Three very well written articles on the amazing standard of living we now share:
Don Boudreaux explains that people from the past watching multimillionaires would most likely see as amazing the very things that all Americans have access to:
Do a mental experiment. Imagine resurrecting an ancestor from the year 1700 and showing him a typical day in the life of Bill Gates. The opulence would obviously astonish your ancestor, but a good guess is that the features of Gates’s life that would make the deepest impression are the fact that he and his family never worry about starving to death; that they bathe daily; that they have several changes of clean clothes; that they have clean and healthy teeth; that diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tuberculosis, tetanus, and pertusis present no substantial risks; that Melinda Gates’s chances of dying during childbirth are about one-sixtieth what they would have been in 1700; that each child born to the Gateses is about 40 times more likely than a pre-industrial child to survive infancy; that the Gateses have a household refrigerator and freezer (not to mention microwave ovens, dishwashers, and televisions); that the Gateses’s work week is only five days and that the family takes several weeks of vacation each year; that the Gates children will receive well over a decade of formal schooling; that the Gateses routinely travel through the air to distant lands in a matter of hours; that they effortlessly converse with people miles or oceans away; that they can, whenever and wherever they please, listen to a Mozart string quartet, a Verdi opera, or Frank Sinatra singing of romance.
In short, what would likely most impress a visitor from the past about Bill Gates’s life are precisely those modern advantages that are not unique to Bill Gates – advantages now enjoyed by nearly all Americans.
David Boaz shows three snap shots in time of what life was like in the past. Here is one:
The squalor and meanness of [lowland Scottish] life around 1600 [or 1700] can hardly be conceived by a person of the twentieth century. A cluster of hovels housed the tenants and their helpers….A home was likely to be little more than a shanty, constructed of stones, banked with turf, without mortar, and with straw, heather, or moss stuffed in the holes to keep out the blasts….The fire, usually in the middle of the house floor, often filled the whole hut with malodorous clouds, since the smoke-clotted roof gradually stopped the vent-hole. Cattle were tethered at night at one end of the room, while the family lay at the other end on heather piled upon the floor….Vermin abounded…skin diseases…Infectious diseases were propagated readily.
Don Boudreaux explains the increase in the standard of living within his own lifetime:
– In 1965, Howard Hughes could afford to pay someone to unlock his car doors for him.. today, keyless entry and, on many models, automatic opening and closing doors and trunk lids are the norm for automobiles driven by middle-class Americans.
– In 1965, Howard Hughes could afford to talk on the phone for hours to someone hundreds or thousands of miles away… Today, even the poorest American pays no long-distance charges even when making a transcontinental telephone call.
– In 1965, Howard Hughes could afford to equip his house with a large screen, a state-of-the-art projector… Today, nearly every ordinary American can buy a large-screen hi-def television…
– In 1965, Howard Hughes could easily afford to equip each member of his family with an automobile of his or her own… today it’s not unusual for a middle-class American household to have one car each for every person in that household who is at least 17 years old.
… unlike even Howard Hughes in 1965, ordinary Americans in 2014 can correct their vision by wearing soft contact lenses.
Life is amazing. Here is my own account of the massive standard of living improvement in my own life in the last decade.