Media

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

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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 Amazon.com, then run last week's "Elementary" from your DVR queue. While watching, you check IMDB.com 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).

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  1. Is binge-watching a healthy exercise? The only time I’ve ever got much out of it was during MST3K Turkey Day marathons, and I always took breaks for food and football.

  2. It’s the “Bread and Circuses” theory of life.

    1. That was my impression of her thesis – long-term sluggish economy and crushing debt is not so bad because…Bread and Circuses!

      1. We can no longer keep the health insurance policy we and our provider agreed upon because some dickhead politician has decided it’s not good enough, but hey, at least we can record the new episode of “Duck Dynasty”.

        I suppose this is an absolutely wonderful and worthwhile tradeoff… if you’re a shallow birdbrain.

        1. Um, she’s just trying to make you aware of the fact that there are many trade offs to be aware of. She focuses on entertainment, but wouldn’t you say that our First and Second Amendment liberties are better of now than 10 years ago! I think Postrel’s greater thesis is to keep in mind how much things have changed for the better over the last 10 years in addition to how things have gotten worse.

          1. Oops, they should be a ? Instead of a !.

          2. wouldn’t you say that our First and Second Amendment liberties are better of now than 10 years ago

            2nd? Sure. 1st? Ummm…

            1. Um, what has been a net First Amendment loss over the last 10 years?

              1. Um, what has been a net First Amendment loss over the last 10 years?

                Campaign finance and expanded “hate crime” laws, to take the two easiest examples. But more importantly, it’s a long trip from:

                wouldn’t you say that our First and Second Amendment liberties are better off now than 10 years ago?

                To:

                what has been a net First Amendment loss over the last 10 years?

                The goalposts are now in different stadiums.

                1. Well. Hold up. You expressed skepticism about whether First Amendment liberties were better off now than 10 years ago. Either you have some knowledge of a net loss in First Amendment liberties or a net balance. I just assumed you were going to point out a net loss, so I asked you how things have gotten worse over the last 10 years.

                  How is that moving the goal posts?

                  1. You expressed skepticism about whether First Amendment liberties were better off now than 10 years ago.

                    Correct, but they don’t need to be worse off now than 10 years ago in order to not be improved now compared to 10 years ago.

                    But in point of fact, you’re correct to assume that I don’t think they’ve improved one iota compared to 10 years ago, and have actually gotten worse – I already pointed out two examples. If you want to make the case that 1st Amendment rights have advanced in the last 10 years, feel free to make it.

              2. Um, what has been a net First Amendment loss over the last 10 years?

                Go ask Edward Snowden.

                Or try asserting your free speech rights at a TSA checkpoint. Or at a DUI or immigration checkpoint. Or try calling, or emailing, or texting, or tweeting without it being stored by the NSA. Or …

                Really? Seems like a no-brainer.

                1. Snowden would have been treated pretty much the same now as he would have been in 2003? Only now, with the explosion of online blogs and other news content could Greenwald have disbursed the information that Snowden was able to provide.

                  1. Snowden would have been treated pretty much the same now as he would have been in 2003?

                    Probably true, which indicates that there’s been no improvement in the 1st Amendment rights of government whistleblowers, for example. You keep confusing “not getting worse” with “getting better”.

                    1. No. I’m saying in Snowden’s particular case it’s a wash between 2003 and 2013. However, decisions like Citizens United has improved the conditions for millions more Americans to the point that an American wishing to express a political viewpoint would rather be living in 2013 than 2003.

                    2. Citizens United has improved the conditions for millions of Illegal Aliens.
                      How is that a net improvement for people who cam here legally? It’s spitting in their faces.

              3. The NSA?

            2. As for our Second Amendment liberties, don’t kid yourself: they still hang by the thinnest thread, under constant assault from a hostile and determined left wing.

              A couple more Barack Obamas and the Supreme Court will reverse itself so fast your head will spin around, and those rights will disappear just like the insurance policy you just lost.

