Monday, February 11, 2008

In The Currency of Time, Good Old Days Are Now

More from today's NY Times article by Cox and Alm:

As the chart on the spread of consumption above shows (click to enlarge), the conveniences we take for granted today usually began as niche products only a few wealthy families could afford. In time, ownership spread through the levels of income distribution as rising wages and falling prices made them affordable in the currency that matters most — the amount of time one has to work to gain the necessary purchasing power.

At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6%.

There are several reasons that the costs of goods have dropped so drastically, but perhaps the biggest is increased international trade. Imports lower prices directly. Cheaper inputs cut domestic companies’ costs. International competition forces producers everywhere to become more efficient and hold down prices. Nations do what they do best and trade for the rest.

While foreign competition may have eroded some American workers’ incomes, looking at consumption broadens our perspective. Simply put, the poor are less poor. Globalization extends and deepens a capitalist system that has for generations been lifting American living standards — for high-income households, of course, but for low-income ones as well.

Bottom Line: The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting richer.


At 2/11/2008 2:31 PM, Blogger spencer said...

To say that imports are the primary force driving prices lower would seem to ignore the point that there is a lot of domestic competition.

Overall, this was a very good article, but that one comment was completely outside the realm of what economic research shows.

At 2/11/2008 3:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh wow, my quality of life has just been summed up by a contraption to watch television (VCR), a telephone, a typewriter on steroids (making secretaries out of all of us), and a nondurable good that got us from point A to point B 40 years ago and... still gets us from Point A to Point B.

The poor are getting richer only if you measure wealth by your possessions.

You forgot easy consumer credit, Mark. Credit was not available to poor people 40 years ago like it is today. Now THAT has certainly made the poor much richer, hasn't it?

At 2/11/2008 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Quality of goods available to people is a commonplace metric for measuring standard of living although certainly not the only metric.

Your use of the word "only" seems to suggest that the poor by all other standards are getting poorer. Would appreciate if you could supply data to support this supposition.

You mention that those who are poor have access to credit making consumption possible. This assertion assumes that someone who is poor can obtain credit. Perhaps, you could confirm what definition of "poor" you are using.

At 2/11/2008 7:50 PM, Blogger gator80 said...

So I suppose iamnorth would prefer that the poor not have access to credit?


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