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Home » Archives » October 2011 » Kingly Dreams

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10/27/2011: "Kingly Dreams"

It has been frequently asserted, as Russell Lahti has done ("Peasant dreams"*, SP Oct 26) that "the standard of living for most of us has been declining". Indeed, if you compare the incomes of the richest households to the incomes to the poorest households, there is a growing division, but that's a very misleading statistic to look at. Yes, the rich are getting richer (and this is both good and bad), but the rest of us are hardly in decline.

As proof, compare the number of hours of your life you would have had to trade to obtain the same class of goods a few decades ago. It's been done, and the results are astonishing.

For the average production worker, from 1975 to today*, the cost in hours of Sears' best freezer has dropped in half. An answering machine has dropped by a factor of about 20. Their highest price work boots dropped by about 33%. Their best tire dropped to almost one third. Their lowest priced table saw dropped by a factor of seven. A coffee maker dropped by six.

Virtually any good you want to obtain today can be obtained for fewer hours of your life than it could have been decades ago, and many of those items are so much better it's hard to compare. If your idea of the good life is more things, you can get them easier than ever and they're better than they ever have been. If your idea of the good life is ample free time, you have to work less to achieve the same standard of living.

How then can anybody possibly say that the standard of living is in decline?

(Published as "life improving")

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