"The Way We Were"
Brad DeLong presents, and analyzes, an Atlantic Monthly article from 1905 by one "G.H.M." on what a college professor needed to make to live an acceptable, upper middle class lifestyle, here: "What Should College Professors Be Paid?". Life was very different then.
- "The overall impression to us is one of grinding poverty. And the overall feeling that G.H.M. has is of near-poverty--of being just one racing shell-length ahead of the working class, of being barely able to afford the necessities and some of the conveniences of life.
Yet according to GHM the average college professor stood in 1905 in roughly the same relative position in the distribution of income in America then as somebody in roughly the 99.5 percentile does today... "
The industrial revolution "democratized" consumption (maybe a someone can comment below and tell me who first used that term). The John Masefield poem, "Cargoes" (all three verses, here) illustrates the point. The poem contrasts ships and cargoes from different eras:
- "Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamond,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays"
This posting is based on one by Arnold Kling, here: "Income over Time".