Are You Better Off Now Than You Were 20, 30, 40 Years Ago?

Declinists who focus on inequality and stagnant wages miss increased freedom and opportunities.


Over at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), Isaac M. Morehouse has a short post that gets at a big misconception. All manner of politicians and pundits talk incessantly about flattening wages and increasing income inequality without ever really looking at the bigger picture.

Morehouse provides an illustration of this largely unacknowledged progress that is pretty stunning: The typical smartphone today allows the user to access almost $1 million worth of technology.


Writes Morehouse:

The above chart only scratches the surface. It's hard to comprehend just how much wealth (not income) we have today compared to 20, 30, or 50 years ago, let alone a century or two ago. Anyone who complains that income gaps are growing misses the miracle under their nose of wealth exploding, and more accessible to individuals at any income level than ever before in human history.

50 years ago, it could take a hefty sum to launch and run a basic advocacy organization, for example. You would need a secretary, long-distance phone line, office space, filing cabinets, a travel agent, a print shop that you'd have to visit to approve runs of literature (at least several thousand at a time), space to store them, shipping cost, etc. ad nauseum….

It's not about income or even net worth. It's about what you can do and the value you can create and consume. The chart above and the world around us indicate that there has never been a more broad and deep spread of wealth.

GDP doesn't matter. Neither does income. Opportunity matters. Value matters. Times have never been better across the board, which is exactly what most threatens those precariously perched at the perceived top.

More here.

Meredith Bragg/Reason

The exponential increase in purchasing power and the freedom to produce and consume culture in a dizzying array of circumstances is one of the main stories we've been telling at Reason for decades now. It's important to document, especially against a drumbeat of constant negativity from the right and the left about how awful everything is and how the next generation of Americans will almost certainly have less than we do now (a staple in every presidential election of the past several decades).

To my mind, Morehouse is too blase when he writes, "Let the doomsayers and wannabe warriors of equality clamber for an elusive goal that doesn't make anyone better off." He's right that such people are wrong, but it's always important to counter such wild claims with hard-to-refute data, arguments, and counter-examples (as he himself does in his FEE post). And it's also important to point to the areas where opportunity and growth remains slow, sluggish, or non-existent. As Matt Welch and I argue in The Declaration of Independents, gains in areas such as education, health care, and retirement haven't kept pace with other parts of our lives precisely because they fall more fully under government-enforced monopolies or other constraints imposed from without.

When one considers various plans being put forward by both Republicans and Democrats to fix what they think ails us, the fixes will often not only not work, they will destroy the under-appreciated advances that declinists ignore.

NEXT: At SCOTUS, Today's Dissent Can Become Tomorrow's Majority Opinion

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  1. “Let the doomsayers and wannabe warriors of equality clamber for an elusive goal that doesn’t make anyone better off.”

    This is the third time in a week I have seen a clamber/clamor error quoted here. What on earth is going on in the world?

    1. The dilettantes are out to get you.

    2. “Clamber” works just as well as “clamor” in this instance. Maybe better?

      1. Disagree, dude. They may be figuratively clambering, but they’re literally clamoring. You know it’s an error.

        1. Uh oh, is this the fight that’s gonna break you two up? A grammar spat?

          1. Which hole is your clit, Paul?

        2. Ah, so not only can you see beyond words into Nick’s soul, but now into mine as well? Do you fancy yourself a Jean Grey or are you more along the lines of Emma Frost?

          1. It’s not Nick’s soul. It’s this Morehouse dude’s.

            1. What do you expect me to do, read the article?

              1. Hugh is too busy organizing his Trashcan Sinatras albums by key and time signatures for that shit.

        3. Even this linguist is on Nikki’s side this time. There are a few common errors that really grate on my nerves, and this is one. (The other one is ‘and’ for ‘an’ and vice versa).

          1. Another fucking linguist? We’re gonna have to start putting out traps.

            1. That’s what you said about the owl traps!

            2. My humanities concentration was linguistics.

              So I can pretend to understand what they are talking about.

          2. I don’t like you.

          3. loose and lose is the one that gets to me.

            I can’t see how they get mixed up.

        4. I think clamor is an awkward word and clambor should just have additional meaning. To make a distinction between clambor and clamor is shallow and pedantic. Who do you think you are? Jerome Shostak?

          1. On second thought, relying on context for meaning is too newspeaky, even for me. Keep on being pedantic. The world needs more people who can use their worstness for good and for awesome.

          2. You’re just adding to the clamor.

          3. They are completely different words with completely different meanings. Should we just start using all homonyms interchangeably?

            1. Who you callin’ a homonym, Zeb?

          4. Well if Reason wasn’t so niggardly, then we wouldn’t be having such silly arguments.

        5. Made an account to say this:

          They’re quoting someone, bruh.

      2. Hugh, as much as I hate uttering these words…she’s right.

        1. […]warriors of equality clamber for an elusive goal[…]

          climb, move, or get in or out of something in an awkward and laborious way, typically using both hands and feet.


          I can see Nick speaking of a metaphorical climb. Nick’s pretty good at getting himself out of trouble.

          1. zomg but Nick didn’t even write it!

