Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Importance of Economic Growth – from an Historical Perspective

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, was published in 1895. In this novella, a scientist builds a machine that allows him to travel into the past or future. If you could travel back to the end of the 19th century, would you do it? Would you prefer to live in the United States in 1900 rather than now? Consider the following facts about the U.S. in 1900:

U.S. Standard of Living in 1900

· The average life expectancy in the United States was forty-seven.
· Only 14 percent of the homes in the Unites States had a bathtub.
· Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
· The average wage in the U.S. was twenty-two cents per hour. The average U.S. worker earned between $200 and $400 per year.
· A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist $2500 per year, a veterinarian between $1500 and $4000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5000 per year.
· There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S. and only 144 miles of paved roads.
· The maximum speed limit in most cities was ten miles per hour.
· Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million residents, California was only the twenty-first most populous state in the Union.
· The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
· More than 95 percent of all births in the United States took place at home.
· Ninety percent of all U.S. physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as “substandard.”
· Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee cost fifteen cents a pound.
· Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
· Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering the country for any reason, either as travelers or immigrants.
· The five leading causes of death in the U.S. were:
1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke
· The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska had not been admitted to the Union yet.
· Drive-by shootings – in which teenage boys galloped down the street on horses and randomly shot at houses, carriages, or anything else that caught their fancy – were an ongoing problem in Denver and other cities in the West.
· The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was thirty. The remote desert community was inhabited by only a handful of ranchers and their families.
· Plutonium, insulin, and antibiotics had not been discovered yet. Scotch tape, crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea had not been invented yet.
· There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
· One in ten U.S. adults could not read or write. Only six percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
· Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were available over the counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”
· Coca-Cola contained cocaine instead of caffeine.
· Punch card data processing had recently been developed, and early predecessors of the modern computer were used for the first time by the government to help compile the 1900 census.
· Eighteen percent of households in the United States had at least one full-time servant or domestic.
· There were about 230 reported murders in the U.S. annually.
Source: When My Grandmother Was a Child by Leigh W. Rutledge

Most people would prefer to live in the present day. Life in 1900 was extremely hard. This point was vividly illustrated in a PBS television series entitled The 1900 House. PBS describes the series as:
a new four-part documentary that "transports" an actual modern family from 1999 back to life in 1900. Public television viewers will have the chance to vicariously experience a time-travel journey back to everyday, middle-class life in Victorian London. The adventurous Bowler Family spent three months living in a townhouse carefully restored to reproduce the ambiance and amenities of the turn of the century. As a result, THE 1900 HOUSE explores the radical changes in family and domestic life that have occurred over the past 100 years through scientific and technological innovations.
Economic growth generally creates an improved standard of living over time. Most people have more material possessions than their grandparents (or even their parents) had at their same age.

Economic Growth - Topics


  1. World war one and two were in part caused by economic issues.

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