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The Medieval Agrarian Economy

by Tim Harding

This striking image depicts the three main classes of medieval society – the clergy, the knights and the peasantry.[1]  Tellingly, the cleric and the knight are shown talking to each other; but the peasant is excluded from the conversation.  Even though the peasants comprised over 90% of the population, they were in many ways marginalized socially and economically.  So who were these peasants and what was their daily life like?

striking

Source of image: Wikimedia Commons

The term ‘peasant’ essentially means a traditional farmer of the Middle Ages, although in everyday language it has come to mean a lower class agricultural labourer.  In the Central Middle Ages, that is the period from 1000 to 1300CE, European peasants were divided into four classes according to their legal status and their relationship to the land they farmed.  These classes were slave, serf, free tenant or land owner.  The first two classes were usually much poorer than the second two.

There were several factors that influenced the lives of peasants during this period.  The reciprocal benefits of agricultural labour and warrior protection gave rise to closely settled manorial and feudal communities.[2]  More land was brought under cultivation by the communal clearing of forests, draining of swamps and the building of levees or dykes.[3]

The invention of a heavier wheeled plow enabled deeper cultivation of soils, including the burying of green manure from fallow land and also stubble from previous crops.  The deeper furrows also protected seed from wind and birds.[4]

plough

Source of image: Wikimedia Commons

There was also a period of warmer temperatures, milder winters and higher rainfall at this time, resulting in longer growing seasons.[5]  Another important factor was the replacement of the Roman two-field rotation system by a more efficient three-field system, enabling two-thirds of the land to be under cultivation at any one time, instead of only half the land.  This image shows the three cropping fields (West, South and East) of a typical rural community, with the remaining quarter devoted to pasture, the Manor house and Church.[6]

rural community

Source of image: Bennett, Judith M., Medieval Europe – A Short History
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011). p. 142.

Interestingly, the typical length of a plow-strip was 220 yards, called a furlong (a word still used in horse racing today).  The width of a plow-strip was a rod, and a rectangle of 4 rods by one furlong became an acre.[7] (Four rods later became a ‘chain’ of 22 yards, so an acre was an area one furlong by one chain).

The resulting increases in agricultural yields raised farm production above subsistence levels for the first time in centuries.   These surpluses not enabled not only trade, but also the storage of produce such as oats for the feeding of horses.  This in turn enabled the replacement of plow-pulling oxen by horses that required less pasture that could be reallocated to cropping.  Horses also moved and turned faster than oxen, resulting in even more efficiencies.[8]

Crop yields for wheat improved to an estimated four times the quantity of grain sown.  Typically, one quarter of the yield was reserved for the next planting, one or two quarters went to the lord of the manor as rent, and the remainder was either consumed as bread or beer, stored for the winter or sold at local markets.[9]

Few peasants could afford meat to eat – they mainly lived on bread, beer and vegetables grown by women and children in small cottage gardens, plus eggs from chickens and milk from cows and goats.  Those living in coastal areas also ate fish. [10]

 Bibliography

Backman, Clifford R., The Worlds of Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Bennett, Judith M., Medieval Europe – A Short History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011).

Endnotes

[1] Bennett, Judith M., Medieval Europe – A Short History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011) p.135.

[2] Backman, Clifford R., The Worlds of Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) p.215

[3] Bennett, p.140.

[4] Backman, p.218.

[5] Bennett, p.139.

[6] Bennett, p.140-142.

[7] Backman, p.217.

[8] Backman, p.218.

[9] Backman, p.219.

[10] Backman, p.220.

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Brexit stage right: what Britain’s decision to leave the EU means for Australia

The Conversation

Ben Wellings, Monash University

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has opened a fundamental crack in the western world. Australia’s relationship with the United Kingdom is grounded in the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Given Australia’s strong and enduring ties with the UK and the EU, the shockwaves from this epoch-defining event will be felt in Australia soon enough. Most immediately, the impending Australia-EU Free-Trade Agreement becomes more complicated and at the same time less attractive.

What will happen to trade ties?

