Falling Time Cost

June 30, 2022
Timothy Lee reports on an impressive research project. He scoured 1,566 pages of the 1980 Sears catalogue for products that continue to have contemporary analogues. For various reasons, measuring the number of labor hours required to purchase an item has advantages over alternative measures, especially in an inflationary environment (ours).
How have the real prices changed? One picture tells the story:
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Does someone have a theory to explain high chairs??
Here are a few old posts from Don Boudreaux working through the same exercise. Don catalogues the following goods:
– Manual treadmill: 1975 price was $89.99 (or 18.5 hours of work in 1975); 2013 price is $127.99 (or 6.5 hours of work today)
– adult athletic shoes: 1975 price was $9.95 (or 2.0 hours); 2013 price is $19.99 (or 1.0 hour)
– adult jeans:* 1975 price was $6.99 (or 1.4 hours); 2013 price is $19.99 (or 1.0 hour)
– television (19″ color): 1975 price was $294.95 (or 60.6 hours); 2013 price is $129.99 (or 6.6 hours)
– 30″ kitchen all-electric range/oven: 1975 price was $159.95 (or 32.8 hours); 2013 price is $369.99 (or 18.6 hours)
– frost-free refrigerator/freezer:** 1975 price was $319.95 [for 14.1 cubic feet] (or 65.7 hours); 2013 price is $404.99 [for 14.8 cubic feet] (or 20.4 hours)
– “standard size” all-electric washer/dryer combo: 1975 price was $329.90 (or 67.7 hours); 2013 price is $593.98 (or 29.9 hours)
What’s more—does anyone want to argue that the quality of treadmills or refrigerators was higher in 1975 than it is now? Though I like the time cost measure of real income, even it tends to understate progress for this reason.
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Economic progress is not automatic. It demands institutional prerequisites, which have been explained elsewhere.
For the last two hundred years, more and more societies have approximated that institutional ideal.
More reason for gratitude. Ours is a privileged time.