            1. Yeah, I realize that now.

          2. Well, as Nicole once more (sigh) correctly states above, it’s not Nick who wrote it. Also, from a style perspective, “clambering” doesn’t work with “for an elusive goal”, at least for me. If you’re not going to use “clamoring” then at least use something that means “looking haphazardly for” like “stumbling” or “scrabbling” instead of using something related to climbing in and out of something.

            Ok, that really Nicoled me out for the day. I think I need a nap.

            1. Aww, I have a juicebox for you right here, little guy!

              1. “I have a friend, her name is Nicole. She showed me funny movies with furry naked people in them. She gives me juice boxes that make me sleepy.”

                1. Mott’s Applerohypnol Juice Box?

          3. The proplem is the preposition is wrong. You clamber on or toward (or away). You clamor for.

            1. “For” can also denote a destination, as in “I’m heading for the exit.”

        2. But she’s still the worst.

      1. You should be silent.

      2. The b is for bargain!

        1. The “L” stands for value.

        2. The extra B stands for BYOBB

    3. “This is the third time in a week I have seen a clamber/clamor error quoted here. What on earth is going on in the world?”

      Do we string up the jacket or Moorehouse?

    4. New spellchecker? Purchased from a Hogwarts dropout?

    5. If you read the alt texts, it becomes clear: Nick is trolling you, Nikki.

    6. If they had only gone to the Columbia School of Journalism?

    7. The extra “B” is for BYOBB

      1. What’s that extra B for?

      2. Bring your own butt buddy?

        Just what kind of establishment do you think this is?!

        1. Just what kind of establishment do you think this is?!

          If your butt buddy is Mexican and is holding, a libertarian one.

          1. I’m shocked, SHOCKED to find pot-smoking Mexican ass-sex at Reason, of all places.

  2. It’s not about income or even net worth. It’s about what you can do and the value you can create and consume.

    Mr. Morehouse, the Marxians do not think of wealth in terms of what you can do today vs. what you could do before. They’re not that sophisticated. Their thinking is 100% binary. For them, wealth means money and either you have it (1) or you don’t (0).

    Showing them these big miracles of human ingenuity and capital accumulation does nothing for them. In the end, the solution is to put them all against the wall like so many times before, before they do that to us.

    1. ^^^^So much this.

  3. I wasn’t alive 40 years ago, so it’s hard to argue that I’m better off now.

    1. Uh oh, Hugh. ::pops popcorn::

      1. If you think anyone is going to even regard that comment, much less respond to it, you clearly haven’t been here long enough.

        1. I hate you.

          1. Okay maybe you have been here long enough.

            1. Thank you.

              1. Are you two domestic partners?

                1. Feral.

    2. Teenage me confirms.


  4. We absolutely are more prosperous and have more resources at our disposal than we have ever been/had. But at the same time, that prosperity actually allows the parasites and governments to grow larger and more all-encompassing than ever before. That same technology that gives you that smartphone? It also allows the NSA to listen to your calls and search your emails. That increased productivity? It also allows the government to tax you more, because you don’t feel it as much.

    The reason we are seeing completely out of control government, governments that are in debt that would have been inconceivable to you 40 years ago, appallingly high numbers of government workers at outrageous pay, governments doing shit that is out of 1984, governments trying to control every aspect of life, is because this is the first time they have the resources to do so. And those resources come from our prosperity.

    It’s something that’s going to have to be dealt with as we continue to progress, because this parasite is *not* symbiotic. It could easily kill or badly damage the host if unchecked. In fact, it may already be on its way there.

    1. If history is any guide, the government parasite will always suck its host completely dry before the parasite dies, only to see a new one replace it. Then as society prospers, so does the parasite, until it sucks its host dry again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

      1. That didn’t happen in Canada, Britain, or New Zealand or a host of other countries in the ’80s/’90s. Your ability to learn from history is about as good as your ability to digest lactose.

        1. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it will never happen.

          1. And those mentioned countries are all common law systems, which have always been better at securing liberty and prosperity relative to other statist systems.

            1. Very true.

        2. Well in Britain, thanks to Thatcher, she acted to keep the parasite from sucking the host dry, much to the chagrin of many.

          It’s certainly happened in many a European country– countries which are attempting to such the rest of the EU dry rather than get their own hosts under control. Just put a blood tap in this bordering country, our host will be just fine!

        3. That didn’t happen in Canada, Britain, or New Zealand or a host of other countries in the ’80s/’90s. Your ability to learn from history is about as good as your ability to digest lactose.

          So the notion that over time all states will overindulge in taxation and control and then fail, is disproved because of an arbitrarily selected period where that trend was less visible.

          Let me see if I can try that…
          “The USSR wasn’t a dismal failure because there were a few years where they murdered enough people to out-produce some other places that had more freedom.”

        4. I’m pretty sure the “if left unchecked” was kind of assumed.

  5. No, no, and no. Now I have a family and have to work for a living. That shit kinda sucks, ya know?

  6. I’m just glad that that smartphone with all its free apps is finally subject to some FCC rules. What with Netflix and all of its video conferencing…

  7. How anybody can read three quarters of the articles in Reason, much less edit the thing, and believe we are freer than we were 40 years ago is beyond comprehension.

