Yes, We Are Better Off In Many Ways Than We Were 50 years Ago, But That Entirely Misses The Point

“Cafe Hayek” is a reliably consistent website that faithfully carries on the legacy of Friedrich Hayek, a vociferous defender of free markets and classical liberalism. He has always impressed me because he moved from socialism to free markets, just as Thomas Sowell did, as he learned more about the world. That says something about the leftists of today, but I digress.

They have a regular feature called Quotation of the Day…and here is the most recent one:

The common experience over the past several decades has been that jobs are readily available for those who want them, and for quality of life to improve. The populist argument that typical workers have been at a standstill for decades – victims of an elite that has “rigged the system” against them to help itself, or of immigrants – is incorrect.

And from a strict economic interpretation, it is a powerful argument.

Nostalgia for, and misty-eyed myths about, a long-gone past are understandable. We humans are prone to such lazy indulgences. But I guarantee that if any of you ordinary Americans were suddenly projected back to, say, 1975 and found yourself living as ordinary Americans then lived, you’d feel desperately deprived. The reason is that, by the standards of today, you would be desperately deprived.

But this is an incomplete analysis of the issues, which are not simply economic. Yes, cell phones and modern cars and great medicine and incredible TVs with 500 channels (of mostly nothing!) and all of the other marvels of 21st century life are axiomatically much better than what we had 50 years ago. But there has been a degradation in our standard of living that is not so easily quantified, compared to the quality of my parents’ 13″ Sony Trinitron versus my 60″ Sony flat screen.

This exposes the limitations of economics as a science to describe societies. Where is the measure of the feeling among many Americans that we are no longer judged equally by our justice system? Where is the graph showing the shift from manufacturing to service jobs, and the decrease in stability of the typical American family. And most of all, show me the pie chart that describes the withering away of patriotism and pride in country, replaced by a globalist perspective that we are all just one big (not so) happy world family.