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The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute

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Discussion: (89 comments)

  1. I agree with one exception: not too many years ago, you could buy a major appliance and reasonably expect it not to break for many years, ten or even twenty. But even though I buy what are supposed to be high-quality appliances, every one I’ve bought in the last 10-15 years has broken down in a major way with 5 years, and many within one year.

    Cars, in contrast, seem to be getting incredibly reliable. My 2007 Toyota never, ever breaks down.

    1. I rarely have problems with major appliances not lasting. In fact items like TVs last longer and no longer need twice a year maintenance. Remember in the 70s every mall had a TV repair place.

      What doesn’t last as long are kid toys. Bit then I find that an advantage. Kid bikes that are really cheap but last only 3 years are perfect. Don’t want to pay 4x as much and deal with hand me downs and hope the grandchild will still want it.

      1. Yes, TVs last very well. I’ve had bad trouble, though, with dishwashers, refrigerators, washers, and dryers, whereas I can’t remember a single time when I was growing up that our family’s appliances of this type ever broke down. I don’t just mean something in the complicated new computerized brains, either, but washer drums and dryer drums physically breaking. That used to be practically unheard of. They’re trying to shave down the thickness of the metal everywhere.

        I’m old enough to remember having to replace vacuum tubes in the TV every week or so.

        1. You must just be unlucky or are purposely buying low end equipment. My washer and Dryer are 10 years old with no repairs in my rental home. Dishwasher same. Fridge is 18 years old. My problem is I wish some of these appliances would die, because then I would have excuses to buy new ones. Even my cars are 12 and 13 years old, last car was 16 years old.

          I think part of the problem is that folks don’t remember having to have someone come in and repair the item every few years. And today, instead of repairing, many of us just by new. For example in my new home – we used the washer from the previous owner – it was about 10 years old and the electric control board broke. About a $100 repair – I ended up getting a new HE top loader with twice the load capacity for $350 – don’t think it was worth repairing the old one and it is going 3 years without issue.

          Seriously the only things that seem to break more are things for the kids – but then I tend to buy cheaper anyway, and know the item will not last as long. An example. I have a backpack from college – it is now 27 year old and still works great. Most backpacks I buy for my kids only last about 2 years – but then
          1: Kid backpacks are about 12 bucks – the one I got was about equivalent of $60 today
          2: The kids’ tastes change. My hypothetical college age daughter certainly wouldn’t want to have the same Dora The Explorer backpack from kindergarten, so why pay $60 for it to last long?

          I already mentioned the bicycles. We made the mistake of purchasing an expensive “rugged” bike once. It was a waste of money.

          1. I assure you I’m not buying the cheapest models out there. I’ve been so concerned about the breakage problem that I’m highly motivated to buy the best on the market, if only I could identify what that is. And obviously I do the repair rather than discard the appliance, unless it’s such a major repair that it doesn’t make sense. If a washer needs repair three times in the first four years, for instance, and then its drum breaks, for Heaven’s sake, it makes more sense to ditch it and buy another brand, hoping the brand is the problem.

            In my childhood home we very rarely had repairmen in; my father did the repairs. I believe I would remember if he had been constantly having to take apart the washer, the dryer, or the dishwasher, especially as I would have helped. I’m quite certain I’m remembering correctly that in the 18 years I lived in my previous house, I never had more than a couple of repairs done on the washer, dryer, and dishwasher combined. Then I built this house in 2006 and bought all new appliances, and suddenly there’s something breaking down every few months.

            Anyway, I would love to hear from anyone here about brands they’ve bought in the last ten years that have given reliable service. I’m looking for the Toyota of appliances.

        2. I haven’t had problems with my appliances breaking down. I had to replace the fan in the fridge at 10 years. But it’s now 13 years old.

          But I look up Consumer Reports before buying any major appliance. It means my appliances aren’t high end by any means – Kenmore, GE. But they last!

    2. Jon Murphy

      I hear this a lot. I wonder, however, if it’s just gotten to the point where we don’t need appliances to last as long. That we are so wealthy, we can just toss what breaks rather than repair it.

      I have no evidence whatsoever to support this. It’s a thought and nothing more.

      1. Don’t know about you, but I do need my major appliances to last! If I could figure out what brands to buy to prevent their constantly breaking down, I’d buy them. And I do repair them, not replace them, if I possibly can. Nevertheless, even though I pump repairmen and everyone else for information all the time, the best I can figure is that the brands that used to have a reputation for not breaking have now lost that reputation, and no super-reliable brands have replaced them. Is there a Viking of washing machines, for instance? Not that I can find.