    1. We’re more prosperous and have more bread and circuses. For instance, we have far more opportunities to register our relationships and personal activities with the government than ever before.

      1. Yeah, we can afford better toys and the state now licenses cornholery instead of jailing its devotees, but freedom in general? What a Niagara of hogwash.

    2. The draft is gone and homebrewing is legal and a host of industries deregulated. Taxes are also lower and trade freer. There are negatives, but anyone saying that there’s no way Americans are freer than 40 years ago is being wantonly blind.

      1. Yes, if you pick exactly 40 years ago, tax rates are lower.

      2. but anyone saying that there’s no way Americans are freer than 40 years ago is being wantonly blind.

        Says the Canadian.

      3. Taxes sure as hell aren’t lower than they were 30 years ago. The 70’s were before my time and the Reagan tax cuts, but I doubt the middle-class was paying like we are now.

      4. Stack that up against the NSA, EPA, Title IX enforcement, politically correct thought police dominating public discussion ang the nanny regulatory state in general and see how it comes out.

      5. It’s the little things that bug me. Like my state has a bicycle helmet law for children. That means the police can get involved if my kid rides a bike without a helmet. When I was a kid I’d ride my bike all around town, unsupervised, with no helmet. Like a kid could do that today. Or we’d play with toy guns, shooting at each other, outside. Good luck with that today. Yeah, we have gained some freedom, but we’ve lost a lot as well.

        1. Try letting your kid walk to/from a public school today.

          1. There are some areas where this is still OK. When my son was in middle school, just a couple years ago, he walked every day. It’s not over a mile from home.

          2. I drive past kids walking to school every morning. Hoards of them.

            1. This is why you don’t go to the backwoods of Maine. They hoard kids up there.

      6. And try earning a living abroad and being able to do little things like maintain a bank account or not be taxed by multiple national governments for earnings made in a single jurisdiction. It doesn’t reek of freedom for those Americans.

      7. 140 years ago, the draft was gone, homebrewing was legal, and the income tax didnt exist.

        Regulation was way less than today. Trade may have been less free. And if you were black or Indian or a woman things kinda sucked.

        The problem isnt the last 40 years but the 60 years before that.

        1. Exactly. It’s why I find it productive to a discussion to argue not for the legalization of drugs, but the re-legalization of them.

  8. Think of the increase in prosperity and culture as an expanding entity. A bubble, if you like. I’m sure that there’s something that happens to bubbles at some point after a massive expansion.

    1. ….why?

      1. Why do you accuse sarcasmic of being lactose intolerant?

        1. It’s true. It turns me into Mister Stinky.

      2. Usually because a difference between inner and outer pressure. That’s usually a pretty easy one.

  9. Is this another one of those Back the the Future Part II articles? Because they were way off on how good faux aging makeup artistry was going to advance by 2015. And why didn’t Marty go back to kill Hitler anyway?

        1. lol. Someone else saw that?

    1. “everybody kills Hitler on their first trip”


  10. 20, 30, 40?

    Umm…I can’t really grasp a realistic comparison on those time scales. Even if you were alive would it really make sense? What I can say is that I may be getting to the anti-Peter Gibbons problem. Every day I am better off than the last. Sure I’m one day closer to death, but I honestly think I am improving myself incrementally every single day, each day is the best. This is of course personal to me and not the result of outside influences on my life.

    1. Your relative health is on an independent timeline, and the quality curve over time probably resembles most people’s.

      Even so, medical care is subject to the same thing. 40 years ago, mammograms were expensive. Now they’re so inexpensive, giving them away for free is considered less costly than treating a certain percentage of patients for more expensive later stages of cancer.

      In fact, giving away free mammograms is considered so inexpensive and cost effective by insurers that providers are concerned that women are getting too many mammograms that they don’t need.

      Chalk up another free health benefit that didn’t exist 40 years ago–free mammograms.

      There are lots of things like that. How much did laser eye surgery cost 40 years ago. Nowadays, it can be less expensive than however many years worth of prescription glasses.

  11. “Are You Better Off Now Than You Were 20, 30, 40 Years Ago?”

    Also, America is less racist, less sexist, and less homophobic than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago.

    Yeah, we’re richer than we used to be, too.

    But will progressives call off the jihad against free minds and free markets?

    Hell no!

    And very little to none of this progress is attributable to progressives policies.

    1. The progressives call it “consumerism” and rail against it.

      1. I guess if you call my right to freedom of speech “consumerism” sure.

        I believe progressives refer to this as hate speech or in-kind campaign contributions.

    2. Try telling a progressive that the free market reduces hostility based on race, that it led to the emancipation and their heads will explode. They can only point to government policy and legislation as if they established those changes. Or they’ll talk about segregation and how government had to end it.

      Basically, our schools suck and history, like all academic fields, is dominated by leftists or lukewarm centrists. That’s the shit that ends up in the public schools and what most people are exposed to. Then the media noise…

  12. But hooray for techno-optimism. Too bad the biggest players in the game have to get in bed with the government with their lobbyist-fuckery.

  13. I am not better off financially than my parents were at my age – and my mother didn’t work. I’m also far less free than they were.

