The base of the fantasy world economy
After finishing the introduction to the series, I thought that our first article should have been about raw materials and their prices. I did that considering that since raw materials are the base of the production of every economy that would have been a good place to begin our journey.
But this couldn’t be furthest from the truth. I have tried to write the article and, in fact, the article is now half-there sitting in the drafts, but I couldn’t finish it. In order to establish how much will something cost, I had to ask two things:
How much does a laborer requires and needs as a wage? And, Which are the value of equipment and other sources for the extraction of a raw material? As you can understand, this brought me in a catch-22 scenario, were to have the one I had to have the other and vice versa.
So this article won’t be about raw materials. I do apologize for this, but the article is coming quite soon, along with a third article that I wrote as an attempt to give the basis for those mentioned above. This article is about the cost of labor and how we should estimate it.
This article is about the cost of labor and how we should estimate it.
Factors that affect earnings of an employee
In order to understand the cost of labour, we have to establish which are the factors that contribute into shaping, it. Prices of goods and services, including wages, change over time. A variety of factors drives these changes. Below we examine which are the factors that affect earnings and which of them, stay, pretty much unchanged, versus those that create fluctuations.
If there was a single factor, that determined the expected wage of anyone that would have been the cost of food, and it is indeed, an exceedingly important one.
We know that an average, middle-aged man requires 2,500 kilocalories per day to sustain their weight. This calculation considers the modern style of life which, in most cases evolves significantly, less manual labour, and it assumes adequately insulated, warm and dry housing.
During middle ages, this was true for some but not for the biggest part of the population. For most peasants, the conditions were harsh, and the work was hard and tiring. It required significant amounts of energy in order to sustain their body mass. A peasant’s work was significantly less energy-demanding than the work that a miner or a lumberjack conducted. The average town-dwelling craftsman had, in average, the same nutrition requirements we also encounter nowadays. By reverse engineering from sources 5- 8 we can extrapolate that the average dietary requirements daily in a fantasy world would look like this:
|Labourer type||Kilocalories consumed daily|
|Serf, Adult, Heavy work||4500|
|Serf, Adult, Light work||3000|
|Miner, Extremely heavy work||7500|
|Lumberjack, Very heavy work||6500|
|Master Mason, Heavy work||5000|
|Commoner (Vendor, Merchant, Housewife)||2500|
|Noble, High (King, Duke, Courtier)||7500|
|Soldier (Guardsman, Footman)||4000|
|Noble, Manor (Baron, Knight)||6000|
|Craftsman (Baker, Smith, Carpenter)||3000|
|Labourer, Medium-weight work||3500|
Expected quality of life
Becoming an accomplished master of your art or marrying–up change the expectation that you have about what constitutes a good meal or a good time. Gaining know-how or moving higher into the social echelon affects your assumed quality of nutritional standards. For example, for a cottar, to have meat on the table is considered a great luxury, and happened rarely. For the average blacksmith in a town, meat was quite common if not a daily occurrence. Nobles would expect not one, but several kinds of meat to be available during a meal, all of them, well presented and garnished with all sorts of fruit and vegetables; some imported from far away lands.
These expectations would work as a cost multiplier on the calories needed for each type of worker. For our examples above these modifiers range from 0.65 (Slave, Field) to 5 (Noble, High).
|Labourer type||Nutritional quality multiplier|
|Serf, Adult, Heavy work||1|
|Serf, Adult, Light work||1|
|Miner, Extremely heavy work||2|
|Lumberjack, Very heavy work||2|
|Master Mason, Heavy work||3|
|Commoner (Vendor, Merchant, Housewife)||2|
|Noble, High (King, Duke, Courtier)||5|
|Soldier (Guardsman, Footman)||1.5|
|Noble, Manor (Baron, Knight)||4|
|Craftsman (Baker, Smith, Carpenter)||2|
|Labourer, Medium-weight work||1|
Expertise, social status & class
The amount of calories and the type of food that someone would prefer to consume, play an important factor on the expected wage but they are not the only one. The years of practicing your art or craft and how renowned you are at it, or simply your noble rank denote your housing, purchase power, entertainment, education and, amongst others, daily needs.
The simplest way to calculate this would be a multiplier on top of the above that will represent the “additional income requirement” of each citizen of our fantasy world kingdom. This multiplier, for our cases, ranges from 0 (for a slave with no personal possessions) to 45 for a high noble who would expect to amass a significant amount as savings as well.