The importance of Australia’s relationship with the EU tends to get under-reported in all the excitement about China. We might ascribe such a view to an Australian gold rush mentality. Nevertheless, Australia’s trading ties to the EU are deep and strong.

Such ties looked set to get stronger. In November 2015 an agreement to begin negotiations in 2017 on a free-trade deal was announced at the G20 summit in Turkey. Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said in April 2016 that an Australia-EU free trade agreement:

… would further fuel this important trade and investment relationship.

When considered as a bloc, the EU consistently shows up as one of Australia’s main trading partners. Consider the statistics below:

  • in 2014 the EU was Australia’s largest source of foreign investment and second-largest trading partner, although the European Commission placed it third after China and Japan in 2015;
  • in 2014, the EU’s foreign direct investment in Australia was valued at A$169.6 billion and Australian foreign direct investment in the EU was valued at $83.5 billion. Total two-way merchandise and services trade between Australia and the EU was worth $83.9 billion; and
  • the EU is Australia’s largest services export market, valued at nearly $10 billion in 2014. Services account for 19.7% of Australia’s total trade in goods and services, and will be an important component of any future free trade agreement.

This is all well and good. But when not considered as a bloc, 48% of Australia’s exports in services to the EU were via the UK; of the $169 billion in EU foreign direct investment, 51% came from the UK; and of Australia’s foreign direct investment into the EU, 66% went to the UK.

You get the picture.

The UK was Australia’s eighth-largest export market for 2014; it represented 37.4% of Australia’s total exports to the EU. As Austrade noted:

No other EU country featured in Australia’s top 15 export markets.

In short, the EU is not as attractive to Australia without Britain in it.

Beyond trade numbers

But the Australia-EU-UK relationship cannot be reduced to numbers alone. It also rests on values shared between like-minded powers.

Brexit represents the further fracturing of the West at a moment when that already weakening political identity is in relative decline compared to other regions of the world, notably Asia (or more specifically China).

EU-Australia relations rest on shared concerns such as the fight against terrorism advanced through police collaboration and the sharing of passenger name records. The EU and Australia also collaborated to mitigate climate change at the Paris climate summit. And they work for further trade liberalisation in the World Trade Organisation – but don’t mention agriculture.

Without the UK, these shared political tasks become harder.

Clearly, Australia-UK relations rest on a special historical relationship. However, it has seen efforts at reinvigoration, as British governments buckled under the pressure of the Eurosceptics among the Conservatives.

David Cameron addresses the Australian parliament in 2014.

Beyond everyday trade, historical links have been reinforced through the centenary of the first world war and the UK-Australia commemorative diplomacy that has come with this four-year-long event.

Cultural ties are most regularly and publicly affirmed through sporting rivalries such as netball, rugby and most notably cricket. Expect these ties to be reinforced as the UK seeks trade agreements and political support from its “traditional allies”.

For those with British passports, there will be a two-year period of grace as the UK negotiates its exit. After that, it will be quicker to get into the UK at Heathrow, but this might be small consolation for the loss of a major point of access to the EU.

The vote to leave is a major turning point in Europe’s history. It marks a significant crack in a unified concept of “the West”. It is not in Australia’s interests.

It’s time for Australia to make new friends in Europe.

The ConversationBen Wellings, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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How a Brexit could impact on Australia

The Conversation

Lee Smales, Curtin University

The outcome of the British vote to leave or remain in the European Union (EU) will be known in Australia around 2pm on Friday.

Since becoming a member of the EU in 1973, Britain’s relationship with Europe has been fraught. The “remain” camp has focused on the positives to trade and investment of maintaining EU membership. And the “pro-Brexiters” have concentrated on the perceived loss of sovereignty, undue regulation, and lack of immigration controls that this brings.

Brexit would bring extreme short-term volatility…..

In the short-term, Brexit would lead to turmoil in the UK and global financial markets. In the worst-case scenario it may precipitate another financial crisis.

