More of We're Much Wealthier

by Don Boudreaux on August 31, 2006

in Standard of Living

As research for my own book, I’m re-reading Tyler Cowen’s indispensable volume, In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998).  (Here, by the way, is a review that I wrote in 1999 of this book.)  On page 31 I ran across this interesting fact — one that further supports my claim that the quality of life today in America today is vastly superior to what it was 30 or 40 years ago:

From 1965 to 1990 America grew from having 58 symphony orchestras to having nearly 300, from 27 opera companies to more than 150, and from 22 non-profit regional theaters to 500.

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KipEsquire August 31, 2006 at 10:31 am

While I certainly support your and Cowen's broad thesis, I'm not sure orchestras, operas and theaters — which are often drenched in taxpayer subsidies — are the best example. :-)

Altay August 31, 2006 at 11:31 am

It's a little old now, but the Dallas Fed has a great report about the declining real cost of living in America titled "Time Well Spent" and available here:

Matt Thompson August 31, 2006 at 11:50 am

If anything, I would think the vast expanstion of the National Endowment of the Arts programs over the same period helped fuel the addition of taxpayer-funded orchestras.
Don, your example is akin to saying that Russia was better off after the communist revolution because more orchestras existed (which is true), and produced better music at taxpayer expense (which is arguably true), i.e. Shostakovich.
I like you, so please don't use that in your book.

Bill August 31, 2006 at 6:20 pm

We are also wealthier in free internet porn, accesability of body armor, and teenage punk-rock bands that you can hear on the radio, basically for free.

What, no adjusting for population increase and the demographic shif of more old people which could explain much if not all of the nicrease?

Does having more orchestras make us wealthier? Maybe, in very, very, very, abstract terms, but the electronic gadgets and health care innovations you referenced in your earlier post did a better job pointing that out.

Mike Lorrey August 31, 2006 at 10:58 pm

Actually, I'd say that the weaning off of NEA money since the time of Reagan's massacre of arts spending contributed most to the explosion of arts groups. I think Don's point is that the elite lefties who most adhere to the Marxist/Keynesian view of history and economics would have the closest relationship with increase in luxuries of the arts, rather than with things like free calculators in one's breakfast cereal, free cellphones, and supercomputers for under $1000.00…

TGGP September 1, 2006 at 3:52 pm

"Teenage punk rock bands you can hear on the radio". Maybe on college stations. As far as I've experienced, there is an unwritten (or perhaps it is written somewhere) law against playing any real punk* on commercial radio.

*When I say that, I am excluding pop-punk, which always struck me as something of an oxymoron. The Stooges proto-punk album "Raw Power" is probably a good dividing line. Only stuff faster, louder and sloppier should get included.

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