Having bestowed the presidency on a candidate who described their country as a “hellhole
” besieged by multitudes trying to get into it, Americans need an antidote for social hypochondria. Fortunately, one has arrived from Don Boudreaux, an economist at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center and proprietor of the indispensable blog Cafe Hayek
He has good news
: You are as rich as John D. Rockefeller. Richer, actually.
Boudreaux says that if you had Rockefeller’s riches back then, you could have had a palatial home on Fifth Avenue, another overlooking the Pacific, and a private island if you wished. Of course, going to and from the coasts in your private but un-air-conditioned railroad car would be time-consuming and less than pleasant. And communicating with someone on the other coast would be a sluggish chore.
> It was not until into the 1960’s that most Americans would have had air conditioning to >drive across the country in their private cars.
Commercial radio did not arrive until 1920, and 1916 phonographs would lacerate 2017 sensibilities, as would 1916’s silent movies. If in 1916 you wanted Thai curry, chicken vindaloo or Vietnamese pho, you could go to the phone hanging on your wall and ask the operator (direct dialing began in the 1920s) to connect you to restaurants serving those dishes. The fact that there were no such restaurants would not bother you because in 1916 you had never heard of those dishes, so you would not know what you were missing.
>The average American in 1916 would have rarely gone out for dinner. Wives and mothers >still cooked wonderful homemade meals, likely with fresh baked bread and pies. This was >better than your best restaurants of our day.
If in 1916 you suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, a sexually transmitted disease or innumerable other ailments treatable in 2017, you also would not know that you were missing antibiotics and the rest of modern pharmacology. And don’t even think about getting a 1916 toothache. You can afford state-of-the-art 1916 dentures — and probably will need them. Your arthritic hips and knees? Hobble along until you cannot hobble any more, then buy a wheelchair. Birth control in 1916 will be primitive, unreliable and not conducive to pleasure.
>If you suffered from depression, which would have been called melancholy in 1916, you >would have likely been advised to, “Snap out of it,” and most would have. Bipolar disorder >was not a term in usage. One would have more likely been considered eccentric. >Respectable people waited for marriage to have sex in 1916 and then they still wanted to >have large families. Granted dental care is much improved.
You could enjoy a smattering of early jazz, but rock-and-roll is decades distant, and Netflix and Google even more so. Your pastimes would be limited, but you could measure the passage of time on the finest Swiss watch. It, however, would be less accurate than today’s Timex or smartphone.
>People had better taste for music in 1916. Rock n Roll would have been considered to be >noise from the jungle. In 1916, we had the “National Pastime,” Baseball. George Will >would have been happy because Wrigley Field, then known as Weegham Park, was opened >in 1916. The swiss watches were accurate enough, men were proud to have one.
As a 1916 billionaire, you would be materially worse off than a 2017 middle-class American; an unhealthy 1916 billionaire would be much worse off than an unhealthy 2017 American of any means. Intellectually, your 1916 range of cultural choices would be paltry compared with today’s. And your moral tranquility might be disturbed by the contrast between your billionaire’s life and that of the normal American.
>Then the home was a place for culture, likely with a piano as the centerpiece and someone >in your family probably knew how to play it well. People read books by great American >authors like Hawthorne and Mark Twain and, yes, they read the Bible, which is the >foundation book of cultured living.
Last year, a Bureau of Labor Statistics paper described
the life of workers in 1915. More than half (52.4 percent) of the 100 million Americans were younger than 25, life expectancy at birth was 54.5 years (today, 78.8) and less than 5 percent of Americans were 65 or older. One in 10 babies died in the first year of life (today, 1 in 168). A large majority of births were not in hospitals (today, less than 1 percent).
>John D. Rockefeller did just fine without modern medicine; he lived a long healthy life, >dying at the ripe old age of 97.
>Few people today come close to reaching that age. When we figure that more than a >million babies are annually murdered in the womb by their mothers, we may be worse off >today. Certainly, we are morally worse. My wife gave birth to our last two in our home by >choice and we thought we got better care from the mid-wife than the doctors who assisted >in the birth of the previous three.
In 1915, only about 14 percent of people ages 14 to 17 were in high school, an estimated 18 percent age 25 and older had completed high school, and nearly 75 percent of women working in factories had left school before eighth grade. There were 4 renters for every homeowner, partly because mortgages (usually for just five to seven years) required down payments of 40 to 50 percent of the purchase price.
>An eight-grade education in 1916 was better than a high school education a hundred years >later. Women were mostly still at home serving their husbands and children in 1916. Back >then, many people still gradually built their own homes, adding on as the family increased >in size. Homes were more likely to be passed down through the generations.
Less than one-third of homes had electric lights. Small electric motors — the first Hoover vacuum cleaner appeared in 1915 — were not yet lightening housework. Iceboxes, which were the norm until after World War II, were all that 1915 had: General Motors’ Frigidaire debuted in 1918.
>Oh my, they did not even have microwaves! How did they ever survive?
So, thank Boudreaux for making you think about this: How large would your net worth have to be to get you to swap the life you are living in “hellhole” America for what that money could buy in 1916?
>We are all thankful for advancement in technology and the material improvements of >modern life. But are folks really better of then when the home was still intact and the >church was the center social life? Aren’t we better off with President Donald J. Trump than >the “progressive” Woodrow Wilson? He was reelected in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out >of war.” Within in a year, he was shipping our doughboys to Europe to fight WW I.