What we currently call the poverty line is so high that only the top 6 percent or 7 percent of the people who were alive in 1900 would be above it. That, by the way, is also true when you compare us to other developed countries.
England is a rich country but we are 50 percent richer, and we do things that seem wasteful to the English. My wife came down with pneumonia in 2001 in London. She was treated at one of the city’s top hospitals, Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, which is directly across from Parliament. Everything there was in wards, whereas in the United States rooms are typically private or semi-private. Americans today are used to having a phone beside their bed and 40 channels of television to watch while they are recuperating from an illness. That is unusual, even in other rich countries. Also, the way the diagnosis of her ailment was conducted was different from the typical procedure used in the United States. The doctors and nurses were very good but they never X-rayed her. They just listened to her lungs and came to the conclusion that she had pneumonia. If she had been in the United States, the doctors typically would have X-rayed her as a precautionary measure. So we make all sorts of investments that the British are not willing to make.