With a debt mountain piling up in China even as growth slows, and the developed world struggling to generate growth despite record-low interest rates, the global economy is fragile. Last week, the US Federal Reserve cited the uncertainty around Brexit as one reason for leaving interest rates unchanged.

The effect will be most keenly felt in the foreign exchange market. The trade-weighted-index for the British pound has depreciated by 6.5% this year, and currently appears to be moving in step with Brexit polling. US investor George Soros, who famously “broke” the Bank of England during the 1992 European Exchange Rate Mechanism “Black Wednesday” crisis, suggests Brexit would cause a Sterling devaluation of at least 15%.

Chance of ‘Brexit’ is impacting the value of the Pound
FT Research and Bank of England

……and longer term uncertainty

The long-term effects of Brexit are uncertain. Much will depend on the negotiations between the EU and UK surrounding the conditions of exit. This could take years.

Since around half of UK trade is with the EU, it is likely that the government will seek to follow the example of Norway and Switzerland in retaining the benefits of a free trade zone without EU membership – however this is far from guaranteed. The Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg suggested that Britons won’t like this since “Brussels will decide without the Brits being able to participate in the decision-making”.

Crucially, this uncertainty will mean that business decisions are deferred and investment delayed. This may result in many firms deciding to take their operations elsewhere. The Bank of England has suggested that Brexit will stoke inflation and raise unemployment, potentially tipping the UK into recession.

Of greater concern are the potentially greater geopolitical risks if other countries follow Britain’s lead and seek to leave the EU. The Eurosceptic political parties of the far-right have surged in popularity in recent years, and would surely push for their own countries to exit. This could mean a disintegration of the EU.

Consequences for Australia

As they are closely linked, turmoil on offshore markets will likely have a large impact on Australian markets. Australian stock markets and the Australian dollar tend to decline sharply as uncertainty increases and investors adopt a “risk-off” mentality. Bond yields will also head even lower as investors engage in a “flight to quality”.

If financial markets seize up, as they did in 2008, then the big Australian banks will find it difficult to secure the vast amounts of offshore funding that they require – share prices will fall sharply and government guarantees will be called for again. The one bright spot could be the stock price of gold mining firms if gold surges as a result of its “safe haven” status as it did in 2008.

A fall in the pound would have negative consequences for the many Australians (such as myself) who have pensions and other assets in the UK. And the spending power of British tourists (last year more than 700,000 of them arrived in Australia) would be lowered.

In the longer term, it is likely that a shaky global economy will severely impact Australia’s trade. Exports have been a key driver of recent GDP growth and so this could have severe ramifications for employment and economic growth. Recall that commodity prices sank quickly in 2008, and also that the UK is still Australia’s 7th largest trade partner.

As with the majority of governments, the lack of desire in promoting structural change, means that Australia’s fiscal position provides little comfort in the ability to stimulate growth. A repeat of 2008-09 when Australia avoided recession is unlikely to be avoided.

Not for the fainthearted

Of course, Brexit is far from certain to occur. If the bookmakers are correct (and they have form) and Britain remains in the EU we should see a rosier picture develop. At least in the short-term, a “relief rally” would likely see global stock markets surge higher along with the British pound (and the Australian dollar).

This “binary” effect, where prices are expected to advance/decline sharply, is one reason why investment in financial markets is certainly not for the fainthearted right now.

In the longer-term, a resolution to the UK’s position in Europe will do little to change the developing situation in China, or the re-balancing of Australia’s economy in the aftermath of the mining boom.

The ConversationLee Smales, Senior Lecturer, Finance, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Time for a real debate about our most important relationship

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

While still considered unlikely, there is now a real and growing possibility that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. And yet, despite the fact that Bill Shorten apparently considers him to be “barking mad”, there has been almost no serious discussion about what this might mean for Australia.

Indeed, there has been precious little foreign policy debate so far in the election campaign. No surprise about this, perhaps: foreign policy is usually something of an afterthought during election campaigns.

Australians are not unique in being rather uninterested in foreign affairs, but one might have thought this time things would be different. We are subjected to a fairly relentless bombardment about the supposed threats to national security and the deteriorating regional strategic environment, after all.