        I hope it’s a phase, like the horrible U.S. cars of the 80s, and that eventually the market will shake out and there will be appliances for sale that are reliable again.

      2. 1: to some extent I think you are right – we get tired of the old equipement sooner and just replace it.

        2: I expect about 10 years from durable goods – and have been getting much more – I am not experiencing a short lived problem. Texan99 is just unlucky or is availing himself of the really low end items and then complaining even though he knows they aren’t designed for long life.

        1. Perhaps I am unlucky. I’m not buying low-end items. Is Bosch low-end? I usually consult Consumer Report and other online sources and opt for whatever gets the best ratings for performance and reliability, not for price.

          I do have a Viking stove. It hasn’t broken.

          1. Unfortunately Conumer reports is a political magazine. It is hard to trust their reviews completely. For instance do the even review standard clothe washers any more – you can get a good one for $300 – nope they only review the really expensive Eco models – and don’t even consider that most Americans won’t save enough with the Eco model to cover the cost differential over ten years.

            You should look up on YouTube what they did to the Suzuki samurai. It was the car with the best handling in the initial tests but wanted it to roll so they changed the course, just for the one car, by making the turns much tighter and increased the speed and it still took 20 tries.

            They didn’t care about truth and ended up destroying a car company. They blatently hint in their magazine that they are grossly biased – with full spears about the wonders of Obama care – and how proud they are for funding the lobbying and how they scuttled the ATT/TMobile merger and how they fought for water saving appliances which destroyed the clothe washing ratings and how they lobbied against banks, etc. This was all in my 2013 subscription that I got as a gift.

            There are much better places to look online for reviews of items.

          2. morganovich

            texan-

            fwiw, yes, bosch is really badly made.

            i have had problems with every single bosch product i have owned in the last decade and will never, ever, buy another.

            they were once a quality brand, but they make awful stuff now. they are living off old rep and rigged tests.

            i have had great luck with sub zero, viking, wolf, miele (best dishwasher made IMHO), and LG.

          3. I’m surprised to hear you say good things about LG, as they made my lemon clothes washer and dryer (bought in 2006). We had a Bosch in our old house that gave great service for many years, a nice heavy-duty metal tub and very quiet, but I was really disappointed in the one we bought here in 2006.

          4. Marque

            You should look up on YouTube what they did to the Suzuki samurai. It was the car with the best handling in the initial tests but wanted it to roll so they changed the course, just for the one car, by making the turns much tighter and increased the speed and it still took 20 tries.

            They didn’t care about truth and ended up destroying a car company.

            What are you talking about? Suzuki was – and is – a multinational automotive company, with 2012 revenue of $26 billion. The company makes cars (almost 3 million in 2012), motorcycles, engines, ATVs, and outboard motors. Several small, jeep-like models sold worldwide are similar to the Samurai which was sold in the US from 1985 to 1995, at which time Suzuki pulled it from the North American market.

            In 1988 Consumer Reports correctly noted the Samurai had problems with high speed obstacle avoidance maneuvers, and tended to roll over. Objectively, any light weight vehicle with a relatively square wheelbase and high center of gravity would have a problem under these conditions.

            Based on an internal memo, Suzuki knew there was a problem, and eventually admitted to knowing of 213 deaths and 8200 injuries resulting from rollovers, and settled 200 lawsuits.

            It’s not my objective to defend Consumer Reports, which I agree has a leftist viewpoint, but to correct your erroneous claim that “They didn’t care about truth and ended up destroying a car company.”

            Get your story straight.

            I guess the lesson here is that no vehicle will do it all. If you are mostly interested in good performance in rough, off road terrain, buy a Samurai or some other jeep-like vehicle. If you’re mostly interested in good handling at high speeds, buy an Aston Martin Vanquish.

          5. morganovich

            texan-

            i bought an LG washer/dryer in 2011 and have had a good experience with them so far.

            they were as highly rated as anyhting out there and i asked the appliance repair guy who came to work on my bosch what he recommended and he said LG.

            that’s really my only LG experience and so my overall info there is limited.

            bosch used to make good products, but anything less that 10-15 years old is junk. they are just living off their old reputation.

            when i moved into my new house (2011), it had 3 dishwashers all of different brands, so i actually got to do quite a DW shootout and the newest of them (maybe 2 years old) was a bosch that did a crummy job and that i ripped out when it leaked. a 10 year old Frigidaire was way better.

            i put in a miele which is amazing and has been flawless.

            it’s also so quiet you can’t even tell if it’s on 90% of the time. it’s a great product, but they are not cheap.

