Wealth - 1/10/2010 Twentieth Century Wealth 20 Century...

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20 Century Created 1/24/1997 Go to Brad DeLong's Home Page Slouching Towards Utopia?: The Economic History of the Twentieth Century -II. Wealth- J. Bradford DeLong University of California at Berkeley and NBER January 1997 This twentieth century has been above all the century of increasing material wealth. The growth in the wealth of the industrial economies over the twentieth century has been unprecedented compared with all other economies and all previous eras. Standards of material comfort and capabilities that were beyond the richest of previous centuries are within the grasp of the bulk of America's population today. Rates of increase that would have struck all other centuries as miraculous fast are today taken for granted. This ratcheting-up by many notches of the pace of economic growth and change is the most important characteristic of twentieth century economic history. It is also surprisingly difficult to grasp. Computers, automobiles, airplanes, VCR's, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, telephones, and other technologies--combined with mass production--give middle-class citizens of the United States degrees of material wealth--control over commodities, and the ability to consume services-- that previous generations could barely imagine. In fact, the gulf is so large it is even hard for us to imagine what it has meant. Montgomery Ward and Consumers' Choices A good place to begin is with the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog. At the turn of the century Montgomery Ward was the largest mail-order business in the United 1/10/2010 Twentieth Century Wealth j-bradford-delong.net/…/Slouch_wealth… 1/13
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States. It supplied rural and small-town households around the country with goods produced in America's factories. It was one of the ways that the forty percent or so of America's households that still lived in small towns or isolated farmsteads could purchase the products of industrial civilization. The shops and stores of the big cities were much less convenient than the regular arrival of the mail-order catalogues. Shipping by mail order from centralized warehouses, companies like Montgomery Ward were willing to supply goods ranging from sterling silver teaspoons to sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica to drill presses. Multiplication of Productivity 1895-1997: Time Needed for an Average Worker to Earn the Purchase Price of Various Commodities Commodity Time-to-Earn in 1895 (Hours) Time-to-Earn in 1997 (Hours) Productivity Multiple Horatio Alger books (6 vols.) 21 0.6 35.0 One-speed bicycle 260 7.2 36.1 Cushioned office chair 24 2.0 12.0 100-piece stoneware dinner set 44 3.6 12.2 Hair brush 16 2.0 8.0 Cane rocking chair 8 1.6 5.0 Solid gold locket 28 6.0 4.7 Encyclopedia Britannica 140 33.8 4.1 Steinway piano 2400 1107.6 2.2 Sterling silver teaspoon 26 34.0 0.8 (from the 1895 Montgomery Ward Catalogue; facsimile edition Dover Books 1969, intro. by Boris Emmett) The table above presents a typical sample of consumer goods available through Montgomery Ward at the start of the twentieth century. Near the top of the table is
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2010 for the course ECON 4514 taught by Professor Shuie during the Spring '08 term at Colorado.

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Wealth - 1/10/2010 Twentieth Century Wealth 20 Century...

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