Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Cultural Indicator?

I love this graphic! I first showed it, going all the way back to 1929, on the old LaMarotte here. This time I’ve updated it to 2010 but show it from 1951, the year I arrived in the United States. Of course this is an economic chart, taken from that very sanctuary of money wisdom, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, keeper of the Gross Domestic Product’s holy value. Nonetheless, I view this figure as a cultural indicator although it shows disposable income per capita in constant, thus inflation-free dollars. When I arrived on these shores (in New Orleans), the figure was $9,352 per living human; at the midpoint of my stay here, in 1980, the figure had more than doubled to $18,863. And now it stands at $33,010, nearly again double the 1980 figure. Since I arrived here the measurable purchasing power per person has increased three-and-a-half-fold!

Why is this a cultural indicator rather than a kind of capitalist’s version of Amazing Grace? I don’t need to point it out to likely readers of this blog. The chart came back into my memory as I contemplated times in which stopping Social Security payments (yes, to little old me)—and payments to the politicians’ most venerated subgroup, veterans (that’s me too) is now being used as a threat to avoid the country officially falling into technical bankruptcy. Back in 1951 there was no talk like that, no “drama” in high places along these silly lines. Back then real income was less than a third what it is today. And we were then in the middle of fighting the Korean War (36,516 dead versus 6,026 dead in Iraq/Afghanistan as of June 5, 2011). World War II with staggering costs in money and lives (416,800 dead) was still a recent memory then. The feel of the times back then was so very different; indeed energy, confidence, and public courtesies were all quite high.

Is sharply climbing wealth, therefore, a reliable cultural indicator—so that its every increase signals a step down in culture? Wealth as a contrarian indicator? If that is true our economic troubles these days may signal hope for the future—albeit our leading circles have not as yet discovered that.

No comments:

Post a Comment