            i also had a bad experience with a bosch w/d back in SF (and was thrilled to leave it behind when i moved, it just flat out did not get clothes clean) and had 2 of their microwaves die in a year. i will never buy from them again.

            regarding other appliance failure (and as someone else mentioned) i think part of the issue is this: appliances have not gotten as much cheaper as it looks on paper as there is now a much lower low end of entry level offerings that used to not exist.

            my grandmother’s blender looked like it was made by studbaker and could crush gravel 12 hours a day for 50 years and not miss a beat. (and my cousin still has it, it’s going to outlive us all)

            you can still buy a blender like that.

            they just cost $200-500.

            when one buys a $30 blender at bed bath and beyond, it’s a disposable product that is in a category that simply did not exist in the 50’s.

            even within a brand, there can be very wide ranges. lots of once high end brands now have quite low end offerings as well and they often overspend on cosmetics and skimp on the guts.

            it’s a much more complex market.

          6. Sounds like it’s a confused market. If consumers can’t get accurate signals about which products are robust and reliable, the manufacturers are going to have trouble commanding premium prices in the long run. I always buy products that have a reputation for sturdiness, including “heavy duty” designations if I can get some confirmation that this means anything, such as steel interiors for dishwashers. But having the drums break on both the LG washer and dryer (both “heavy duty”) after only 4-5 years of use in a two-person household makes me wonder.

            But as I said, I hope it’s like the 80’s with crummy American cars, and that some appliance manufacturer will develop a well-deserved reputation for excellence for which it can charge a premium.

          7. morganovich

            “Sounds like it’s a confused market. If consumers can’t get accurate signals about which products are robust and reliable, the manufacturers are going to have trouble commanding premium prices in the long run”

            well, or those few companies that can accurately convey such a signal will gain share and command premium prices.

            i’m not sure it’s “confused”.

            there is certainly a great deal of misinformation and reading between the lines that needs to be pursued, but the facts still seem pretty accessible.

            personally, i put little faith in any sort of magazine that relies on the brands to give them products to test. the audiophile and automotive press are bought and paid for. they gush about everyhting.

            the internet has also massively widened the number of ways one can get info, but it has also widened the number of ways brands can game that, attack rivals, pump their own stuff, etc.

            yelp has become all but useless.

            online reputation and rating markets are starting to fail. the good news, is that this creates HUGE incentive for the gen 3.0 models in this space to evolve where reputation accumulated, backchains, and people are held accountable for bad calls and wield more clout for making many good ones.

            we’re at sort of an awkward time right now where the old model is coming unglued and there is no clear new path yet, but the incentive to create one rises by the day, so i have faith in the innovation of it.

            for the moment, the best advice on appliances comes from appliance repair folks, in my experience.

            they know whose stuff they keep having to fix.

            it is well worth picking their brain the next time you have one handy.

            alternately, lots of such folks will just tell you if you call.

            just this weekend, i called competitivecyclist to ask about dropper seat posts for my mountain bike. the brand i was considering got some rave reviews from bike mags, but was ranked badly by CC users. they are the biggest online seller of bike stuff in the US, so they see a ton of volume and know what gets returned. they said they had nothing but trouble with the brand i was considering (though they do sell it and it’s among their most expensive) and then pointed me at some other options.

            i think doing a little research like that before buying things tends to really pay off.

          8. “we’re at sort of an awkward time right now where the old model is coming unglued and there is no clear new path yet,”–sounds just like a “confused” market to me.

            As I mentioned before, I’ve picked the brain of every repairman I can find, as well as every contractor and friend and anyone else available. No one seems to have any idea what brands are reliable any more. The repairmen say they hear this complaint all the time, but the brands they used to think were reliable have been taken over by new owners, and the new ones aren’t the same. Meanwhile, the new brands haven’t yet got a track record.

            I suspect a lot of manufacturers are still struggling with how to combine energy and water efficiency with sturdiness. I hope in a few years they’ll have a better grip on it.

            Meanwhile, my mother-in-law’s 60-year-old frig is still working like a charm, as is her 35-year-old dishwater and very, very old washer and dryer.

          9. morganovich

            “As I mentioned before, I’ve picked the brain of every repairman I can find, as well as every contractor and friend and anyone else available. No one seems to have any idea what brands are reliable any more”

            huh.

            i’m not sure what to tell you on that. when i moved from a city condo to a house in the mountains in 2011, i did a lot of shopping for appliances and asked a number of people what they liked and what worked and seem to have gotten very good advice.

            i have had no trouble with anything i bought.

            though i do have some serious complaints about some of the new products and laws around them.

            the regulations for toilets and showerheads are just beyond annoying.

            showerheads you can either illegally import or you can generally take the regulators out, but the low flow toilets just suck.

            i am really not a fan of this whole trend toward appliance that use water not using water. having it as an option, fine, but as a requirement, it’s beyond aggravating.