    1. What percentage of your parents’ income went to buying things like televisions and washing machines? As in how many hours did they have to work to buy an appliance? I’d wager it was a lot more then than it is for you today. When money buys more stuff, you are better off financially. Then again, people don’t buy those things every month. So when the bills go up while the toys get cheaper, you’re not really that much better off.

      1. My parents had the same refrigerator for 35 years. Stuff isn’t made to last anymore, so while it may be cheaper, we need to buy it more often. Also, our parents’ insurance costs weren’t very high either.

        1. Oh, not the old “stuff ain’t made like it used to be” argument. There was plenty of crap back in the old days too, we just tend to forget about it because it got ditched. Cars, for example, are provably safer AND more reliable AND last longer than they used to. At only 41, I’m old enough to remember a time when you just kind of expected cars not to start reliably in freezing weather; today I would actually be really surprised by a car that didn’t start reliably when it was freezing outside.

        2. May have to buy it more often, but its purchase price is still cheaper.

          Fridge in the 50s was about $300 (~$2500-$2700 in 2015 dollars) and was probably no more than 10cu ft.

          Today you can buy a fridge thats 50% larger for $450 if you don’t mind a brand you’ve never heard of, or if you want a well known brand and bigger still, $900 will get you a fridge 150% larger. Life expectancy – 12 years.

          In any case, if you want your modern fridge to last longer, clean the coils every 6 months.

      2. You might recall you and I had this discussion three years ago (in 2012) and I postulated that we were less free in 2012 than we were in 1912.

        In 1912, one did not need a passport to travel from the US to almost all other nations.

        In 1912, there was no income tax.

        In 1912, there was no IRS.

        In 1912, there was no DEA.

        In 1912, there was no Homeland Security.

        In 1912, there was no NSA.

        In 1912, there was no automobile exception to the necessity of requiring a warrant.

        In 1912, there was no compulsory automobile insurance.

        In 1912, there was no compulsory health insurance mandated by any state.

        In 1912, there was no Obamacare.

        In 1912, children could walk to school without their parents fearing a visit from the cops or the Department of Children & Families.

        In 1912, the US was not 20 trillion in debt.

        in 1912, one could trust that if one desired, one could be left alone.

        1. in 1912, one could trust that if one desired, one could be left alone.

          So long as you were white, maybe…

          1. Look dude, Mike was there in 1912 and you weren’t, okay? I think we’re gonna have to take his word that things were better for everyone back then. Especially the people who didn’t have to suffer through polio vaccinations or antibiotic treatments.

            1. What I’m trying to figure out is how Jonah Salk was able to get these kinds of tests past the disapproving glare of the FDA:

              The first effective polio vaccine was developed in 1952 by Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh, but it would require years of testing. To encourage patience, Salk went on CBS radio to report a successful test on a small group of adults and children on 26 March 1953; two days later the results were published in JAMA.[51] Beginning 23 February 1954, the vaccine was tested at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[52] Salk’s vaccine was then used in a test called the Francis Field Trial, led by Thomas Francis; the largest medical experiment in history. The test began with some 4,000 children at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia,[53] and would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California.[54]

            2. +1

              Okay, you get levity points.

        2. You are correct on all counts, but let me put a few things out off the top of my head.

          In 1912, there were no antibiotics. A prick from a thorn bush could kill you.

          In 1912, modern transportation did not exist. You had much less freedom of movement.

          In 1912, communication was very limited compared to today. Same with entertainment. If you wanted to hear music, it had to be live.

          My point is that there have been technological advancements that give us more freedom than then. Much personal time has been freed thanks to appliances and other machines. It doesn’t take all day to wash clothes or travel a hundred miles. So in that respect we are much freer than we were then.

          If you strictly mean freer from government, then fuck no we’re not more free. But there’s more to freedom than freedom from government.

          1. All of the things you point out are true.

            However, I think that Reason, particularly the jacket and Matt, and some here, forget that freedom from government should be the single most important of the criteria in assessing overall freedom.

            1. It’s not the only measure of freedom. I’d rather live today than then. No way would I ever want to give up that portable porn-device that also lets me talk to people who are far away. From my cold, sticky, hand!

              1. “I carry a device, in my pocket, that allows me to instantly access the totality of human knowledge. I use it to argue with strangers and look at pictures of cats.”

            2. “forget that freedom from government should be the single most important of the criteria in assessing overall freedom.”

              That’s not necessarily true. Extragovernmental infringements on freedom are often very relevant. Slavery wasn’t an institution directly done by the government for the most part (yes they enabled and protected it, but slaves were overwhelmingly owned by private individuals and families). Various incidents of genocide or other mass killing have been perpetrated by non-governmental mobs and other organizations.

              There’s still pretty glaring omissions. Back then if you wanted to date, marry, or have sex with someone of a different race (or the same sex) well that was just too bad, you’re going to prison. Jim Crow laws strictly controlled countless aspects of daily life. The eugenics movement was well under way by 1912. Marital rape was legal. There’s more to freedom than lack of income taxes and government agencies.

