started making decisions that would impact the rest of the world negatively as a consequence, the black plague became an epidemic disease that killed all over the world. (How’s that for speaking like an economist?) People tried to escape the plague using ships but all they did was spread the sickness further West and into Europe.

Other background information is that during the time of this huge Black Plague epidemic (1347 – 1350), the majority of the world was run under a feudalist system, as seen in Japan, the United Kingdom, some parts of Europe and other parts of Asia. Kings were at the top of the food chain and ruled everything and anything. The Nobles were next and they helped the king rule different portions of his land because there was so much to keep track of. The Knights came in third because the King ruled so much that even the Nobles had a bit too much to keep track of. The Knights would take care of portions of land, too. Finally, Knights had their own peasants who would do the actual physical labor of taking care of the land the king owned.

I’m not very fond of this king.

As a side note, we had to remember in class that slaves and peasants are different things. Slaves are specifically someone who is bought and sold, not really categorized as human, they are berated and have been downgraded from the level of humanity, most likely because of their race or because they were a prisoner of war. Peasants are slightly luckier, they are simply people who are bound to a piece of land, there isn’t any racial issue which identifies a human being as a peasant and they are not bought and sold as slaves are. Peasants are actually quite useful.

Plus, if you were still a peasant after the black death epidemic – aka, if you were lucky enough to survive, your life would be turning around. You win.

This is because before the black plague, kings, nobles and knights took their labor force for granted and didn’tknow how valuable peasants actually were to the survival of their land. After the black plague came a Peasants’ revolt that demanded a better life for the peasants. They won the rebellion because the number of peasants that actually survived the bubonic plague was so scarce and the kings, nobles, knights, they all knew how much value a peasant family actually held. Afterwards, peasants were paid to work on territory and had more freedom to move and live wherever they wanted and even try new farming methods.

You could say that the Black Plague held a lot of influence over changing the world because the unfortunate worldwide epidemic changed the feudalist system and modernizing different societies. The feudalist system began to crumble and peasants were given more incentives to try new farming methods and live in different places and try new things. (Originally, their incentive was to please their lords but after obtaining more freedom, all of that changed.)

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—Economic-term explanation time—
incentive: these can be positive and/or negative – they are what motivate people to do something.

Now For The Actual Activity Itself

The activity in class involved a lot of quick math. Unlike the Planning A Dance activity, this one was completed in much less time. We were to pretend that we were nobles in England before and after the Black Plague struck and the majority of the kingdom was wiped out. I owned 1,000 acres of land but because I’m a noble, I don’t know what to do with it so I have 15 peasant families come in to take care of the land for me. Each family automatically gets 30 acres of farmland in order to feed themselves so that’s 1,000 – (30 x 15 = 450) acres which gives me 550, but wait, I need my own 100 acres of farmland because I have a family of 7 girls and 9 boys and my spouse eats twice as much as me and I still have servants in my mansion. 100 acres will have to do.

Getting back on track, I have 450 acres of farmland left. I have the option of giving a family 30 acres of land for them to grow food to sell at the market. That will give me £2 of income. Or, I could give them 150 acres of land to take care of a flock of random sheep that I could own and they could produce wool to sell at the market and get me £5 of income. The question is: what’s the best way to do this so that I maximize the rest of my 450 acres and get the most income possible?

||
—Economic-term explanation time—
income: money received regularly through work (or investments)

After a bit of math, the class figured out that the most income you can produce is by giving each of the 15 families an extra 30 acres of land so that you get (15 x £2) £30 for income a year. I’ll just assume that £30 was worth a lot back in the mid 1300s.

Also, we were asked if letting a peasant from a neighboring estate move into your estate would be an economically smart choice. The answer is no, that peasant better stay out of my land because letting him move in would mean that I would have to take 30 acres of food-production land from one of the already existing families and give it to the new family so that they can feed themselves. I would only have £28 of income a year because the new family, with their automatic 30 acres, takes away £2 of my original £30 of income.

Afterwards, time passed from 1345 to 1352, the Black Death has basically finished and thankfully I survived. However, now I’ve dropped down to 10 peasants. Again, they all automatically got 30 acres of land to feed themselves and I needed my 100 acres of land because although two of my girls and one of my boys died, the rest were all teenagers by then and thus, they ate twice as much as they used to. 30 x 10 = 300 + 100 (my acres) = 400. 1000 acres – 400 = 600 acres leftover.

The objective is the same: how could I maximize my leftover acres (a lot of leftover land) and still receive the most income through the work my peasants do for me?

Eventually, the class figured out that if I give two families 150 acres each to take care of sheep, that would give me £10 pounds (2 families x £5). That leaves me 300 acres and if I give the rest of the eight families 30 extra acres to grow food and provide me an income of £16 pounds (8 families x £2), I would have the maximum income of £26. In other words, 240 acres of the remaining land would be used for food production, 300 acres would be used for sheep grazing, and I would be receiving £26.

A very important note: from our original leftover acres of 600, we subtracted 540. This means we still have an extra 60 acres of land that are not in use.

Finally, we needed to make a decision whether letting a peasant move into my estate would be an economically smart choice. In other words: is it smart to let another peasant family move in with me?

It is.

I have 60 acres of land leftover and they would use 30 acres for their own lives while they could use the other 30 acres to produce food for me, therefore giving me another £2 of income to give me an overall yearly income of £28. It would be very smart to let another peasant family move in.

Also: would it be smart to pay this new family because of the new ‘peasants are free’ way? It would be smart — if I paid them only £1. We need to take into consideration that this new family is earning me £2 a year. Even if I lose that £1 paying them, I’m still earning another pound that will eventually add up. Therefore, inviting and paying a a new peasant family would be economically profitable and would only offer positive consequences. (Of course, unless the peasant family decides to ruin my life in a completely unexpected way.)

||
—Economic-term explanation time—
consequence: these can also be positive or negative; they are the results or effects of an earlier action/condition; there are always consequences in the future that follow economic decisions

Components of Economic Thinking

All of the below stated terms and ideas are part of the components of Economic Thinking. We covered the first part of Economic Thinking in the previous blog about chocolate almonds. The other three parts (part 2 – 4) are:

  • Choices have costs. Every decision consists of having to give up something completely or give up a little bit of something to get more of something else (aka opportunity cost and trade-off).
  • People respond to incentives in predictable ways. In the activity, I paid a peasant to work for me because I knew that 30 acres would be used to my benefit. I also gave all of my peasants extra portions of land because my incentive was to earn more income.
  • Consequences lie in the future. Every economic decision involves a consequence in the future that can be positive or negative. The economic analysis of these possible consequences help us make the best decisions.

Not going to lie, that was a lot of math, not as many pictures, but a lot of interesting role-play in which I actual have a bit of fun pretending to be a dictatorial female noble with too many children and a lot of peasants to spare.

 

This is the PDF where I did all the math for the activity and where some of my notes are. TheBlackDeath

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