          10. Texan99

            Reading this entire thread, I can only conclude that you have managed to build your new house on a sacred burial ground, and are now suffering the karmic consequences. :)

            One thing to consider when shopping for appliances is the length of the warranty. Not extended warranties, but the basic factory warranty. The longer a company is willing to spend money if their product breaks, the more reliable It’s likely to be, in my experience.

            I echo morganovich’s observation that LG makes some good products. LG is one of the relatively few actual manufacturers of consumer electronics and home appliances. LG makes products for many retailers. I have a Kenmore washer and 2 VIZIO TVs that are made by LG. I’m happy with the quality and reliability of all of them.

            Samsung appears to be another highly rated manufacturer these days. My limited experience is 3 phones and a tablet which have all performed flawlessly.

            Good luck getting that curse lifted.

          11. morganovich

            the regulations for toilets and showerheads are just beyond annoying.

            I couldn’t agree more. Those regulations can only be politically motivated.

            First of all, fresh water is a renewable resource, which nature supplies in greater quantity than humans will ever be able to use. The only problem is that it isn’t always naturally available where it’s needed in the quantities desired. But then, neither is gasoline, but somehow we are supplied with gasoline pretty much everywhere we want it to be. As with gasoline, the water availability problem is logistic, supply and demand, easily solved by market forces.

            Then we should consider that household water use is only a tiny fraction of industrial and agricultural uses. If there really were some reason to conserve water, those might be the places to look first, instead of in my bathroom.

            The price signal, if allowed to operate, would allocate water much more efficiently than my toilet can ever hope to do.

        2. Hmm, Suzuki automotive USA, is completely shut down in the USA, except for the division still handling the remaining lawsuits brought on by the Consumer Reports article. You mean to call it a shutdown consumer reports would have had to destroy the companie’s Japanese market as well?

          Wow Ron – when is it enough for you?

          1. marque

            Your ignorance of multinational companies, and your poor reading comprehension are showing.

            A simple trip to Wickipedia would show you the following:

            “In 2011, Suzuki was the tenth biggest automaker by production worldwide.[7] Suzuki employs over 45,000 and has 35 main production facilities in 23 countries and 133 distributors in 192 countries. According to statistics from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), Suzuki is Japan’s second-largest manufacturer of small cars and trucks.”

            This is not a company that has been destroyed. They pulled Samurai from the US market in 1995 and ceased all sales of cars and light trucks in 2012. Do you think a Consumer Report campaign in 1988 finally bore fruit 26 years later?

            Consumer Reports didn’t invent these problems with Samurais rolling over, when they tested the vehicles, they found a problem that was already known, and they publicized it.

            Do you think they had some secret agenda to destroy Suzuki?

            Get a grip, man.

            By the way, other Suzuki businesses in the US are doing fine.

          2. marque

            Hmm, Suzuki automotive USA, is completely shut down in the USA, except for the division still handling the remaining lawsuits brought on by the Consumer Reports article.

            Just to be clear, you should mention that those lawsuits were brought by victims, and survivors of victims, who were injured or killed in rollover accidents involving Suzuki Samurais. No one is suing because they read a Consumer Reports article.

            One more time – Consumer Reports didn’t create these rollover problems, they were inherent in the design of the Samurai before and after the Consumer Reports article.

            Is it your view that CR should have ignored their findings, in order to promote additional Samurai sales by failing to alert consumers of a potential risk of injury or death?

          3. The Suzuki samurai never had a roll over problem. They publicized it and the bad publicity Alon with extra lawsuits due to perception caused the company to abandon the US market 7 years layer. Suzuki automotive is indeed shut down in the US market due to slander started by Consumer reports.

            I am correct in stating the company shut down. And yes I am aware you can still by a motorcycle.

            BTW – you might want to read your wiki articles a bit more carefully before you bash me with your irrelevant information. And your illogic is amazing.

            It isn’t the first time a company nearly shut down due to journalism. Remember the 60 minute reports on Audi where they drilled holes in the transmission? Of course you would say that is alright because Audi still managed to sell a lot of cars in Europe so no harm was done.

          4. The Suzuki samurai never had a roll over problem.

            Are you really this stupid? I can only believe that you must have owned one and couldn’t get rid of it.

            They publicized it and the bad publicity Alon with extra lawsuits due to perception caused the company to abandon the US market 7 years layer.

            LOL! People sued because they perceived something? Not because they rolled over?