          3. I don’t need to be made aware of the existence of things like high definition television, 1500 cable channels, and DVRs. Even people at the bottom of the American socioeconomic ladder are fully aware of these things. This is more than a little patronizing.

            1. Night Mother Postrel is the Queen of Ass Suck Patronizing Attitude.

        2. It’s really not a tradeoff. The availability of DVRs and Netflix is not related to new restrictions on freedoms and poor economic policy. It’s not a either/or. She’s just pointing out that there are good things going on too.

          1. DVR and Netflix are unregulated as far as content, unlike the four broadcast networks, which most people were still regularly watching 10 years ago.

            1. That’s true, but what does it have to do with the price of eggs?

        3. Her point is that 10 years ago, lower class and lower middle class people couldn’t dream of having those technological advances but now they are in reach of those people.

          The whole point of the article is to cut through the bullshit “wealth disparity” and “income inequality” that the left continually shits out of its mouthpiece.

      2. The modern day metaphor should be “Cheeseburger and Netflix.”

      3. Having read most of the comments to date, it seems Mike @ 10:46 is the most eloquent.

        And, pushing back to 13 years instead of 10, then answer is, no way in hell am I better off! The Bill of Rights is on life support and most of the hospital staff are actively trying to just pull the plug. Who gives a hoot about how fast the internet is, when the NSA is watching everything one types? The fast internet just makes it easier for the goons.

    2. …and most of us know how poorly that ended…

  3. The comments section isn’t better off than it was 10 years ago! Or something.

    1. False. I wasn’t (quite) here 10 years ago.

      1. I think that’s a reference to the commenters being “jerks” Postrel said on the twittah.

        1. We’re not jerks, spines are gauche in her social circles. We have them and that makes us barbarians.

  4. 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 Amazon.com, then run last week’s “Elementary” from your DVR queue. While watching, you check IMDB.com 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.

    We’ve definitely got the “circuses” part covered.

    Now, if that do nothing Congress would get off its ass and pass the Ag Bill and expand SNAP, we can sit back and watch Rome Washington burn in comfort.

  5. Anyone know of a way to get NHL or NFL through my Xbox or Roku? I know there are some dodgey website streaming solutions, but I’d rather not have an HDMI running from my laptop to the big screen.

    I really want to drop cable completely.

    1. If you have a web-connected “smart tv” can you buy a package directly from the NHL or NFL? You can do that with baseball, I believe, via mlb.tv.

        1. Blackouts suck. I abhor having to listen to Michael Kay when the Red Sox play the Yankees.

    2. Not sure if the deal is still valid, but Madden 25 came with a year of streaming Sunday Ticket.

    3. We just dropped DirecTV last night. We’re going to roll with a combo of local tv, netflix, and hulu plus.

      However, I did get a little jittery when I realized I was not able to watch MNF. Hopefully after a period of time my withdrawal symptoms will subside.

      1. Can you catch it over the air?

        1. I guess if I had Sunday Ticket.

          1. Derp. Never mind. I was thinking of Sunday Night Football on NBC.

  6. Technological advances don’t necessarily make us better off, for sure. WALL-E warned us of that. And quite frankly I don’t watch Downtown Abbey – online or otherwise – and therefore I don’t see the appeal.

    1. That depends on what you value. The people WALL-E seemed awful happy with their technology. In fact, I bet most real people would prefer that life over whatever they have now. Barring a Skynet moment, tech advances always make us better off.

  7. *sigh* It’s D-O-W-N-T-O-W-N Nick, DOWNTOWN. Sheesh, editors these days…

    1. Where all the lights are bright.

  8. Are you better off now than you were 10 years ago?

    Let’s see…. I’m homeless, unemployed. The NSA has access to all my emails from google and yahoo. Pigs can shoot me with fucking impunity. The feds took ownership of a good chunk of the US auto industry. US healthcare has been practically socialized. We are STILL at war in afghanistan. I live in a paranoid totalitarian-lite security state. The employment participation rate is at an all time low. There are more takers than makers. Women are fat, ugly, and even more hypergamous.

