Bryan Caplan  

Good Ol' Day Time Machine

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Tyler Cowen Versus My Co-Blogg... Steve Miller on Stagnation...
Tyler Cowen's critics include many who think he doesn't go far enough.  One says:

it's clear to anyone who grew up in the 50s that if we've havent stagnated, we've regressed...most in my neighborhood had large families which were able to be supported in reasonable middle class fashion by one breadwinner who worked in the factories...

almost everyone had large nearly new houses, bought a new car every couple years, had then modern applicances & furniture, and floor model TVs & stereos, etc...a few factory workers were able to afford built in swimming pools...

Another in the EconLog comments remarks:

What we can consume is only part of the equation: in '73 a median guy could have looked forward to a stable life in a stable job. No offshoring, no outsourcing and only a moderate chance of getting fired.
If you happen to agree with this viewpoint, I bring good news.  There exists a time machine to take you back to 1950.  It's called a semi-skilled job with the U.S. government.  You get a comfortable living, awesome job security, and zero worries about offshoring, outsourcing, or any other plausible disruption.

You may object that a semi-skilled government job is unchallenging and dull, with little room for advancement.  And what if you don't get along with your boss or co-workers?  Fair enough.  But in 1950, these were the kinds of complaints people were supposed to keep to themselves, and usually did.  Hey, no one said time travel was without its risks.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

An awful lot of people these days want those government jobs.

Scott Miller writes:

Excellent points.

I was thinking of median income today while on a tedious long distance drive.

One of the challenges of using median income is that people discriminate on range of wages the same as they do on prices. So how high can someone's wage really go? And this will ding the median income curve.
My Dad was a janitor and groundskeeper who made $7/hr in 1982. This is $14K per year. Despite significant growth, how high can a janitor really go? I could see a janitor being paid maybe $30K. But I can't see a janitor making $50K (at least not in the Midwest).
So, not figuring in cheaper labor or immigrant labor) there is only so high that the janitor job classification can go. The mid level is only going to go so high also. For example, a mid level manager or IT project manager probably will not break $100K, unless he is a consultant.
These numbers, $30K, $50K, 70/80K, $100K all have price discrimination baked into them. This will squash the median growth curve.

Dr. T writes:

"...almost everyone had large nearly new houses, bought a new car every couple years..."

That isn't the middle-class lifestyle I remember from the late 1950s and 1960s. A large home then was 1600 square feet. An average-sized home was 1000 square feet and had only one bathroom. Most families had a father who worked outside the home for a modest wage and a mother who slaved at laundry (almost no one had dryers, almost everything had to be ironed, and cloth diapers were a royal pain), cooking (no microwaves or TV dinners yet), and infant and child care (few families could afford the few daycare centers that existed). The typical family had a sedan or small station wagon that was reluctantly replaced every 5-10 years in the north (where salted winter roads caused terrible rusting) and every 7-15 years in the south. Lawns were mowed with manual push mowers or, in more fortunate households, a gas-powered mower. The small B&W TVs got three or four channels that during storms were more snow than picture. The big family entertainments were bowling, roller skating, and drive-in movies. In lucky families, the working Dad got two full weeks of vacation in the summer.

The only aspect of life in the 1950s and 1960s that I long for is the relative freedom that children had. Parents weren't the paranoid idiots and demanding schedulers they are today. Children could visit neighbors and bike around town unescorted. Groups of kids played ball games or tag or kick-the-can with no adult oversight. I grew up rural, and my friends and I would spend hours hiking in the woods or walking along the river without our parents thinking we were in danger from bears, drowning, or murderous perverts. Other than that, I greatly prefer living in the 2010s than in the 1950s and 1960s

Joe Kristan writes:

The commenter who was talking about the "stable" jobs in 1973 must have lived in a different 1973 than I remember. My uncle had already taken his early retirement from U.S. Steel by then, and many of the Chicago area mills were closing, never to return. Talking about 1973 as some kind of extension of the '50s is misguided nostalgia.

I've seen the claim about "a new car every couple years" before. My interpretation was that cars must worn out really fast back then.

ChrisH writes:

Bravo, sir. Bravo.

Tracy W writes:

I don't know about the job security of working for the US government. In 1973, in NZ, a job for the government was regarded as ultra-secure. In the 1980s, a lot of said government jobs were wiped out with Rogernomics, then more with Ruth Richardson's spending cuts.

Noah Yetter writes:

For example, a mid level manager or IT project manager probably will not break $100K, unless he is a consultant.

Maybe in Nebraska. In the major tech markets the positions you named at a large firm or growing startup could make twice that.

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