            Suzuki automotive is indeed shut down in the US market due to slander started by Consumer reports.

            Wow! It took 17 years after the Samurai was pulled from the US market to finally shut Suzuki down? Do you have any idea how idiotic you sound?

            I am correct in stating the company shut down. And yes I am aware you can still by a motorcycle.

            Yes, big boy, Suzuki Motor of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012 and discontinued sales of cars and light trucks in North America. Surely you’re not trying to save face by claiming that a Suzuki subsidiary closing up shop is the same as Suzuki closing up shop, are you? It’s OK to admit you were wrong. No need to keep embarrassing yourself.

            BTW – you might want to read your wiki articles a bit more carefully before you bash me with your irrelevant information.

            OK, I will. What, in particular, is the problem?

            And your illogic is amazing.

            Umm…can you be a little more specific?

            It isn’t the first time a company nearly shut down due to journalism.

            Once again, bozo, I’m not defending the journalism, but 112 people died in accidents in which a Suzuki Samurai rolled over. That’s a fact, not slanderous reporting. Sales of Samurais were hurt by the CR report, and the fact that the vehicle actually had a potential risk of rollover at high speeds, and Suzuki quit selling Samurais in the US in 1995.

            The loss of sales of this one model didn’t cause SMA to go bankrupt 17 years later. You’ll have to look for other causes.

    3. Tex

      One thing to consider is that we have a much wider range of choices these days for almost everything. Appliances that cost a great deal years ago were the only ones available. I believe we can still get long lasting, quality appliances at high prices, but we also have a wide selection of less expensive ones we can choose from.

      Just a thought.

      …and what Jon Murphy said.

      1. One thing to consider is that we have a much wider range of choices these days for almost everything“…

        There might be a major subsystem in an appliance and its (sometimes with some slight alterations) found in a dozen different name brand appliances…

        At one time back in the late seventies (Carter administration) Ford had a maquila plant in Nuevo Laredo and they made a major part of a wire loom set for almost all vehicles, not just Ford vehicles…

        A little later on I found out that there were other plants in Mexico that made compressor systems for air conditioners and refrigerators/freezers that were also sold under several different name brands…

        I wonder if that’s still happening?

        1. juandos

          I wonder if that’s still happening?

          I’m sure it is. I suspect many products are multinational in origin. The classic example is the iPod, designed and marketed in the US but assembled in China from parts and components from at least a dozen countries worldwide.

          On a personal note, when I was buying, repairing, and reselling wrecked cars from the California Highway Patrol, (long story), I found that almost all of the plastic parts of a Ford Crown Vic, including interior padding and upholstery, was made in Canada. In fact the CV was assembled in Windsor, Ontario at that time.

          CHP bought CVs, because they were an “American car”, but refused to buy Toyota Camrys despite attractive offers, and even though the Camry is assembled in the US, and has more US made content than all but a handful of other cars sold in the US.

          Go figure.

          1. Ahhh yes, the Crown Vic was an American car, a “North” American car and one the best there ever was…

            The police package Crown was a superb over the road and they also had produce a few wagons that had the police package…

            Its a real shame they don’t make those anymore…

            I had a ’92 CV wagon with the pp and put 380K miles on it…

            The CV, almost all the pick-up rear axel housings of all makes, and one GM van model were made in a factory just outside of Monterey, Mexico and had been for a long time…

            The following has nothing to do vehicles or appliances directly, its the newest nugget from Dr. Sowell…

            Some have said that we are living in a post-industrial era, while others have said that we are living in a post-racial era. But growing evidence suggests that we are living in a post-thinking era

    4. The only thing I’ve had go wrong for me on a new appliance is the ice cube dispenser, a luxury item that wasn’t even available decades ago on a fridge. I buy middle of the road appliances and haven’t had to replace any appliance at any time for failure. My most recent shopping spree was for a quieter dishwasher (my old one was very loud, though very functional) and fridge, which did not have an ice maker. My new one has two ice makers, though the door dispenser freezes up after a few months (the ice is still made, but the motor actuator doesn’t engage to push the ice through the door dispenser), though the fridge portion works just fine. I have never replaced a stove, nor microwave.

      I’m sorry to hear about your troubles, though. And I know that just due to shear random chance there are people who seemingly cannot catch a break.

  2. Yes, true if you do not consider funtionality. Idiotic water conservation and energy efficiency mandates make some appliances unworkable. Talk to someone in the appliances business or Google “l hate my washing machine.”

