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Common Folk Live Better Now than Royalty Did in Earlier Times

December 23, 2014 in Economics

By Richard W. Rahn


Richard W. Rahn

As we go into this Christmas week, you should count your blessings that you live in 2014. Would you prefer to live as the French King Louis XIV did (1643-1715), or as you do today? The average low-income American, who makes $25,000 per year, lives in a home that has air conditioning, a color TV and a dishwasher, owns an automobile, and eats more calories than he should from an immense variety of food.

Louis XIV lived in constant fear of dying from smallpox and many other diseases that are now cured quickly by antibiotics. His palace at Versailles had 700 rooms but no bathrooms (hence he rarely bathed), and no central heating or air conditioning. One hundred years ago, John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world. He did have bathrooms but still no air conditioning. Like Louis, he and his family were still in constant danger of dying from what would now be quickly treatable aliments or accidents. Rockefeller could travel by train or steamship, or very short distances by the newly invented automobile on largely dirt roads — luxuries not available to Louis XIV.

Louis and Rockefeller had many servants to gather and prepare food for them, but they could not get fresh food out of season and had a tiny choice of food compared with anyone who has access to a modern supermarket, where one is increasingly able to purchase prepared meals of far higher quality and variety than anything Louis or Rockefeller could obtain.

As we go into this Christmas week, you should count your blessings that you live in 2014.”

My Cato colleague Marian Tupy has created a website, HumanProgress.org, which graphically details the enormous progress humans have made on nearly all fronts. People in the world live far better today than they did a mere half-century ago. World per-capita gross domestic product is now a little more than $14,000 per year, a little less than where the United States was in 1960 or where the Japanese and United Kingdom were in the mid-1970s (inflation adjusted). In October, the World Bank reported that those living in extreme poverty fell from 36 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2011.

Incomes in the United States, Japan, France and many other developed countries have been rising at slower rates for the past several years, primarily because of the growth of government regulation, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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