November 28, 2012

NO ONE HAS IT HARDER THAN THEIR FATHER DID:

The Future: Back to the Past (DON BOUDREAUX on NOVEMBER 26, 2012, Cafe Hayek)

Lately, I've encountered with unusual frequency claims that the 1950s were a glorious economic time for America's middle-class - a time so glorious, what with strong labor unions and high (above 90%!) marginal income-tax rates and all, that we middle-class Americans of today should look back with longing and envy on those marvelous years of six decades ago.

So on Saturday I bought on eBay this Fall/Winter 1956 Sears catalog. [...]

So let's ask: how long did a typical American worker have to toil in 1956 to buy a particular sort of good compared to how long a similarly typical American worker today must toil to buy that same (or similar) sort of good?  Here are four familiar items: refrigerator-freezers; kitchen ranges; televisions; and automatic washers.

Sears's lowest-priced no-frost refrigerator-freezer in 1956 had 9.6 cubic feet, in total, of space.  It sold for $219.95 (in 1956-dollar prices).  (You can find a lovely black-and-white photograph of this mid-'50s fridge on page 1036 of the 1956 Sears catalog.)  Home Depot today sells a 10 cubic-foot no-frost refrigerator-freezer for $298.00 (in 2012-dollar prices).  (You can find it in color on line here.)

Therefore, the typical American worker in 1956 had to work a total of 219.95/1.89 hours to buy that 9.6 cubic-foot fridge - or a total of 116 hours.  (I round to the nearest whole number.)  Today, to buy a similar no-frost refrigerator-freezer, the typical American worker must work a total of 298.00/19.79 hours - or 15 hours.  That is, to buy basic household refrigeration and freezing, today's worker must spend only 13 percent of the time that his counterpart in 1956 had to spend.
Posted by at November 28, 2012 3:47 PM
  
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