David R. Henderson  

Hans Rosling and the Washing Machine

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Here's a fantastic 9-minute video by Hans Rosling on how the washing machine revolutionized living standards.

A personal note: I returned on Saturday from my cottage in Minaki, Canada. My grandfather built it in 1922 when he was 67 years old. We didn't put in electric power until about 1957 or 1958. But even after we had electricity, we didn't have running water. One of my jobs was to haul a few buckets of water a day from the lake. So my mother did hand-washing all summer just as some of the women in the video do. I now use a washing machine but it's at a laundromat a few hundred yards away.

What I love about Rosling is his passion for helping really poor people do better.

HT to Patrick T. Peterson and Jeffrey Tucker.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Jon Murphy writes:

Prof. Henderson-

Kind of a silly question, but I have lived off city water all my life, so I don't know.

I assume the water you hauled from the lake was also used for drinking, as well as for washing and cooking. Was there ever a risk of catching disease from the lake water?

Brandon Berg writes:

Lake or river water can be made reasonably safe by boiling it. And filtering it through a cloth to remove larger impurities, I would assume.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Jon Murphy,
Not a silly question at all. We boiled it. Opinions about length of time to boil varied. We did a minimum of 5 minutes.
Now we still don’t get clean filtered water and so we go to Kenora every few weeks with about 4 or 5 5-gallon containers and fill them from a tap in town. You pay a small amount per gallon and so the $10 we put on a card has lasted us through 2 seasons and still has over $9 left on it.

MG writes:

I am one of those who believes that the washing machine has done all that Rosling claims, but let's get back the really interesting question(s):

Prof Henderson -- What did you all do in Winter, when the lake would have been frozen? Did you haul ice and melted it? Or break it and "scoop the water"? Also, if one breaks a lake's ice cover, can others still play ice hockey (safely) on it? Important negative externalities (certainly in Canada) may have to be considered here...

Eric Hosemann writes:

I have watched Rosling's video several times. I share it every few months, it seems. Just thinking about his enthusiasm and joy at being able to spend more time with his mother brings tears to my eyes, more so now that I am a parent myself. Rosling is a master of the poetry of economics and data interpretation, and you can see in his fervor a deep desire that all people share in the bounty of time saved through technological advance. :)

David R. Henderson writes:

@MG,
It’s a summer cottage and so we didn’t need to get water that way. Winter did enter in, though. Before we had electricity, we had an icebox. We hired guys to come in January or February and put blocks of ice in sawdust in our icehouse. When we arrived in late June, the ice was there and we used it through the summer.
@Eric Hosemann,
Beautifully put.

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