Monday, August 26, 2013

Prices and Products in a 1950s Catalog

An interesting letter to the editor from Don Boudreaux, posted to Cafe Hayek:
I challenge you and other Americans to do what I did and lay your hands on a Sears catalog from the 1950s. My catalog – bought recently on eBay (a company founded in 1995) – is from 1956. Peruse the catalog. What do you see? You see, for example, Sears’s cheapest TV (black’n'white, of course), priced so that a typical full-time manufacturing worker in 1956 had to toil 61 hours to earn enough money to buy that TV. Today, the typical American worker can buy an infinitely superior TV with only ten hours of work. And this lower cost in term of work-time is true for nearly everything else that Sears sells: clothing, kitchen appliances, automobile parts, office furniture, sporting goods, children’s toys. The list is long.* 
An even longer list can be made of what you don’t see in that catalog or in any other record of the economy’s offerings to Americans in the 1950s: no digital cameras; no lightweight waterproof sportswear; no microwave ovens; no CDs, DVDs, or MP3 players; no personal computers; no cellphones; no GPS devices; no indexed mutual funds; no soft contact lenses; no statins; no measles or meningitis vaccines; no portable defibrillators; no oral contraception; no MRI machines. Commercial jet travel did arrive in 1958 – but at fares well beyond the reach of most Americans.
It is remarkable how much better off we are than the 1950s.  What is more remarkable is that plenty of people long for the 1950s out of nostalgia.  I know few people who wouldn't want to get back to 2013 as quickly as possible after a few hours in the 1950s.

1 comment:

  1. We may have more buying power, yet beyond a certain point what good is it for? Are all of the technological commodities of modern life so fundamentally necessary or have they in part turned us away from a simpler and more healthy way of living. Maybe that's what people long for. A time of hard work and precarity for many, but also of rewarding experiences and relationships born in hardship and simple existence.

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