Would You Rather Be Middle Class in 2011 or Rich in 1973?
It is pretty much agreed upon that though today's money would go a lot further in 1900, giving up the scientific and technological advancements we enjoy today would not be worth taking all of our money and traveling back 100 years, even if we did have a time machine: being rich in 1900 has its limits. But what about 1973? Mother Jones's Kevin Drum points out that today's money would still be worth about five times more in 1973 and most valuable modern technologies, such as cars, planes, antibiotics, and air conditioning, would still be available. And yet: would it be worth the money to give up cell phones, computers and the internet?
Drum says no. As a member of the upper middle class, Drum doesn't think a move to the upper class would make that much of a difference in his lifestyle, but giving up computers and the internet would. He acknowledges though that, unlike 1900, transporting oneself to 1973 might actually be worthwhile for many. "If a big house in a nice location means a lot to you, and traditional entertainment (film, books, theater, etc.) could easily take the place of the internet in your life, then maybe 1973 on a big income starts to look pretty good," he writes. However, certain people would be giving up more than they would be gaining, such as working women and gays, as well sufferers of chronic depression and other disorders whose ailments have been cured or at least curbed by medicines introduced in the years since 1973. For someone currently living in poverty, however, the move to a middle class lifestyle would be the defining reason to go back nearly 40 years.
Economics professor Scott Sumner, on the other hand, writes at The Money Illusion that he would travel back to 1973 "in a heart beat."
I’d cash out my high six figure Newton home and see what was available in the Hollywood hills for that price in 1973. I’d take my low six figure income and live the life of a wealthy person in 1973. Sure, I’d miss the internet. But let’s face it, the internet is a sort of drug. Unless you are Tyler Cowen, it crowds out more authentic pleasures like books, films, music, and jet travel to exotic spots (without T&A frisking at airports), all easily done in 1973 on the sort of nominal income that now makes me merely another faceless upper-middle class professional in today’s Boston metro area.
Yes, life expectancy was lower in 1973, but some of that was smoking, and I don’t smoke. So where do I sign up for the time machine?
Writing at the Library of Economics and Liberty, Economists Bryan Caplan and Arnold King both disagree with Sumner's conclusion, arguing that the progress made between 1973 and 2011 is too "amazing" to give up.