  3. chuck martel

    Thus the average consumer can afford to sit in a 70 degree room watching Seinfeld re-runs while his ancestors sweltered outside under an elm tree reading William Graham Sumner or Thomas Hardy. A drive in the increasingly efficient and long-lived air-conditioned automobile through the US suburbs during a sultry August reveals a desolate scene of well-maintained lawns with no visible people, who are all sitting inside near an air conditioning register watching television or playing video games. But this is now a golden age, for economic reasons, if nothing else.

    1. Rich Devlin

      You think that air conditioning drives people who might otherwise read Sumner or Hardy to choosing Seinfeld instead? I’d expect that those inclined to read Sumner or Hardy would be happy to do so in the comfortable, climate-controlled environment of their own home, local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. I’m sure that many are also thrilled to have the option of carrying their entire library, including Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and Hugo with them on their shockingly affordable Kindle, iPad or Nook!

    2. Rich Devlin

      I think it’s more likely that instead of opting for Seinfeld, those inclined to read Sumner and Hardy are quite happy to be reading in comfortable club chairs, in the climate-controlled environment of their own homes, the local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. I imagine they’re also pretty excited about carrying their entire library of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and Hugo on their super-lightweight and shockingly affordable Kindle, iPad or Nook.

      1. Rich

        I imagine they’re also pretty excited about carrying their entire library of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and Hugo on their super-lightweight and shockingly affordable Kindle, iPad or Nook.

        Absolutely. And those who prefer Seinfeld can watch him on those same devices. And those few who, for some strange reason really want to, can do so while sweltering outside under an elm tree.

        Choice is good.

  4. I certainly agree that “the ‘good old days’ are now” but you’d never know it from the hand wringing of some of the commenters on this blog.

    I’m pretty sure it is the economic growth rate of the 1950’s, not the shoddier and more expensive products of the 50’s that Krugman is nostalgic for. After all, many commenters here are nostalgic for some of the policies of the 19th Century. Does that mean they are nostalgic for the living standards of the 19th Century?

    But even that raises another question. What growth rate should we expect from good policies?

    Should we expect the same growth rate off a big GDP that we got off a much smaller GDP?

    Should we expect the same growth rate after a period of prosperity as after a period of depression?

    Should we expect the same growth rate after a financial bubble has burst as we had during that bubble?

    1. Jon Murphy

      Well, considering they argue that the standard of living was better then than now, that it was the “golden age of the middle class”, then it does have a lot to do with the products and quality of life available.

      But, to look for the rate of growth in the 1950’s is to look for something that was clearly unsustainable. The 1950’s is nothing more than the Broken Window writ large. World War 2 is over. Europe, from Paris to Moscow, lies in ruins. Asia is fighting several costly and destructive wars (Korea, China, beginnings of Vietnam). South America is in revolution. Only one manufacturing base remains unscathed by war: the United States. We were growing, we were producing, because no one else even could. To naturally achieve those kind of growth rates would be very difficult.

      1. Vic Volpe

        Jon — you are too young to remember the ’50s or ’60s. And you need a history book and listen to the wrong people describe this era.

        By the late ’50s the European economy had recovered — that was when the Common Market was formed. By the ’60s Italy, France, and Germany (W. Germany) were highly productive. DeGaulle through NATO out of France. The DM was upward valued at least once in the ’60s and I think it was twice. Their economy (even Italy) was very productive and competitive compared to the U.S. which also did well in the ’60s.

        The ‘broken windows’ theory is one big fallacy for describing the ’60s.

        1. Jon Murphy

          Of course, if I was describing the 60’s, you would be right.

          By the way, I am too young to remember the 50’s. My parents weren’t born yet.

        2. Vic

          Jon — you are too young to remember the ’50s or ’60s. And you need a history book and listen to the wrong people describe this era.

          Why would Jon want to listen to the wrong people describe this era?

      2. Jon

        I’m not sure who “they” are but if you can find anyone saying that the material standard of living was higher in the 50’s than it is today, for the middle class, I will be happy to join you in calling them an idiot. Until someone can document a quote, I remain skeptical that Krugman actually said anything like that.

        To say the the 50’s were a golden age for the middle class is an entirely different kind of claim. It is a claim that, in the 50’s, the middle class was doing better materially than it had ever done to that point AND was doing better in relation to the rich and the poor than it ever did before or since. It was in that sense that it was golden age for the middle class – not in the sense in which you get a better value on air conditioners.

        1. Greg

          To say the the 50′s were a golden age for the middle class is an entirely different kind of claim. It is a claim that, in the 50′s, the middle class was doing better materially than it had ever done to that point AND was doing better in relation to the rich and the poor than it ever did before or since. It was in that sense that it was golden age for the middle class – not in the sense in which you get a better value on air conditioners.

