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Mark Steckbeck on Standards of Living

The Liberal Order‘s Mark Steckbeck sends this informative e-mail to me, in response to Mark Perry’s and my recent essay in the Wall Street Journal:

Hi Don,

With regards to your article and all the pushback you’re receiving, I know this is anecdotal, but still worth considering.

In the mid to late 70s, my father retired as a commander after 26 years in the Navy. He was a pilot (flight pay) who also served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was also a meteorologist and worked with the FAA on flight and weather issues.

After retiring with full free medical care (though it really sucked), he then went on to consult with the FAA. I can say that his retirement income from the Navy, plus plus the income from his consulting business (you know how much government consultants make now, well, that was also the case back then) made his nominal household income greater than my nominal household income today, thirty years later. He made a lot, plus he had free medical care. So his real income then was obviously greater than my real income is today.

A couple of weeks ago I was watching a football game on my 46-inch flat panel HD television set with surround sound, all fully remote. I didn’t really need the sound because I was listening to music through my iPhone, with access to over 5,000 songs on my computer’s server on the other side of the house. This was through the Apple Airport Express I had attached to an amp on my stereo speakers in the same room. I have a two other Airport Extremes connected to speakers around the house on which I can play these 5,000 songs from my computer in different rooms. No getting up to turn the record over.

Our house has beautiful granite countertops rather than the Formica he had; we have a built-in gas cooktop and a wall oven with microwave rather than the typical oven of the day and a microwave oven on the counter. Our house is better lit with more direct and indirect lighting sources, more energy efficient, and is larger in size. (He lived in Springfield, VA while I am in Raleigh, which has an effect on price per square foot, but I look at Raleigh today compared to the DC area about thirty years ago.) He had a pool, which we don’t.

Our cars are safer and last longer than did his. (In fact, he died in a car wreck while driving his Mazda RX7, which today would have had airbags that likely would have saved his life.) We have access to better health care than he did (but again, his was “free,” and as a kid I always had to access to the same mediocre to poor military health care he had), we eat a greater variety of higher quality foodstuff, and are able to travel more frequently than did he.

More importantly, I work far fewer hours than he did, which largely explains the income difference, and my life is far less stressful than his.

By comparison, he definitely earned more money than me, in both nominal and in real terms. By every conceivable measure, my life is easier and more enjoyable than his probably was.



And Mark Perry has even more.