Billionaires Lived Worse A Hundred Years Ago Than Most Americans Today

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Billionaires Lived Worse A Hundred Years Ago Than Most Americans Today by Patrick Cox, Mauldin Economics

Economist Carol Boyd Leon recently wrote an article titled “The life of American workers in 1915” for the Monthly Labor Review using data from the US Bureau of Labor. It is a fascinating analysis of how America has changed in a single century.

The overview prompted significant follow-up coverage. The most useful analysis, I think, came from economist and author Donald Joseph Boudreaux. The title of his article “Most Ordinary Americans in 2016 Are Richer Than Was John D. Rockefeller in 1916” tells the whole story.

Rockefeller was America’s first billionaire back when a billion dollars was serious money. His quality of life, however, was clearly inferior to most Americans today.

Billionaires lived worse a hundred years ago – Our standard of living has soared in the last 20 years

Perhaps the best example provided by Boudreaux is the death of President Calvin’s Coolidge’s sixteen-year-old son in 1924. Tragically, the young man died from a staph-infected blister he developed on a toe while playing on the White House tennis court.

Today antibiotics routinely cure such infections, and despite periodic sensational headlines in the media, new drugs will soon end the fear of the worst antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Travel and communication were also difficult and time-consuming a hundred years ago—even for the wealthy. Telephones were still luxury items, with only one primitive phone per ten people in the United States.

Radio technology, along with access to recorded music and professional entertainment, didn’t penetrate America until the Great Depression. Food was not just bland for almost everybody; it was expensive.

More than 40% percent of American family budgets went to food a hundred years ago. Today, we spend less than 10% on average, despite having access to chicken tikka masala, fettucine Alfredo, and Cantonese sweet and sour in practically every American town.

The ever-improving quality of life should make us an optimistic species. Not so much…

Predictions about future life have always been split into two general categories. On one side are the techno-optimists who believe that science and technology will continue to improve the human lot delivering longer lives and abundance.

On the other side are the pessimists, in particular the Malthusians. They believe that human activity will lead inevitably to scarcity and a return to the primitive.

Statistically, the techno-optimists have won the argument so far. The world’s standard of living has improved for centuries but soared in just the last few decades. Most humans on our planet have emerged from extreme poverty and continue to make economic, health, and educational progress at a dramatic rate.

Almost nobody, however, is aware of it and polls show that media professionals are even less aware of this transformation than the general population.

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