One of the reasons there is so little discussion of foreign and strategic policy is that there are few significant differences between the major parties, or about the received wisdom among most of the commentariat. Whatever your views of the Greens’ policies in this area may be, they are at least willing to question the basis of a conventional wisdom that has seen Australia take part in every major conflict since the second world war.

Such a debate looks timely, given that prominent figures from both Labor and the Coalition have expressed deep concern about the implications of a Trump presidency. Even John Howard, who is now held in remarkably high esteem throughout the country, has suggested that Trump is “too unstable to hold that high office”.

One might have thought that under such circumstances, where there is a bipartisan consensus on the dangers of a Trump presidency, there would be an informed discussion of what this might actually mean for the security policy that has formed the foundation of Australia’s defence since the second world war.

On the contrary, though, Malcolm Turnbull has attempted to shut down debate by suggesting that there should be no commentary on the politics of other countries during an election.

Opening up this debate might raise uncomfortable questions that neither of the major parties want to discuss. Most importantly, does it make sense for this country – or any other for that matter – to rely so heavily on a foreign power, no matter how intimate the relationship may have grown over the years?

Australian policy is essentially hostage to the preferences of the US and the expectations that they will always coincide with ours.

The dangers of such a strategy were revealed in the disastrous but entirely predictable decision to take part in the invasion of Iraq. Not only was this a folly of the grandest proportions, but it was also one that had no bearing on or relevance to Australia’s own security.

Important lessons could and should have been learned from this experience, which might be used to guide policy now when the potential threat is even more direct and unambiguous.

Australian policymakers and commentators have always assumed that what’s good for America in foreign policy terms will necessarily be good for Australia. This always looked like an exercise in wishful thinking and a dereliction of responsibility on the part of generations of Australian policymakers.

With the ascent of a potentially dangerous figure like Trump, who even prominent conservative commentators in the US have described as a fascist, the dangers of this policy are becoming painfully apparent.

Some debates are plainly too discomfiting to contemplate. It is noteworthy that, 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, Barack Obama has been attempting to develop a close strategic relationship with the still notionally communist government in Hanoi. Quite why two million Vietnamese had to die in the conflict, not to mention 60,000 Americans and some 500 Australians, is not entirely clear in retrospect.

One of the problems of failing to confront uncomfortable realities in the past or the present is that it becomes impossible to learn potential lessons and adjust policy in the future. Vietnam and Iraq look like entirely avoidable and pointless conflicts from this distance, especially for Australia, which was not threatened by either country and had little to gain – other than the good opinion of our notional security guarantor.

But it’s an odd sort of security that involves the continuing expenditure of so much blood and treasure to ingratiate ourselves with another country. The potential folly of this policy could be demonstrated by president Trump, who has nothing but contempt for loyal allies that are judged to freeload on American power.

Outsourcing responsibility for foreign and security policy is not wise at the best of times. There is undoubtedly much to admire about the US. As hegemonic powers go, things might have been a lot worse. But the time has come to have a mature debate about our relationship with the US and the world more generally.

There is potentially much that Australia could do as a creative middle power in conjunction with regional partners like Japan, South Korea or Indonesia. However, until we have an independent policy position on critical foreign and strategic policies that affect this country, the chances of such initiatives coming about look remote.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Explainer: what is halal, and how does certification work?

The Conversation

By James Wong, Monash University and Julian Millie, Monash University

Halal food certification in Australia has become a contentious issue. Recently, a Western Australian cafe received hateful and anti-Islamic messages after its owners tried to explain halal on Facebook. A South Australian company stopped certifying its yoghurt in November 2014 after it was targeted by a social media campaign.

And on Tuesday, independent senator Jacqui Lambie threatened to introduce a private senator’s bill to close what she claims are “legal loopholes” that:

… could allow financing of terrorists and Australia’s enemies through halal money.

Lambie is not the first to raise the issue in federal parliament. WA Liberal MP Luke Simpkins claimed that halal is converting unwitting consumers to Islam. LNP MP George Christensen linked halal certification to religious extremism.

