The Corner

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Things Are Getting Better


Over at the Austrian Economists blog, Steve Horwitz has several really great posts with data showing how all of us are getting wealthier, even the poor. Using the most recent Census data, he built this table showing that things are getting better for poor people in America. Each column represents the percentage of household below poverty line that owns each good listed on the left. This table speaks for itself.

% Households with:Poor 1984Poor  1994

Poor 2003

Poor 2005All 1971All 2005
Washing machine58.271.767.068.771.384.0
Clothes dryer35.650.258.561.244.581.2
Color TV70.392.596.897.443.398.9
Personal computer2.97.436.
Air conditioner42.549.677.778.831.885.7
Cellular Telephone

One or more cars64.171.872.8 (2001)


source: and prior years

He also has a great related post about how the income gap between poor and rich is shrinking (here). But more interestingly, he links to a very cool table made by economist Mark Perry, over at Carpe Diem, comparing the hours of labor at the average hourly wage it took in 1973 and 2009 to buy the same household basics. The main finding, based on his data, is that rising real wages along with dramatic reductions in costs have cut the work time needed to buy these products to a fraction of their 1973 values.  In other words, people are getting more stuff, including more hours of leisure.

As Horwitz concludes: “These are the Smithian and Schumpeterian horses of the gains from exchange and innovation in action. Following in Simon’s footsteps, I am willing to bet they will continue to outrace the horse of political stupidity over the decades to come, even if the political horse gains a little ground.”