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Ed Driscoll

iFountainhead

January 31st, 2014 - 12:27 am

Or, Capitalism: The Unknown iPhone App:

The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach. But America’s skyscrapers were not built by public funds nor for a public purpose: they were built by the energy, initiative and wealth of private individuals for personal profit. And, instead of impoverishing the people, these skyscrapers, as they rose higher and higher, kept raising the people’s standard of living—including the inhabitants of the slums, who lead a life of luxury compared to the life of an ancient Egyptian slave or of a modern Soviet Socialist worker.

Such is the difference—both in theory and practice—between capitalism and socialism. It is impossible to compute the human suffering, degradation, deprivation and horror that went to pay for a single, much-touted skyscraper of Moscow, or for the Soviet factories or mines or dams, or for any part of their loot-and-blood-supported “industrialization.”

What we do know, however, is that forty-five years is a long time: it is the span of two generations; we do know that, in the name of a promised abundance, two generations of human beings have lived and died in subhuman poverty; and we do know that today’s advocates of socialism are not deterred by a fact of this kind.

Whatever motive they might assert, benevolence is one they have long since lost the right to claim.

—Ayn Rand, December of 1962, as reprinted in her anthology, The Virtue of Selfishness.

As scholar James Q. Wilson has stated, “The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.” In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or a PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.

The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average European. The typical poor American family was also able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the typical family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.

Poor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable TV bill as well as to put food on the table. Their living standards are far different from the images of dire deprivation promoted by activists and the mainstream media.

“Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?”, Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, the Heritage Foundation, July, 2011.

Buffalo (NY) journalist and historian Steve Cichon has an article on the Trending Buffalo website (“Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone“) featuring a full-page Radio Shack ad from the Buffalo News on February 16, 1991 (see graphic above). Of the 15 electronics products featured in the Radio Shack ad, 13 of them can now be replaced with a $200 iPhone according to Steve’s analysis. The 13 Radio Shack items in the ad (all-weather personal stereo, AM/FM clock radio, headphones, calculator, computer, camcorder, cell phone, regular phone, CD player, CB radio, scanner, phone answering machine, and cassette recorder) would have cost a total of $3,055 in 1991, which is equivalent in today’s dollars to $5,225. Versus only $200 for an iPhone 5S.

In hours worked at the average wage, the 13 electronics items in 1991 would have had a “time cost” of 290.4 hours of work at the average hourly wage then of $10.52 (or 7.25 weeks or 36.3 days). Today, the $200 iPhone would have a “time cost” of fewer than 10 hours (9.82) of work at the average hourly wage today of $20.35, and just one day of work, plus a few extra hours.

MP: When you consider that an iPhone can fit in your pocket and has many apps and features that were either not available in 1991 (GPS, text messaging, Internet access, mobile access to movies, more than 900,000 apps, iCloud access, etc.) or not listed in the 1991 Radio Shack ad (camera, photo-editing), it’s amazing how much progress we’ve made in just several decades, and how affordable electronic productions have become.

“1991 Radio Shack ad: 13 electronic products for $5k (and 290 hrs. work) can now be replaced with a $200 iPhone (10 hrs.),” Mark Perry, the American Enterprise Institute, yesterday.

(Via Maggie’s Farm.)

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"The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach. . . "

From the NJ turnpike (I-95) the NYC skyline looks like an ant heap, or termite mounds filled with millions of little termites eating wood and turning the cellulose into more termites.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
I suppose it should be noted that Rand was making her comment just as the Port of New York Authority was finalizing its purchase of Hudson Terminal, the private twin towers venture by businessman (and eventual failed presidential candidate) William McAdoo, in order to tear them down and build was was in essence a monument to themselves and the politicians of New York and New Jersey, the World Trade Center -- i.e. they didn't have to try and make them the tallest buildings in the world at the time, but they did, even though it took nearly two decades after their completion to achieve anything close to full occupancy.

The Empire State also had early occupancy problems, but unlike it or New York's other famous skyscrapers, the TwinTowers weren't built by private capital but by public tax dollars, bridge tolls and shipping fees. And while virtually everyone post-9/11 agreed that something eye-catching had to be put up in their place, the spectacular cost overruns of the new WTC -- especially the $4 billion PATH subway entrance -- once again shows less the engine of the free market than what self-aggrandizing monuments can be built with Other People's Money.
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