    But by god I have (well if I would if i had my own place, a job, a television, and a cable connection, and an internet connection) a tons of new options to watch shitty least common denominator television programming.

    Hey Nick, Viginia, fuck you.

    Yeah, I know….”get a job” Cuz there are tons of non-STEM jobs just waiting to be had wherein you can mock with sarcastic glibness the unemployed from work.

    1. So no one else is allowed to acknowledge that there are nice things in life because your life sucks?

      1. Since ‘things are terrible [especially for this group or ‘class’]’ is the favorite start up line for most progressive campaigns, it is important for people like Postrel to remind people that many things are good and getting better. That does not mean that we should not work on removing those things that retard things further getting better (or worse, reverse course in some areas).

        1. I agree. I don’t think anyone is claiming that the technological and entertainment advances somehow offset all the bad things that have happened.

      2. It’s more like, don’t try to sell me that my life doesn’t suck because some retarded mouthbreather can watch NASCAR, NFL, Duck Dynasty and Larry the Cable Guy PIP on his smartphone.

    2. *clap*

      The reason that things like minor advances in entertainment convenience don’t show up in “quality of life” metrics is because they really don’t mean shit. They are essentially part of the baseline, and they easily get swallowed up when every other facet of public life has taken a faceplant into a fresh, wet pile of crap.

      Puts me in mind of the H.L. Mencken quote:

      Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.

      Yippee!

      1. The reason that things like minor advances in entertainment convenience don’t show up in “quality of life” metrics is because they really don’t mean shit.

        Entertainment and convenience are just a constantly refreshing baseline.

        10 years ago, I would know whether or not my summer job was putting less gas in my car then it did last summer and that’s because entertainment and advances in technology can’t easily be comprehended and therefore don’t enter the equation.

        Shit, 20 years ago, I remember pretending about a time on the playground where our watches could watch TV. It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone that our land line could come with us one day and and stream live or recorded TV… among other things.

    3. The point is that income stagnation is a relevant issue, but if your income stays exactly the same for the next twenty years, but new technologies make available goods and services that were not available to anyone at any price before, it doesn’t make sense to claim that people are “worse off”.

      1. …if your income stays exactly the same for the next twenty years, but new technologies make available goods and services that were not available to anyone at any price before, it doesn’t make sense to claim that people are “worse off”.

        Depends. How much of their income is left over to be spent on these new product categories brought to us by expanding technology? How much more disposable income would they have had in the absence of the increasingly oppressive government and regulatory environment we live in? Being thankful that markets still find a way to function regardless of how much they are thwarted is great, I guess. But it’s not much of a consolation when you consider the opportunity cost.

        1. I think back to when my Atari 2600 was high tech, then look at my pc, flat screen television, DVD, DVR, cell phone, all of which barely existed back then and are available to poor people today.

          1. Which is, of course, an awesome and completely expected result of the market. It’d be more exciting, though, if it was accompanied by all of the other really awesome, completely expected results of the market of which we are deprived. It’s a fairly middling consolation prize.

            1. My glass is half full.

              1. My glass is exactly twice as large as it needs to be.

                1. The glass is always completely full, even if it’s only occupied by air.

                  1. It could be “full” of vacuum, which I would call empty.

                    1. It could be “full” of vacuum, which I would call empty.

                      Nature abhors a vacuum and immediately fills it with virtual particles.

                  2. Mind. Blown.

      2. What is being obscured here is the momentum shift in the political leadership with policies that are hostile to entrepreneurship. Call them Galbaithian social democrats, and they did stifle the momentum of innovation that accumulated in the stagnation of the 70s with regulations designed to criminalize risk taking through private capital. Added to that the incentives for cronyism being applied to policy where consumer demand is being pushed out as the chief patron in an expanding number of sectors such as energy, transportation, health, etc., and you have the makings of a stagnant society where the ‘better off’ question becomes quite tangible.

