Are You Better Off Now Than You Were 10 Years Ago (Tell Me After You've Finished Binge Watching Downton Abbey)


Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel has a provocative column up at Bloomberg View

Are you better off now than you were 10 years ago? For middle-class Americans, a common answer to this version of Ronald Reagan's old question is no. Nor are they optimistic about the future. The recession may be over officially, but a lot of smart people are convinced that broad-based improvements in the standard of living are largely a thing of the past.

This is wrong, writes Postrel, or at best woefully incomplete. It ignores huge increases in the standard and quality of living that just don't get picked up in conventional economic metrics.

On a flight across the country, you watch the playoff game on live television, listen to some favorite playlists as you catch up on work, then relax with some video poker. Arriving home, you delete the game from your DVR and consider your options. Too tired for an intense cable drama—which you prefer to experience in immersive weekend marathons of at least three episodes each—you stream a first-season episode of "Duck Dynasty" from, then run last week's "Elementary" from your DVR queue. While watching, you check to see where you've seen that familiar-looking guest star before, then you jump to your Facebook and Twitter feeds. You finish the evening with "SportsCenter," recorded just far enough ahead that you can skip most of the commercials.

Little of this customized entertainment would have been possible a decade ago—and almost none of it shows up in the income and productivity statistics that dominate our understanding of the economy. A form of progress that large numbers of people experience every day, the increase in entertainment variety and convenience represents a challenge to the increasingly conventional wisdom that American living standards have stagnated, at least for the middle class.

Postrel isn't arguing that paying $8 a month for Netflix streaming cancels out sluggish growth in wages, but she is saying "The value of customized entertainment isn't trivial to economic well-being."

That's for sure. Read the whole article.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Reason TV recently interviewed Postrel about her great new book, The Power of Glamour, and her career, including her time at Reason. Watch by clicking below or go here for downloadable versions (including an audio podcast).