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Jason Holliston
Friday, July 16, 2004  
The Sky is Falling!
I meant to post this yesterday, but alas, I never found the time to sit down and bang this out. linked to a column by Arnold Kling at Tech Central Station that caught my eye: "Who Much Worse Off Are We?" It's essentially a statistical proof that the middle class isn't disappearing, and the poor aren't getting poorer.
I've said so much before to friends, in my slightly drunk rants, that damn things are good here in America and now in the modern age. We're a lucky folk -- those of us living in 2004 in first-world countries around the globe. But especially America, because even given all our faults, we still are the bleeding edge of economic prosperity handed down to the common man.
Among other interesting statistics (which you should read yourself, since I'm not copying and pasting statistics tables into this post -- HTML nightmare!), he shows that middle-classy necessities from the 1970's are now common place, even among the poor. These include telephones, indoor plumbing, refrigerators, stoves, color televisions, and vehicles. People forget that at one point in America -- a whole 30 years ago -- these items weren't incredibly commonplace. An example: in 1970, 17% of households didn't have a refrigerator -- now only 0.1% don't. Also, luxury items are now common throughout American's poor households, covering items like dishwashers, washers and dryers, cell phones, large screen televisions, and microwave ovens.
So, in America 2004, what does being poor truly mean? A hundred years ago, it meant those people that had to fight, day-to-day, to afford basic necessities, such as food, shelter, and clothes. Fifty years ago, it mean those people that didn't have much else other than basic necessities -- they worked hard, long days, had few hours of idle time, and certainly didn't have the concept of "retirement". They didn't starve to death or die from exposure, however. Now, I'd argue that the poor are those people that do not have the finer luxuries in life, such as moderately expensive vacations,  reliable cars, regular dining out, and assurances that they'll retire well-off before social security kicks in. Is that truly poor? I'd argue that it's not.
There are always exceptions to the rule, and there certainly is in this case. But I'd also argue that most of the "poor" in this country are just starting out, have serious disadvantages of some sort, incredibly unlucky, or just plain uninterested in moving toward a more affluent life. President Johnson's "War on Poverty", I'd argue, has been largely won in America, and it was done, for the most part, completely independent of government programs. The engines of creativity, technological advancement, and capitalism were what won that war. 

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