  9. Entertainment, whatever its source, isn’t a luxury.

    I can’t believe anyone with the slightest education could write that.

    I didn’t follow Reason when she was in charge, apparently to my benefit.

  10. Religion Entertainment is the opiate of the masses.

    FIFY

  11. I’m a decade further along in a career so I make more.

    But I’m less free and pay a much higher percentage of my income to the government (well over half by the time the state and locals are done). Distracting me with electronic gadgets isn’t working.

    Progress sucks.

  12. I am better off than I was 10 years ago. While the government has done its best to make me less better off than I was, they failed, just like they fail at every other goddamn thing they do.

    But, the question shouldn’t be about whether you’re better off now than you used to be. The real question is how much better off would you be if the government wasn’t feeding off of you like an unstoppable infestation of flesh consuming fungus.

    1. This is especially true when it comes to the poor, who are immeasurably better off now than they were in the past. Yet if you point this out, many people will start into a laundry list of issues affecting the poor: poor schools, lack of effective police protection, imprisonment rates, discrimination in government backed mortgages, etc. The free market has made available all sorts of wonderful things that poor people previously could not afford – it’s rare these days for somebody to genuinely go hungry, not have electricity, a television, etc – while government has done everything possible to drag them down. Unfortunately, the “solution” to this is often seen as more government – as if they haven’t done enough already.

  13. 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.

    Only after enduring the minor inconvenience of being compelled to allow some apish high school dropout with a union card to root through your belongings and inspect your taint for explosives marijuana.

    Fuck, what kind of a fucking moron do you have to be to claim this is an improvement over the dark ages of the 1990s?

  14. Reason has generally taken this sort of optimistic stance, both when Virginia was here and since. And there’s some truth to that position, mostly due to technological advances. But it’s impossible to ignore that the government is not only becoming so out of control that our freedoms are more arbitrary than inalienable, it’s also slowing smothering the economy that produces the technology that’s made our lives so much better.

    I’d say any recent increase in freedom is heavily offset by the fact that those freedoms are now merely a gift of the state and not viewed as something inherent to individual humans. What is freely given can be freely taken away.

  15. Corporations (and the millions who profit from them) are far better off than 10 years ago.

    Lower interest rates, lower energy prices, higher productivity, higher earnings, stronger balance sheets, lower cost of technology, etc.

    1. Corporations (and the millions who profit from them) are far better off than 10 years ago.

      True. I mean, AIG, Lehman, Bear Stearns, Wachovia…

      1. Four firms that made disastrous bets on subprime real estate.

        Stupidity is fortunately rare at that level.

        1. Stupidity is fortunately rare at that level.

          Rational responses to perverse incentives aren’t exactly stupid. Any AIG exec that got a million dollar bonus after the bailout can tell you that. As 10 years ago, and 10 years before that, and a thousand years before that, it’s good to have the right friends.

    2. lower energy prices

      except for gasoline and diesel

  16. It was so nice of the FAA to grant us the right to watch a movie on an airplane!

  17. My concern isn’t that some people are more interested in knowing who is pumping the Kardashian girls, or has no idea what the Gettysburg Address was (this was a ChemE grad, a colleague of my daughter in law).
    It’s that many of these low information voters decide elections and put politicians such as Bush and Obama in power.

  18. Wait, so we’re not doomed? I never know who to believe. Is it really the Libertarian Moment, or did that end on the final play of the Auburn-Alabama game? Why doesn’t Reason-Rupe take a poll and settle it for us? Page views? Sadism?

  19. Oh, look. Old troll, new hat.

  20. Ginnie’s rap made sense before the Great Recession, but now it only applies to white people. A study of net household wealth (not income) by the Pew Research Center shows that the average wealth of a white family fell from about $134,000 in 2005 to $113,000 in 2009. It’s probably crept up since then. For the average black family, the figures are $12,000 in 2005 and $5,700 in 2009. The bottom quarter of the income distribution aren’t watching Die Zauberflote in high-def while they’re sipping champagne at 30,000 feet.

    Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a substantial stock portfolio, you’ve undoubtedly benefited handsomely from the low inflation and soaring stock market we’ve enjoyed under President Obama, Reason’s incessant predictions to the contrary notwithstanding. Just sayin’.

    1. you’ve undoubtedly benefited handsomely from the low inflation and soaring stock market

      We’ve only had one of those, largely as a result of not having the other. I’d be stupefied if you could put it together though.

    2. Fall in wealth from 2005 to 2009 is almost entirely (if not more than entirely, its possible that housing losses were larger than that and were offset by growth in other areas) due to fall in housing prices.

      It looks like Blacks lost less than Whites in that time frame.

  21. No longer living with the ex-wife, got a hot Vietnamese GF, get to take long road trips …

    My standard of living on paper is worse off, but I’m happier, so I’m gonna go with “better off”.

  22. I had to sell my TV to pay for my health insurance.

    1. And just think how much better off you, society and Mother Gaia will be when you have to sell your car and bike everywhere!

  23. Little of this customized entertainment would have been possible a decade ago

    Not only was it available, I was making use of it. It was violating copyright laws, but it was definitely available.

  24. 10 years ago I was streaming movies on a 16 inch laptop waiting for connecting flights. Now, that screen has shrunk down to 4 inches on a tiny hand held unit. How is that better!

    1. Did they stop making 16 inch laptops? :p

      1. If the market was producing 150 million 16 inch screens in 2003, and now its producing only 60 million 16 inch plus 150 million 4 inch screens, that’s still a substantial loss of screen real estate being produced every year.

        1. See, you have to go and get all serious with numbers and stuff.

          You’re almost worse than Episiarch (or Hugh or Nikki or whoever is the worst this week). Almost.

    2. Well, it’s probably lighter at least.

      1. If I were a hand model I would see your point given the device would allow me to show off my sexy digits without being too obvious about it. That’s not me, though. I’m a brawny guy who likes how his guns look flexed on the side of a four pound device.

  25. I wish Stage6.com were still around. They tried to do too much before broadband hosting became more affordable. Even using older computers, I was sending video to my TV that looked just as good as cable.

  26. Perhaps the real libertarian divide is not between cosmos and paleos, but between optimists and pessimists.

    1. I’m optimistic that the state will fuck you over just as hard as it does the other guy no matter what your attitudinal disposition happens to be.

  27. The fact that Nazi Germany had TV while Weimar Germany didn’t shows this thesis has some flaws. Not to mention the Soviets had TV while Tsarist Russia didn’t. And Apartheid South Africa introduced TV as well. Also North Korea under the Kims introduced TV and the internet.

  28. While I see what she’s trying to say and I agree with the sentiment, pointing to entertainment is not a winning argument, especially won’t be with leftists. The effects in movies have gotten way better since Star Wars first came out, but does that make us better off? We always make do with the entertainment we have, mostly because we are ignorant of what’s to come.

  29. …then relax with some video poker..

    Not in the land of the free you don’t, at least not for real money.

  30. …then you jump to your Facebook and Twitter feeds…

    and almost none of it shows up in the income and productivity statistics that dominate our understanding of the economy.

    I think that’s a good thing, since Facebook and Twitter detract from productivity.

  31. An Alternative to Capitalism (since we cannot legislate morality)

    Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: “There is no alternative”. She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

    I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to my essay titled: “Home of the Brave?” which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

    http://evans-experientialism.f…..nsvold.htm

    John Steinsvold

    Perhaps in time the so-called dark ages will be thought of as including our own.
    –Georg C. Lichtenberg

  32. You’ve got to be kidding!

    If instead of DVRs and downloadable content, someone had discovered a dozen new ways to masturbate, would “Reason” be calling that “a broad-based improvement in the standard of living”?

  33. Downton Abbey is really popular all over the world and you may like the ladies , the beautiful clothes or the delicious food . you just can not miss it

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