Brad DeLong reaches way, way back into The Atlantic's archives to find an article by a pseudonymous college professor, G.H.M., pleading for higher pay for college professors. It turns out, however, that professors in 1905 made about 4 times the average GDP per worker of 1905 -- much more, in relative terms, than do college professors today. Nevertheless, the country was much poorer 100 years ago:
The professor says that his food bills average $55 year-1900 dollars a month--$660 a year, which is once again about average GDP per worker back then. enough to buy 170 pounds of veal cutlets or 500 pounds of pot roast or 1000 pounds of bread. It was hard to economize on food at the start of this century: food and fuel consume almost half of consumer expenditure for the average household in 1885, but only a fifth of consumer expenditure in 1987. G.H.M.: his food bills are roughly a quarter of his annual expenditure, while my non-restaurant food bills are less than a twelfth of mine (and I buy a lot of food at a much more advanced stage of preparation today than G.H.M. could back a century ago). Somebody spending average annual GDP per worker on pot roast today could buy not 500 pounds but instead 25,000 pounds.
Of course, I'm not sure where I'm going to store my 25,000 pounds of pot roast.
Photo by Flickr user imelda used under a Creative Commons license