              1. Cal, I am not making the point that everything was better, liberty wise, in 1912 than it is today.

                1. And I’m not arguing everything is better today. I’m bringing perspective and pointing out that not all violations of liberty are equal.

          2. In 1912, there were no antibiotics. A prick from a thorn bush could kill you.

            That’s not the only prick that could kill you.

            1. That’s not the only prick that could kill you.

              Warty is immortal? That explains a lot.

              1. Well, he lives backwards in time. He was very old in 1912.

        3. The automobile had barely been invented in 1912 and barely anyone had one. It’s a bit dumb to say the automobile made us less free because they came up with new laws that applied to automobiles. It’s not like anyone is forced to buy an automobile (not defending those laws, just pointing out that it’s a dumb way to argue we are less free than in 1912).

          1. The fact is that in 1912, Ford had 3,500 dealerships in the US.

            In 1912, over 20,000 Model Ts were rolling out of Ford’s Highland Park plant.

            In 1912, there were approximately 750,000 automobiles on the road.

            Whether or not one was forced to buy a car in 1912 is hardly relevant to the point.

            Maybe my point wasn’t so dumb.

            1. 20,000 model Ts per month in 1912, not per year.

            2. 750,000 in a country of almost 100 million people. Less than 1 per 100 people.

              It’s relevant because no one is forced to buy a car today, which would leave them off the same as virtually everybody in 1912.

              The fact you think stuff like this is comparable to Jim Crow, eugenics, bans interracial and same sex relationships, Indian boarding schools, marital rape, etc. is baffling.

              1. Cal, whether one is forced to buy a car or not is not relevant; the point is that if one chooses to buy or lease or otherwise use a car, one should not be subject to having his car searched and seized.

                You will note that there were 12-13 items on my list. The list could be a lot longer.

              2. “It’s relevant because no one is forced to buy a car today, which would leave them off the same as virtually everybody in 1912.”

                This is incorrect.

                Back then suburbs did not exist, everyone lived within 5 miles of where they worked and they shopped in their own neighborhood. Today the average american has a 15 – 20 mile commute and nothing better stocked than a CVS within 5 miles of their house.

                The world changed in response to cars, in 1940 a car was a luxury, by 1970 it became nearly a necessity for most

        4. And in 1912, women couldn’t vote, black people generally couldn’t vote in most places, and you could be imprisoned for publishing “obscene” material or for protesting the draft. Let’s see, there was also a tariff of 25% on all imported goods…we had until recently been occupying Cuba and were still occupying the Philippines…there were a huge number of antitrust lawsuits in the works…interracial marriages were illegal in most of the US. I think there was a lot good about 1912, but pretending it was libertopia is just silly.

          1. For my part, I am not pretending that 1912 was libertopia; hell, just last night in rebutting a point R C Dean made that the US was still pretty much a “limited” government until the New Deal, I noted the mass murder of the Philippinos and the tariffs.

            As I pointed out to sarc, this thread reminded me of a back and forth he had with me in 2012 about comparing liberty in 1912 with 2012.

            Moreover, I can’t tell you how many times I have mentioned the treatment of native americans on various threads here only to be told, “right of conquest” or “the Indians engaged in mass murder, too” and the like.

      3. I have it on good authority that deflation is bad.

        We spend less on food and clothing. We spend more on healthcare. Not sure about housing.

        1. I’d be willing to bet that any increase in housing cost is driven, in part, by the houses being so much larger.

      4. The biggest change over time is how much is put on credit. My great-grandparents bought their house outright; my grandparents had a mortgage but bought their cars outright; my parents had a mortgage and financed their cars but paid their credit cards off every month; people my age have mortgages (if they can even afford the down payment), car payments, and high credit card debt.

        Much of this is a superficial reflection of more substantial changes, though. The house my great-grandparents lived in was pretty plain and small by modern standards, and they never had a car; my grandparents lived like paupers until late in life; my parents don’t have a lot saved up.

        A lot of what I see people complaining about nowadays seems to be that they want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to live like their parents or grandparents “did” while having modern technological comforts. Perhaps the most unaccounted for driver of modern costs is the automobile; people expect to have a safety-tested, low-emission, high-efficiency, air-conditioned, comfortable car that can keep up with traffic. When they were our age, our grandparents rode around in death boxes on wheels with lawnmower engines.

        1. A lot of what I see people complaining about nowadays seems to be that they want to have their cake and eat it, too..”


          My ex, just 6 months after we had gotten married 25 some years ago, was pissed that we didn’t own a home, 2 cars, and all the ammeneties her or my parents had accumulated in 3 decades of working hard.

          And it is worse with the younger people today.

    2. Well, its possible your parents were financially independent and you aren’t or have less of it. That’s confusing the issue, though, if you ask me. Your parents did have some advantages there. The baby boomers are going to live longer and work longer than previous generations. Growth isn’t as high right now as it was into the 1960’s, but America’s major advantage after WW2 has diminished.

      Then there’s individual choices being made to offset those factors. People in their 20’s staying in school longer etc.

    3. I think there is something to this specific to homes. Single family homes in the past came with more land, and I think they had larger bedrooms, too. The master bedrooms seem to be larger now than they used to be, but the other bedrooms are probably smaller.

