… is from pages 33-34 of Tyler Cowen’s new book, Stubborn Attachments (footnote excluded):
We often forget how overwhelmingly positive the effects of economic growth have been. Economist [and Cafe Hayek co-founder] Russ Roberts reports that he frequently polls journalists about how much economic growth there has been since the year 1900. According to Russ, the typical response is that the standard of living has gone up by around fifty percent. In reality, the U.S. standard of living has increased by a factor of five to seven, estimated conservatively, and probably much more, depending on how we measure prices and the values of outputs over time, a highly inexact science.
The data show just how much living standards have gone up. In 1900, for instance, almost half of all U.S. households (forty-nine percent) had more than one occupant per room and almost one quarter (twenty-three percent) had over 3.5 persons per sleeping room. Slightly less than one quarter (twenty-four percent) of all U.S. households had running water, eighteen percent had refrigerators, and twelve percent had gas or electric lighting. Today, the figures for all of these stand at ninety-nine percent or higher. Back then, only five percent of households had telephones, and none of them had radio or TV. The high school graduation rate was only about six percent, and most jobs were physically arduous and had high rates of disability or even death. In the mid-nineteenth century, a typical worker might have put in somewhere between 2,800 and 3,300 hours of work a year; the estimate is now closer to 1,400 to 2,000 a year.