Cleaned – and Educated – by Capitalism

by Don Boudreaux on March 26, 2011

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Complexity & Emergence, Entertainment, Everyday Life, Growth, History, Standard of Living, Video, Work

Do not miss this wonderful TED talk by Hans Rosling.  He celebrates the washing machine – a device to us moderns so banal, so obvious, even (for some of us) so harmful to the environment, what with its use of electricity and chemicals and water.  (HT Thomas Boudreaux)

This video captures so very well a vital element in the story of economic growth.

In the same vein, I recommend also the 1999 four-part television series 1900 House.

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Stanton Y March 26, 2011 at 11:24 am

What a great line: “Thank you industrialization. Thank you steel mill. Thank you power station. And thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”

Pfloyd March 26, 2011 at 11:34 am

That really summed up the beauty of capitalism. We’re such a spoiled culture now that we look at our conveniences and the system that brought them to us with scorn, often typing our vitriolic diatribes on our inexpensive laptop computers that can be read by anyone in the world within a second of typing the “submit” button.

But we’re spoiled because we can afford to be spoiled. We’ve freed up so much of our time to pursue things like education, activism, or any myriad other activities in which to express ourselves. The lonely woman spending four hours of her day beating clothes on a rock does not have the time nor resources to pursue such things that we flagrantly take for granted.

Keith March 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm

You are equating convenience with quality of life. With a little reflection, most realize that they are not one and the same. Going to the completely pre-specialization extreme of “beating clothes on a rock” might make it an easy, clear cut case for you, but there are many degrees in between the extremes of uber convenience indulgence and primitivism that would yield greater satisfaction for more people. Gross wealth inequality precipitated by capitalism is a case in point.

kyle8 March 26, 2011 at 10:28 pm

silly nonsense. making someone in America poorer will not help anyone in another nation one little bit. What great wealth does do is it frees people like Bill Gates to spend billions of dollars on medical help for poor nations.

Quality of life does amount to more than creature comforts, it also amounts in part, to human liberty. And it is precisely those countries which do not have much capitalism that also do not have much freedom.

Krishnan March 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

Ah yes. I did not realize that the poor of today yearn for the days where they would have had to wash their own clothes, lived in houses without electricity and spent most of their days working for food and to exist. Having the luxury of time to think and have machines do what used to take human hands is indulgence, if I read correctly.

In your mind, the fact that there is “inequality” means something is wrong and evil. It implies that during the “good old days” there was NO (or less) inequality – which is nonsense. If anything, the distance between the quality of life between the “rich” and the “poor” was MUCH LARGER during the “good old days” and today – The “poor” of today live life that is far, far richer than the “rich” of yesterday

But – yea, I know – you will simply say that since there are a few people who are very rich and there are some who are very poor, life, the system is unfair. You will not see anything else.

Krishnan March 27, 2011 at 11:12 am

Imagine life without “plastic” (polyethylene and such) – imagine the difficulty of keeping things sterile – medical devices, milk cartons …

Justin Bowen March 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Don’t forget the 2002 PBS series Frontier House, which is available here (you’ll need a torrent client).

sandre March 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm
GP Hanner March 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Please note that P&G has lately made their laundry products “phosphate free.” The effect of that is to make the washing machines and the dishwasher less energy effcient. Not only that, the amount of phosphates kept from the streams and rivers in miniscule; most phosphates are runoff from agricultural land. My wife’s answer is to make her own detergents with washing soda, citric acid, and pulverized Ivory soap.

Clearly, it isn’t easy being green. And I don’t for a minute buy the notion that humans cause anything global warming that can be distinguished from background noise. Why else would Mann, et al, feel the need to “hide the decline?”

E.G. March 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Capitalism already destroyed life on Mars. Do you want us to be next? :p

brotio March 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm


I am Cardinal Yasafi Torquemuirduck of The Church of AGW, led by His Holiness: The Divine Prophet Algore I.

The only hyumans who don’t cause Global Warming are the carbon spewing True Believers in The Church of AGW! Reepent, and joyn me in The Church, and you will be abull to spew all uv the carbon yore hart dezires!

It is what you beeleeve that affects Mother Gaia, not whut ewe dew, so axept the teechings of His Holiness, and live thuh good life!

Don’t make mee go Salem on yore asses! I am Cardinal Yasafi Torquemuirduck and ewe hav bin warnned!

Methinks1776 March 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I’m having a hard time believing your are the one and true YASAFI. The spelling is correct, but where’s the caps lock? Where’s the incoherent word salad? Where are the links to graphs that have nothing to do with the conversation? Plus, your punctuation is correct.


brotio March 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm


Michael61 March 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Drop by the store and purchase “TSP”. Add a little (we use about a teaspoon’s worth) to each laundry load and dishwasher load. It makes all the difference.

GP Hanner March 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Good grief!! What did I start?

Krishnan March 27, 2011 at 11:04 am

A true green movement – keeping the earth nice through use of chemicals and energy.

Richard March 27, 2011 at 12:24 am

It sure does. It’s also great for removing the old stuck-on wallpaper glue prior to painting your walls. Better living thru chemicals!!!!

Gil March 27, 2011 at 12:52 am

Today is Pollution Day. Pollute as much as you can and shoot dead as many Spotted Owls you can find and beat up a few Greenies (Watermelons) for good measure. Pollution is the sign of progress and human achievement. Any action to save nature is really an attack on Humanity.

Richard Stands March 27, 2011 at 2:01 am

Please note that P&G has lately made their laundry products “phosphate free.”

Please also note that Proctor and Gamble did not make these changes in order to annoy their customers or provide less value. They made these changes as a result of state laws.

Worse living by banning chemistry™

GP Hanner March 27, 2011 at 10:58 am

Love the nanny state.

jorod March 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Don’t put the cart before the horse. Let’s grow the economy by $6 trillion then worry about health care reform. When we could afford it.

Allison March 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm

New washing machines aren’t just phosphorus free. They are water saving and water-temperature saving.

They run quickly and quietly. And when they are done, the clothes aren’t clean. Thank you government regulation!

GP Hanner March 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Tell that to my wife. She routinely overrides the fill cycle to get enough water in the machine to get the clothes clean. Not only that, P&G’s phosphate free products leave a residue in the machine that must be cleaned out periodically. They even sell a special product to do the job. Energy saving? I don’t think so. More like the water-saving toilets you have to flush twice to get the job done.

Jim Rose March 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm

I have only watched a few episodes of shows such as these.

They show clearly that capitalism and economic growth are tremendous engines of liberation for women.

100 years ago, women were occupied full-time in home production even in the cities.

Krishnan March 27, 2011 at 11:08 am

Precisely – and that is why the greenies and crazies hate capitalism – it allows ANYONE to enter the labor force, allows for humans to use their skills to advance themselves – to be free to do what they want to do … they cannot stand people being free and to grow and get better – all without help from GOVERNMENT

anthonyl March 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm

So environmentalizts have a problem with the washing machine?
I recently saw a job description that had as one of its required skills the ability to discern between waste and recyclables. Thats easy to do. Does someone pay for it or not? If not,, it’s waste.

kyle8 March 26, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Now there you go making sense, You know that common sense has no place in a debate about the enviroment!

Krishnan March 27, 2011 at 11:09 am

Common sense has to be outlawed – it makes the crazies even crazier … So, off with his head …

Doc Merlin March 29, 2011 at 6:49 am

Early twentieth century mechanical invention that to this day still deserves a hallowed spot in the halls of inventivedom.

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