      I’m sure more people can afford a single family home than could before, but the house the Brady Bunch lived in or Ward, June, Wally, and Beaver’s house (both of which I considered middle class), are probably out of the price range of your average home buyer these days.

      1. Most people didn’t have that back then, either. It was an ideal focused on a very specific group of people who were over represented in the media. The left rants about nostalgia for the bygone era, but they’ve completely internalized that message and its implicit in much of their rhetoric.

        Even then, all of that depends on where you want to live, and then how much government is increasing the cost of housing in the first place.

      2. My unscientific survey of homes for sale earlier this year in a small Iowa town where I was buying.

        Homes built in the 10s and 20s were surprisingly large 1700 to 2200 square feet.

        Homes built in the 50s and 60s were tiny. 800-1100 square feet.

        Homes built in the 70s and early 80s were about the same size as those in the 10s and 20s…1500 to 2200 square feet.

        I didn’t look at anything post 1980s. Too much damn money

        1. My grandparents had a house built in 1783 and expanded at least once. It was enormous. Probably a farm house originally – the ceiling beams were 12 x 12 local black walnut.

          Houses definitely got smaller in the middle of the 20th as people moved out of the cities.

      3. I’m sure more people can afford a single family home than could before, but the house the Brady Bunch lived in or Ward, June, Wally, and Beaver’s house (both of which I considered middle class), are probably out of the price range of your average home buyer these days.

        At least at the start, The Brady Bunch had no cable, one black-and-white television with no remote, one hard-wired telephone line (which itself was a bit luxurious, since party lines were still common then), probably no central air conditioning, one full bathroom, no computers of any kind, never mind a household network of them, cars that wouldn’t pass any tests nowadays, and probably some other things I’m not even thinking of that modern people of similar economic standing would find unacceptable.

        They had a live-in maid, but her expectations for pay and benefits were probably pretty low, and certainly would be seen as “slave wages” nowadays.

  14. Forty years ago, I was still basking in the tranquility of non-being. *grumbles* stupid living….

  15. Skipping the comments to just point out some other stats. Article earlier in the week highlighted that over the last 40 years, the middle class has seen 29% growth and the bottom fifth of society 58%.

    Food and a number of commodities are just cheaper in inflation adjusted terms than they were back then.

    Wages – just wages – have flatlined in terms of inflation adjusted dollars, but overall compensation has only continued to grow perfectly in tune with productivity. People here understand why ‘compensation’ is growing but not wages, and a lot of it was caused by perverse government incentives.

    The story that Americans work more than ever, but evil corporations are hoarding profits and not paying more is a lie. A lfat-out lie.

    The war on the middle class and income inequality are complete canards with no basis in reality. It’s nothing more than typicaly political pandering. Politicians want the middle class to feel under attack, and the only way the left can win elections is by offering an ever expanding number of goodies. The Clinton years are unacceptable to the Democratic party which is now controlled by progs. Welfare reform, privatization etc. Can’t be tolerated. Coming off a recession, these fucks have done nothing but try to instigate class warfare.

    1. I’d be curious to read that article about middle and lower class growth. I have seen some of the wage/compensation thing.

      Even just by going at CPI-adjusted real median income and income by quintile, there was real advancement for everyone between about 1983 and 1999. The 40 year numbers look bad because of the periods from about 1973-1983 and 2000-2015. Things really did get better in the mid to late 80s and most of the 90s, but before that you had a mad economic decade in the 70s and early 80s, and since then you’ve had two recessions with weak recoveries.

  16. 20 years ago I was happy to spend 60 minutes trying to download some Cindy Crawford bikini images and now I can see any kind of porn I want to in mere seconds on my phone. So, obviously WAY better off.

    1. We live in an age where hipster doofuses complain about how badly they have it on their IPhones.

      People alive today are the most privileged group in all of human history and its not even close.

      1. Privileged, certainly yes; freer, not so sure. It is not good to conflate the two concepts.

  17. Avast thar mateys, landlubbers and perpetually hallucinating “limited government”, “constitutionalist” statist automatons! I see the matrix still “has” you all .:-)

    Meanwhile, I don’t care which scam artist finally gets elected, or which doesn’t, nor what the Fed does/does not do, nor whether, according to Mr “investment advisor with a claimed “near perfect prediction record” [insert advisor name of choice] , we are supposedly in for recession, depression, deflation, hyper inflation, a stock market boom, or whatever .


    Because whatever happens, my entirely self-managed, fully diversified, once per year adjusted long term savings plan will be safely protected and will , 9 times out of 10, grow at an average of 8% per annum over and above the prevailing inflation [or deflation], rate, year in, year out, as it has since 1986 when I started using it.

    Savings plan results 1972-2011: http://onebornfreesfinancialsa…..gspot.com/


  18. “I have a device in my pocket that gives me access to the combined knowledge of all mankind. I use it to argue with strangers and look at pictures of cats.”

    1. Smartphones therefore freedom. Nope, still doesn’t cut it after 37742226809632 other times.

      1. Technology is certainly freedom. A hundred years ago the people were definitely freer from government, but on the other hand it took all day to wash clothes or travel a hundred miles. When technology gives you more free time, you are more free. That why it’s called free time.

