Here’s an excellent candidate for the single most powerful piece of quotidian evidence that we ordinary Americans are today wealthier than we were 40 years ago:
Among people with widespread and near-zero-marginal-cost access to drinkable water from faucets and water fountains (many of them serving up water chilled!), only very wealthy ones will pay for bottled water. Bottled water does indeed make the drinking of water more convenient. For this small convenience, we Americans willingly pay. We do so not because the ocean of water that is freely available to us is dangerous to drink (well, excluding the water in Flint, MI). We pay for bottled water simply because we are so wealthy that we’re willing to part with several extra dollars weekly in order to gain this convenience.
The graph below shows Americans’ increased consumption of this convenience since 1980. Had our – ordinary Americans’ – real incomes truly stagnated since the 1970s, a strong case can be made that we would not have become so keen on buying bottled water.
A discussion with my son, Thomas, inspired this post.