Unportentous Prosperity

by Don Boudreaux on October 9, 2004

in Standard of Living

We in the west seldom notice our enormous prosperity. This prosperity is the opposite of portentous. It’s silent; it doesn’t crow about itself – and it progresses tiny step by tiny step.

I’m forever impressed by the countless, each-small ways that our standard of living is improved. In this blog, I will occasionally highlight particularly interesting additions to what I call our unportentous prosperity.

Today’s instance is my local supermarket (in the Burke Village Center). It’s part of the Giant chain. It’s undergoing a facelift. The square footage of the place isn’t changing, but the new, creative arrangements of shelving and displays make it look larger, more open, more airy. Indeed, I suspect that the aisles in fact are more commodious for shoppers and their carts even though the selection of goods offered by the store is growing.

New flooring is in place. It’s (obviously) cleaner than the older stuff, and more attractive. And the facade on the outside of the supermarket is updated; it’s more stylish. (Virginia Postrel, over at Dynamist.com, would be impressed.)

Most of these changes are cosmetic. If Giant would not have invested the money to do this facelift, very few people would have noticed. Only the rare customer would have strolled into that Giant supermarket and said “Gee, this place needs a facelift.” Certainly, the regular customers of this particular Giant – being long familiar with its look – likely never bother to think about its look.

But now that it’s newly refurbished, it is clear to everyone that the pre-facelift state of the store was shabby.

Refurbishing a supermarket is a small matter. But such an improvement in the grocery-shoppers’ physical atmosphere is just one of the many small additions of prosperity that, when combined with the multitude of other quotidian additions, make our the totality of our prosperity as enormous as it is.

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