        1. Somebody upthread mentioned more bread and circus, and, in that regard, we are better off in that we have the NFL and the NFL network and MLB and the MLB network, college football, March Madness et al.

          I know, I know, you are not much of a sports fan, but………….

  19. Where do iPhone aps rank on Maslaw’s hierarchy?

    Where does rising rents?

    Where does jobs which for 90 million people do not exist?

    How about money to buy food shelter and water which through inflation becomes less valuable and wages lag?

    How about health care the price of which grows faster then inflation?

    “Are You Better Off Now Than You Were 20, 30, 40 Years Ago?”

    Amusing you did not mention 10 years ago….you know within the time about when smart phones first came out and within the time our second great depression started and has not ended.

    1. Feds gonna raise rates in December, wigga. It’s all good. Normalization and shit.

  20. As far as purchasing power goes, it has eroded through currency debauchery. Sure, the market has made things cheaper, and wherever gov’t is not involved (or barely), competition gets better, and prices go down. Also, there aren’t crises in these areas of the market.

    Clothes, watches, shoes, jewelry, furniture, boilers, computers, televisions, fish tanks, Sheetrock, building supplies, pictures, picture frames, office supplies, the Internet to include shopping, etc. are not in crisis, do not suffer shortages, and any market upsets are overcome quickly.

    Anywhere the gov’t monopolizes or tries to control are ripe with crisis and chaos. Money & banking, defense, schooling, healthcare, RoAdZ!, energy, fuel, housing, and so on wind up in prolonged chaos.

    A pre 1965 quarter that contained 90% silver would have a purchasing power of $2.87 today. So every dollar (4 quarters) would equal $11.48 of purchasing power.

    Poverty rate – 11,500 est. x 11.48 = $132,020
    Earnings of $45,000/yr x 11.48 = $516,600
    Earnings of $120,000 x 11.48 = $1,377,600

    That is serious thievery, and something that needs to be pointed out and dealt with. After all of this debt and increased gov’t, folks should be better off, retiring early, and enjoying more of their lives. Instead folks are getting robbed, and are forced to work harder while the central bank and gov’t rob them.

  21. I’m curious what is the furthest year back in US history that people here would consider freer than today? If you could trade the laws and regulations of any year in American history (assuming proper adjustments for technology and that the laws are consistently enforced and impactful as they were – so for example, legal slavery means the same % of society is enslaved today as back then) what would be the earliest year you would choose?

    1. My problem with trying to look back like that is I have a hard time accepting that any period where slavery was legal is more free regardless of what else was or was not going on. Chattel slavery is a pretty hefty anchor on a free society.

    2. Federal – 1789
      State – I dunno…1490ish?

      1. You would take 1789, with 20% of the population being enslaved, over today or any other year in US history?

  22. I call bullshit on two grounds:

    1.) The smartphone stuff, while cheaper, is not free. You still need to pay several hundred dollars for the smartphone, plus whatever you pay each month for the cellphone service
    2.) Some of the comparisons are ludicrous. e.g. picking the Seiko 35SQ Astron as the point of comparison for the “digital watch” feature. Yes, it cost $1250 in 1969. BECAUSE IT CAME IN A 18K SOLID GOLD CASE.

  23. I love tech, but I’m not under any illusion that it’s increased my personal freedom nor economic opportunity. It mostly just provides me distractions in a world that govt has rendered increasingly stifled and mundane.

    1. How DARE you question the social impact of a LOLpic?

  24. Why choose a year back in time? Learn from the past and live for tomorrow. Anyone forced to give up the fruits of their labor, which includes their media of exchange, property etc., is nothing but a slave.

    The politicians found a new way to enslave individuals, and folks actually rally politicians as they do so. That is why voting with other people’s liberty and property shouldn’t be.

    The future should be one of liberty, and voluntary transactions free from force, theft, and coercion, along with an ability to defend oneself from such aggression. If gov’t were so great it wouldn’t need to be forced upon individuals at gunpoint. It isn’t great, nor does it prevent or limit ChAoS!.

  25. I’m sorry Nick but you are largely just wrong here.

    I’m going to take 30 years as an example point.

    30 years ago I had just turned 16, today my oldest child is a few months shy of his 16th birthday.

    Back then my parents both worked and had a combined household income of ~$60,000 a year, today my wife and I both work and we earn a combined $160,000 a year

    Now, it is true that today I have access to some amazing technologies that simply did not exist back then and that said technologies are really amazingly cheap. I mean I have one of those $900,000 smartphones in my pocket and it costs me on average about $700 a year to keep it and the associated phone/data service.

    1. The problem is however it is by no means a critical necessity in my life. Of all the features it offers the only ones I routinely use are the games, texting, and making phone calls and even those I coluld easily do without.

