Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Steve Landsburg discusses how significant technological progress has been (and the fact that the means we use to measure per capita income significantly understates the benefits of such progress):
As far as the quality of the goods we buy, try picking up an electronics catalogue from, oh, say, 2001 and ask yourself whether there's anything there you'd want to buy. That was the year my friend Ben spent $600 for a 1.3-megapixel digital camera that weighed a pound and a half. What about services, such as health care? Would you rather purchase today's health care at today's prices or the health care of, say, 1970 at 1970 prices? I don't know any informed person who would choose 1970, which means that despite all the hype about costs, health care now is a better bargain than it's ever been before.
The moral is that increases in measured income -- even the phenomenal increases of the past two centuries -- grossly understate the real improvements in our economic condition. The average middle-class American might have a smaller measured income than the European monarchs of the Middle Ages, but I suspect that Tudor King Henry VIII would have traded half his kingdom for modern plumbing, a lifetime supply of antibiotics and access to the Internet.