          So, if I understand that correctly, you are saying that even though the middle class today is far better off materially than ever before in history, including better off than they were in the ’50s, they are not *really* better off, because the poor have been made phenomenally better off since the ’50s through technology and redistribution, and the rich are better off to a greater degree than the middle class.

          In other words, improvements for the rich and poor have outpaced improvements for the middle class.

          Is that pretty close? If so, what’s the problem?

          1. Ron

            I am saying that middle class Americans are better off today than they were in the 50’s in many ways. These ways include better air conditioners and a higher material standard of living in just about every respect.

            Whether you like it or not, most people ALSO care about their relative economic status, and the relative share they get out of any increases in the general standard of living.

            In that sense, it is true that ” improvements for the rich and poor have outpaced improvements for the middle class” since the 1950’s. If you are rich or poor you might be more likely to see that as a good thing. If you are middle class you might be more likely to see it as a bad thing. Either way it is not a claim that material living standards aren’t better now. Who “feels” better off is a matter of personal emotions.

            All of these things are “real.” Everyone gets to choose what is most important to them. People vary in what is most important to them. Wealthy people might care very much about relative status too. Some might even be in a permanent state of outrage that they don’t have the even bigger share they would have if their taxes were lower.

            If you are asking me whether or not I feel like I am better off now or in the 50’s I would say I am better off now.

          2. Greg

            All of these things are “real.” Everyone gets to choose what is most important to them. People vary in what is most important to them.

            Be careful, that’s a dangerously libertarian idea.

            Whether you like it or not, most people ALSO care about their relative economic status, and the relative share they get out of any increases in the general standard of living.

            I agree. I believe studies have shown that people prefer an outcome where they get $3 and their neighbor gets $2, to an outcome where they get $5 and their neighbor gets $7.

            People are welcome to worry about such things if they wish, but most solutions offered to correct supposedly “unfair” distributions of income and wealth are counterproductive, and harmful to everybody – not to mention unjust.

          3. Ron

            —“Be careful, that’s a dangerously libertarian idea.”

            You might be surprised to know that I agree with libertarians on a number of issues. I am more likely to comment on the issues where I disagree because I think there is already more than enough cheerleading here.

            Another thing I like about libertarians is that they almost always ask the right questions – even when they don’t get to the right answers.

            —“most solutions offered to correct supposedly ‘unfair’ distributions of income and wealth are counterproductive, and harmful to everybody – not to mention unjust.”

            And among those complaining about unfair distributions of income and wealth are some very wealthy people who think they should be even wealthier even thought they are living better than any other people at their point on the relative wealth scale at any previous point in human history. They can be counted on to maintain a vigilant watch for signs of over entitlement…in others.

          4. Greg

            . I am more likely to comment on the issues where I disagree because I think there is already more than enough cheerleading here.

            Hmm. That’s interesting. From my vantage point behind this pom-pom, I see plenty of non-libertarian views expressed here.

            And among those complaining about unfair distributions of income and wealth are some very wealthy people who think they should be even wealthier even thought they are living better than any other people at their point on the relative wealth scale at any previous point in human history.

            Living better is right, but you seem to hint that somehow they don’t deserve what they’ve earned. remember that you wrote: “Everyone gets to *choose* what is most important to them. People vary in what is most important to them.”

            Obviously wealthy people are allowed less choice in what’s important to them.

            For those very wealthy people who have earned their wealth on their own, without enlisting the aid of government cronies, it’s understood that they have been given that wealth by others who have gotten even more value in return. Rich people are rich because we make them so through voluntary exchanges. We recognize their contributions to improving our lives by asking them to accept our dollars.

            It’s understandable that they would resent being repeatedly robbed of half or more of what they earn.

            One must ask whether the overall benefit to all of society is greater when government decides how the earnings of the rich are spent, than when they are allowed to decide how to spend it themselves. I think the answer is “NO”.

            After all, they have already demonstrated that they are very good at providing value and opportunity for others. Those who receive benefits redistributed from the rich have shown that they *can’t* provide much value for others.

            Who do you choose, the person who provides you with good service, or that other slacker?

            They can be counted on to maintain a vigilant watch for signs of over entitlement…in others.

            I’m not so sure they much care how the stolen good are spent, just that they have been robbed of the opportunity to make their own choices for their earnings.

          5. Ron

            —–“Obviously wealthy people are allowed less choice in what’s important to them.”

            No, not obvious at all.

            Less choice COMPARED TO WHAT? Rich Americans today have more choices available to them than VIRTUALLY ANY OTHER PEOPLE IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY.

