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Is This a Weathy Society or What?!

Some of the most compelling data on the steady rise in American living standards are gathered by W. Michael Cox, chief economist at the Dallas Fed.  His book with Richard Alm, Myths of Rich & Poor, is eye-opening and important.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of Cox’s work is his ability to document and measure actual consumption patterns.

I thought of Cox’s work when I read this report, in today’s Washington Post, on teenagers’ first cars.

In the past, the car in question usually belonged to Mom or Dad, who handed over the keys with a combination of pride and trepidation. Increasingly, however, the cars teenagers drive are their own…. According to CNW Marketing Research, which tracks national purchasing trends, 41 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds in the United States own cars, up from 23 percent in 1985.

The report goes on to explain that many of these cars are new.


When I was a high-school senior in 1975-76, only one of my fellow students (in a class of 167) drove his own new car.  (His wealthy grandfather bought him a brand-new Pontiac Trans-Am.  It was big news that one of our classmates owned his own new car.)  Most of the others of us who drove, such as myself, had access only to cars owned by our families.  The few others who actually owned their own cars drove mostly junkers.

Today, at the public high-school just down the street from my home, late-model Lexuses, BMWs, and Mercedes are quite common in the student parking lot.  I see no junkers.