Progress and Prosperity

George Orwell, writing in 1944:

No less than 20,000 English girls … married American soldiers and sailors … . Some of these girls are being educated for their life in a new country at the ‘Schools for Brides of U.S. Servicemen’ organized by the American Red Cross. Here they are taught practical details about American manners, customs and traditions—and also, perhaps, cured of the widespread illusion that every American owns a motor car and every American house contains a bathroom, a refrigerator and an electric washing-machine.

Imagine such luxury! Houses with bathrooms, and even refrigerators!

I can’t entirely agree with Scott Winship: people acclimate to living standards, so the growth rate matters as well as the absolute level. And stagnation makes the world look more zero-sum, which is likely to make politics difficult. (Since “loss aversion” makes any reduction especially painful.) Still, it’s worth remembering that, as Keynes predicted, the sheer urgency of the economic problem declines with absolute income, and absolute income has grown enormously.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.