Calculations and methodology
We’ve have talked a lot about calories and stacked multipliers, but how does this translate into money? Well, this is where the bread constant (the staple of life) comes into play. In the introduction of this article series, we have discussed that one 1lb brown loaf of bread, for our calculations, costs one piece of silver and amounts to 1,700kCal.
Based on this the calories needed (CN) multiplied by the nutrition quality multiplier (NQM) and divided by calories of our staple (CS) would give us the cost of food per day.
Multiplying this by the Additional income multiplier (AIM) will give us the Expected Wage (EW)
Days of work
The above represent the wage that someone would expect if he was in the employment of someone else. The yearly profits of each worker are subject to how many days per year they would be employed, or capable of exercising this profession.
For example, in reality the profits of a knight (Noble, Manor) are dependent on the productivity of his personal endeavours within his manorial property. Having said that, and knowing that a “knight’s fee” equals 40 days of service per year. We can assume that a King, initially, should provide a knight with land that can produce for him at least, the expected wage, times forty (in this case 210.53 * 40 = 8,421 silver pieces). This meant, that in times of war, the profits could rise tenfold within a year.
In order to calculate the profits of someone working for themselves, we should consider taxation, fees and other overheads. These in average come to about a thirty-five percent (35%) increase in the listed values. We will elaborate on this in a later article.
Labor demand and other modifiers
Prices can be modified depend on the socioeconomic and political situation of the kingdom. Events like an embargo, a war, the discovery of a rich deposit of silver, or droughts, can bring some of the wages down, and some of them, as we already discussed up.
Weather conditions like adverse winters, or shower-less summers can also have a profound effect on the cost of labor. Work conducted during winter in the open, like logging, might drive the days of employment down, which in turn would raise demand for wood and thus the cost of labor. Times of drought would mean that the stores of grain won’t be restored and that there won’t be enough food to feed the animals; raising the price of flour and thus, making the size of the average loaf smaller.
In most cases, other than those which might cause kingdom-wide starvation, the required wage cannot be modified lower than the cost of food per day. At the same way, the additional income modifier should not exceed twice its standard value.
I have created a first draft of the list of wages. This list will be expanded as we delve deeper into this series.
Name: The name of the profession. Light to Very Heavy refers to how arduous the work is expected to be.
Calories needed: The calories needed to keep a human being in the same weight, and in average health
Nutrition quality modifier: The quality of food required, anything underneath 1 is considered left-overs and below the average quality food. 1 denotes bread and pottage diet (villager’s basic diet) while anything above 1.5 assumes that some meat is common place.
Cost of food per day (in silver pieces): The cost of food based on the fact that 1lb of brown bread costs one silver piece and provides the consumer with 1700kcal.
Additional income modifier: Expected basics and luxuries like entertainment, education, equipment, housing etc.
Expected wage/day (in silver pieces): the cost of food multiplied by the additional income modifier
Days of employment per year: Days that which work can take place within the 365 days of a year. Based on 65 to 70 days of enforced holidays (Sundays and festivals), constituted agreements (Knight’s fee), work on field, weather conditions, etc
Yearly profit from employment: expected wage multiplied by days of employment
Daily profits: Yearly profit divided by 365 days (people eat and spend regardless of days of work)
Daily surplus: Difference between cost of food and daily benefits, denoting the actual living conditions and the requirement for additional employment or business ownership or the actual daily spending limit.
What to read next
Coming up next
Next week we will be talking about the process of making bread and its cost, from sowing the seeds into the field to the loaf in the baker’s basket.
- James E. Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages (London: Allen and Unwin, 1949), 542-43.
- H.S. Bennett, Life on the English Manor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), 104-6.
- Douglas Knoop and G.P. Jones, The Medieval Mason (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1967), 105.
- R. Allen Brown, H.M. Colvin, and A.J. Taylor, The History of the King’s Works, vol. I, the Middle Ages (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1963).
- Jeffrey L. Singman, Daily Life in Medieval Europe, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999, 54 – 55.
- Jeffrey L. Singman and Will McLean, Daily Life in Chaucer’s England, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995, 159-160.
- Gies, F. & Gies, J. (1981) Life in a Medieval City. New York: Harper and Row.
- Gies, F. & Gies, J. (1991) Life in a Medieval Village. New York: Harper and Row.