Reason Foundation

Reason Foundation

What a great time to be poor

Ted Balaker
March 8, 2005, 4:30pm

Lots of people get hung up on wages and income. Are they going up, down, stagnating? Those things are important but often the big picture gets missed. After all, we don't want higher incomes for their own sake. We want to be able to buy more stuff (food, health care, cars, vacations, video games, etc.). As long as we have this stuff, who really cares how many zeros our paycheck has? A while back a great book called Myths of Rich and Poor picked up on the optimistic spirit of Julian Simon and explained that things are indeed getting better. And they're getting better for the poor, too. Today's poor enjoy all sort of things, from medical care to luxuries like television, air conditioning, and ice (can you imagine how hard it was to get ice before refrigeration?) that weren't available even to kings in centuries gone by. And, in terms of material conditions, America's poor compare very favorably to the middle class in much of Europe. (See also this study from Sweden's Timbro.) This Ron Bailey article picks up the discussion: How ironic that those who champion the efficiency seeking innovations that lower prices and improve living standards are often regarded as heartless. It's true that those folks might not be motivated by compassion in the conventional sense, but the end result seems pretty compassionate.

Ted Balaker is Producer

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