1: Yesterday, we looked at the stunning increase in prosperity over the past 200 years. 

“The story of the growth of prosperity in human history is close to: nothing . . . nothing . . . nothing . . . (repeat for a few thousand years) . . . boom!” writes Steven Pinker in Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. 

Imagine a standard nine-inch pie pan representing Gross World Product in 1700. 

How much bigger has the pie gotten? 

“The one we have today would be more than ten feet in diameter,” 


Another perspective. Imagine our ten-foot diameter pie. “If we were to surgically carve out the teensiest slice imaginable–say, one that was two inches at its widest point–it would be the size of the entire pie in 1700.”

2: As dramatic as these comparisons are, Steven writes they are a “gross underestimate of the expansion of prosperity.”

How so? 

The only way to compare a dollar in 1800 with a dollar in 2000 is to look at how much it would cost to purchase a standard market basket of goods, including food, clothing, health care, fuel, etc. 

“The problem is that the advance of technology confounds the very idea of an unchanging market basket,” he observes. “The combination of better products and new products makes it almost impossible to track material well-being across the decades and centuries.”

For example: “An item of ‘clothing’ in 1800 might be a rain cape made of stiff, heavy, and leaky oilcloth; in 2000, it would be a zippered raincoat made of a light, breathable synthetic. 

“‘Dental care’ in 1800 meant pliers and wooden dentures;” he writes. “In 2000 it meant Novocain and implants.”

3: So, the quality of the goods in our basket has improved dramatically over time. But not only does technology make products better, it also creates new ones. 

Exhibit one: “How much did it cost in 1800 to purchase a refrigerator, a musical recording, a bicycle, a cell phone, Wikipedia, a photo of your child, a laptop and printer, a contraceptive pill, a dose of antibiotics?” Steven asks.

The answer? “No amount of money in the world,” he surmises. 

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Given the shocking increase in prosperity over the past 200 years, what is possible 200 years from now?

Action: Share this data with my family and friends! These are not the worst of times. Far from it.

What did you think of this post?

Write A Comment