100 years ago only the very richest people had servants – today even the poor have servants

I have discussed Russell Roberts’ book, The Price of Everything, here, here, and here.  At one point in the book, he suggests that today even poor people have servants.

As a way of measuring increasing standard of living in the last hundred years, the main character in his book compares a rich guy served dinner by a waiter today to a rich guy 100 years ago served dinner by a servant.

As a starting point, consider one of Prof. Roberts’ comparisons:  the rich guy back then had an expensive, fancy watch while the servant had no watch.  Today, the rich guy has an exquisitely expensive, fancy watch, while the waiter has an inexpensive digital watch. 

Which do you suppose keeps better time and requires less maintenance?

A comparison of then and now points out that 100 years ago

..rich people rode in carriages and poor people walked. Rich people then had nice clothes and poor people dressed in cruder clothing made of coarser fabric. Rich people ate plenty and poor people often went hungry. Rich people had servants while poor people used washboards to keep their meager wardrobe clean and spent hours each day making meals.

Comfortable versus coarse cloth.  Hire someone to do your wash or spent hours at a washboard.  Eat nice or go hungry.  Extremes. Which has changed most in the last 100 years?

The monologue says today poor people have servants.

Servants?  Poor people have servants?  How can that possibly be?

The monologue continues:

Today, almost 2/3 of the poor families in America have washing machines. Over half have dryers.  A third have a dishwasher. These machines are servants, aren’t they? And they’re usually more reliable than the old-fashioned kind.

What would you consider a gas stove, refrigerator, microwave, furnace, vacuum cleaner or electric fan?  How about calling them servants?

Yes, the richest people in this country have gone from extremely rich to astoundingly rich in the last century.  Fine. 

Far more importantly, the middle-class and poor have gone from something I wouldn’t want for myself to a standard of living unimaginable to even the filthy rich of 100 years ago.

I’m thrilled that today the poor don’t still have coarse cloth for clothing and have to clean clothes on a washboard.  That is progress.

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