Activist groups are telling consumers to boycott halal products. They also claim that certification funds extremist groups and is part of a campaign to introduce sharia law.

Halal food certifiers and others in the Australian Muslim community have rejected these claims, and those who make them are yet to produce any evidence. But a lack of transparency from certifiers, along with a fragmented marketplace and confusion over what the halal certification process involves, creates a climate of uncertainty for anti-halal campaigners and Muslim consumers alike.

What is halal food?

Muslims choose to eat halal food because it meets requirements that they believe make it suitable for consumption. Halal originates from rules set out in the Qur’an and the Hadith (the Prophet Muhammad’s example), which have been followed throughout generations of Islamic practice.

For Muslim consumers, knowing how the food was produced is an important consideration. Source: Raqib Chowdhury, CC BY

As a concept, halal does not only pertain to food. Halal means “permissible” and can refer to any aspect of life covered by the teachings of Islam.

Halal is a part of sharia as a system of morals to guide Muslims’ actions and behaviour, but this should not be confused with halal as part of a codified system of sharia law. Halal prescriptions might be considered by observant Muslims to be religious obligations, but Australia is a secular country and halal forms no part of any Australian law.

As with many aspects of Islamic practice, the definition of halal food is a contested issue. For example, there is disagreement within the Muslim community about whether stunning animals before slaughter produces halal meat. Both sides draw on Islamic teachings and traditions to support their positions. Disputes such as this highlight why halal certification is important for Muslim consumers.

How does halal certification work?

There are three different types of halal certification in Australia.

Individual products can be certified, meaning the production process and ingredients in that particular product are halal. So a consumer could buy halal yoghurt, for example, from a store that also sold non-halal yoghurt.

Production facilities can be certified, so that any products produced according to the certification standards can claim to be halal. For example, in an abattoir that is certified to produce halal meat, the meat will be halal no matter what cuts or final shape the meat takes. However, it may not even get labelled as halal when it reaches the market.

Retail premises can also be certified so that all food prepared and sold from that business is halal.

The halal certification process varies depending on who is performing the service. This is where uncertainty creeps in. Muslim consumers are largely unable to find out exactly what process has been followed in the certification process and what standards have been set by the certification provider.

Why is halal certification needed?

Halal certification is needed in Australia for two key reasons.

Firstly, certification helps local Muslims decide which products to buy. Modern food processing and globalised markets make it hard for Muslims in Australia to know how their food was produced and where it has come from. To get around this uncertainty, consumers who want to buy halal food need a system that checks whether products meet the requirements of being halal.

In this sense, halal certification is similar to any type of food certification and audit system. Whether it be halal, kosher, gluten-free or organic, food certification services help consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat.

Companies around the world are embracing halal to compete in the large Muslim market. Source: Mark Ghosh/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

The second reason has to do with trade. With the global halal food trade estimated at A$1.75 trillion annually, Muslim markets provide a lucrative opportunity for Australian companies. If companies want to export their products to those markets, they need to have halal certification.

Who certifies halal food?

Certified halal products in Australia can come from two sources: domestic products that are produced locally and certified by local businesses, or imported products that have been certified overseas.

Numerous halal certifiers operate in Australia. The Department of Agriculture maintains a list of Islamic organisations that have an “Approved Arrangement” to certify halal meat for export. There are 21 such organisations operating in Australia as of November 2014.

However, Australian government regulation applies only to providers that certify meat for export. While much of this meat may end up in the domestic market, certification providers that service only the Australian market do not come under any government regulation.

While some halal certification providers are associated with, or part of, larger Australian Islamic organisations, such as the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, others are stand-alone businesses that provide local certification services.

With so much uncertainty about what constitutes halal, how products are certified and who is doing the certification, consumers who wish to buy halal food can find that a difficult task.

For non-Muslim Australian consumers, however, halal food is little different to any other food available. It only matters whether or not food is halal if a person has the religious conviction and desire to eat only halal food. Although improvements could be made, halal certification is one way Muslims are able to do this.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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