      On the flip side, my parents bought a house in Massachusetts, one of the most expensive housing markets in the country even back then for $49,000. Today that same house would cost me $490,000. My parents could feed our family of 5 for under $500 a month (and this includes eating out moderately frequently at expensive restaurants), for us it is over $1500 a month. My parents were able to take the entire family on a week long vacation to LA including stops at Disney and Knots Berry Farm and the total cost including airfare, hotels, activities, and food was under $3000. For us the same trip would be closer to $8000. My parents were able to buy us all brand new high quality clothes for every season and keep us clothed for under $300 per year per kid. Most of my kids clothes are bought from thrift stores because I can’t afford the $800 a year each it would cost me to buy decent clothes from target and the clothes from wal mart just fall apart too quickly.

    2. Basically you are saying “Hey ignore the fact that your actual cost of living has exploded far faster than your income has grown the fact that you have access to some nice to have but ultimately not important toys for really cheap prices makes up for it”

      No, it doesn’t, I’d give up my smartphone and cable subscription in a heartbeat if it meant that I could stop buying my kids clothes second hand and take them on a family vacation every other year but I cant because those thing s cost infinitely more than the phone and cable do.

    3. But what of other kinds of freedoms?

      Well I can pretty confidently tell you that if I had grown up in todays world you would be writing about my death as another police outrage.

      See when I was a teen I had a group of friends who were all military aficionados (who couldn’t be with movies like Red Dawn inspiring us) and we all liked to run around playing slightly more complex versions of little kids playing “army”. One night we were out way after dark playing around a school ground when someone had called the cops on us (we did obviously look suspicious, a bunch of young makes running around with weapons in cammo) and I’m kneeling behind this tree in cammo clothing holding a toy shotgun in a ready position when all of a sudden a spotlight falls on me. Natural reaction I immediately spun around to see what the hell it was and there was a police cruiser about 30 yards behind me.

      Now today, that cop would have “feared for his life” not knowing if that shotgun in my hands was real and put a dozen bullets in me, back then the cop just laughed at me and told me to get my friends and go home then called in that it was just a bunch of kids playing soldier. So no, I don’t feel more free at all just because I now have the techology that would have allowed me to film my own murder at the hands of an agent of the state

    4. The story is the same no matter where you look. For every freedom technology has opened up to us the government has encroached on 3 more.

      The world today may be better than the the world of the 1950’s but it is clearly moving in the WRONG direction and it’s current trajectory is far more dystopian than utopian.

      1. We have a federal reserve bank whose explicit, stated goal is to increase inflation and debase the value of the currency.

        1. Yes, but in theory that should increase wages in line with prices and generally result in a stable cost of living.

          So when I was a kid my parents both made a little above average salaries and our household income was probably right around the 25th – 30th precentile.

          Today, my wife makes right around the median wage but mine is well into the top 10% and our household income places us around the 12 percentile.

          If fed driven inflation were the sole cause for what is going on I should still be living significantly better than my parents were 30 years ago because I am in a significantly higher economic class

          1. What do you mean in theory? Purchasing power has eroded substantially.

            I’ll say it again:

            A pre 1965 quarter that contained 90% silver would have a purchasing power of $2.87 today. So every dollar (4 quarters) would equal $11.48 of purchasing power.

            Poverty rate – 11,500 est. x 11.48 = $132,020
            Earnings of $45,000/yr x 11.48 = $516,600
            Earnings of $120,000 x 11.48 = $1,377,600

            The central bank in collusion with the gov’t has done what most governments have done throughout history. Debase currency leaving the serfs with worthless paper and coins, while they have all the gold and silver.

  26. If you doubled the standard of living of the poor today, the egalitarian control freaks would still be hysterically trying to run your lives. Envy is a deadly sin because it means if you cannot have what another person has that you want, then you want to destroy what the other person has that you want.

  27. Oh sure, we have smartphones. But back in the 70s/80s it seemed like more people were able to be out and doing things. Food was cheaper. And better. People had more free time. Lots of jobs that are now looked down upon were seen as decent (or even existed at all).

    Beyond that, kids could actually go out and play. With toy guns. You really didn’t have to worry about being arrested or shot.

    Also, picking a $1000 digital watch from 1969 is silly. In the late 1970s I had like a $30 digital watch that played a space invaders like game. My friend had one that played Hey Jude & Yesterday. We used to drive teachers crazy.

  28. I wonder if Nick Gillespie was around in 1932 he would say that the Depression and the New Deal was nothing to worry about because of improved living standards compared to Medieval peasants, Female Suffrage and Talkies.

  29. The flaw in that chart is comparing the cost of a CD encyclopedia or medical reference then to performing *ONLINE* lookups on a current smartphone. The Comptons CD provided you with the data/reference material *on hand*, not on some remote server. The correct comparison would be that looking up encyclopedic or medical data on a smartphone would be equivalent to going to your local library and looking something up in their reference books. The library reference being paid for by your tax dollars and the smartphone being paid for in “data charges”, etc. Neither of which is an easily quantified expense. So neither of those should be on the list. It’s the same way I see digital downloads (music and video) as significantly lesser value than when I used to buy those big vinyl-and-cardboard things called “records”.

    1. Want to download Wikipedia? Easy. With a modern broadband connection should take only a couple hours. Though it is unlikely it will fit on your phone, but then neither will Comptons.

      Download wikipedia

      Data charges are quite quantifiable.

      Digital downloads can be easily converted to hard media, and much more durable than vinyl records.

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