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Have we nothing but crumbs to show for a century of capitalism? Here are some others.t is doubtful that anyone in my old Ohio neighborhood on the west side of Columbus was a one percenter.One way to value the progress enjoyed by everyday people is to imagine having to do without all of the material things we have that our ancestors lacked. My mother worked as a “lunch lady” at the local elementary school and later as a secretary for Xerox.
Having water on tap in every home in 2010 offers us no point of comparison to 1910. They never complained, but, as my mother says, “We ate a lot of Hamburger Helper.”I remember hot summer days before many people with middle incomes could afford an air conditioner.(2013) made its author the most famous economist in the world.The book caused a sensation by highlighting rising income and wealth inequality in the United States and Europe, especially in its jarring claim that inequality is just as bad today as it was a hundred years ago.Piketty writes: “The poorer half of the population are as poor today as they were in the past, with barely 5 percent of total wealth in 2010, just as in 1910.Basically, all the middle class managed to get its hands on was a few crumbs.”.A century ago, America’s first progressives believed very much in the power of their reforms.
Theodore Roosevelt was proud to protect the environment. Alice Paul was busy fighting for a woman’s right to vote. Today, neo-progressives would have us forget all that, and maybe it’s because economic hindsight is anything but clear.
As a professional economist, I find myself haunted by Piketty’s book.
After reflecting on the issue many, many times, attending conferences, and reading dozens of scholarly papers, I keep coming back to his disturbing comparison of our time to the year 1910. He could have picked 1960 or 1800, I suppose, but the year 1910 seemed to float in the back of the mind like a silent paradox.
The current crisis of toxic tap water in Flint, Michigan has caused an uproar, but it’s in part a story that shows how much we take clean tap water for granted. I remember how dramatically it changed our quality of life, too.
Most homes have five or more taps between the kitchen, bathroom sinks, shower, and washing machine. The ability to travel to Australia from Minneapolis in a day’s time for the price of five men’s suits? How much would you have to be paid to surrender the Internet for a month? AC is ubiquitous and cheap today, but is it a crumb?
The cost of tap water across the United States is roughly half a penny per gallon, which is surely far less than the actual value we get from it. Treating water with chlorine to cleanse it of toxins was first done in 1908. My mother slept in on one Christmas in, I think, 1978, on orders from my father.