            Now of course that doesn’t mean they are necessarily satisfied with what they have. Like some people in all income groups, throughout all of history, some of them are convinced they are getting screwed and deserve more. Sorry, I just don’t find the suffering of the rich in America to be all that tragic.

            And I don’t know of any rich Americans who haven’t benefitted from happening to live in a place with one of the best systems of government in human history.

          6. Greg

            Less choice COMPARED TO WHAT? Rich Americans today have more choices available to them than VIRTUALLY ANY OTHER PEOPLE IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY.

            Ditto poor Americans.

            Rich people have fewer choices of how to spend that part of their income that gets stolen from them, than if it wasn’t.

            Now of course that doesn’t mean they are necessarily satisfied with what they have.

            There is no limit to human desires. Most people want more than they have. That’s a GOOD thing.

            Like some people in all income groups, throughout all of history some are convinced they are getting screwed and deserve more.

            It’s probably easy for a person to resent having half of their income stolen, and they might rightfully feel they deserve to keep it all.

            Sorry, I just don’t find the suffering of the rich in America to be all that tragic..”

            Ahh. You don’t think they deserve the high incomes they get and the wealth they acquire, do you.

            Greg says “Since they have such a big tub of money here, it’s OK if I steal some to give to my poor unemployed neighbor.”

          7. Ron

            —“It’s understandable that they would resent being repeatedly robbed of half or more of what they earn.”

            I am not sure who these rich people are who you think are paying more than half of their income in taxes but, whoever they are, they have some terrible tax advisors.

            Don’t you remember that hilarious episode when Romney had to pay more tax than he owed just to get up to a tax bill equal to 14% of his income in order to avoid having been caught in a lie?

            —” Less choice COMPARED TO WHAT? Rich Americans today have more choices available to them than VIRTUALLY ANY OTHER PEOPLE IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY.

            Ditto poor Americans.”

            Poor people today have more choices available to them than poor people used to have sure but the idea that they have the same amount of choice available to them than as wealthy people today is ridiculous. Note, I am NOT saying that they should have the same choices available, just that they don’t. Not ditto for the same amount of choice.

            You keep making statements about who I think deserves what. I don’t know exactly who deserves what. I think market results are a good estimate in terms of a first approximation but I don’t think they are the whole story. For example, in a country as wealthy as ours, I think that everyone “deserves” basic medical care and enough food to eat.

          8. Greg

            I am not sure who these rich people are who you think are paying more than half of their income in taxes but, whoever they are, they have some terrible tax advisors.

            It’s understandable that they would resent being repeatedly robbed of (pick some fraction or percentage) of what they earn. The point stands.

            Poor people today have more choices available to them than poor people used to have sure but the idea that they have the same amount of choice available to them than as wealthy people today is ridiculous.

            Of course they don’t. Put that straw away.

            Note, I am NOT saying that they should have the same choices available, just that they don’t.

            Not ditto for the same amount of choice.

            Ditto for more choices than they’ve ever had before. You were trying to make a point about rich people and their choices, but your point isn”t exclusive to rich people.

            You keep making statements about who I think deserves what. I don’t know exactly who deserves what. I think market results are a good estimate in terms of a first approximation but I don’t think they are the whole story. For example, in a country as wealthy as ours, I think that everyone “deserves” basic medical care and enough food to eat.

            And there’s an example of you who you think deserves what.

            You continue to avoid answering the question of whether you think rich people or government is better at producing wealth and prosperity for everyone. It would seem you believe it’s government, if you favor robbing rich people to subsidize poor people.

    2. After all, many commenters here are nostalgic for some of the policies of the 19th Century. Does that mean they are nostalgic for the living standards of the 19th Century?

      This doesn’t make ANY sense. The REASON we even have the living standards today is BECAUSE of the policies we USED TO have.

      What growth rate should we expect from good policies?

      It’s hard to say, as the way this is computed is incredibly flawed. Quality isn’t even considered. The price of health care costs have plummeted, but everyone spends more on BETTER products, many of which weren’t even available a decade ago, AND ARE MUCH HEALTHIER. Yet, the cost of health care is ONLY computed by how much people spend. Early deaths, chronic illness and pain, etc., are not considered a cost wrt GDP and are therefore not captured in growth rates.

      1. Ken

        So then, you are nostalgic for the policies we used to have in the 19th Century but not the living standards we used to have then.

        Do you think it is possible someone else might be nostalgic for the higher growth rate and greater relative economic equality we used to have in a former era but not the living standards and air conditioners we used to have in that era?

        My comment was not an argument about the reasons for economic growth. It was not an argument about the extent to which the policies of the 19th Century did or didn’t cause the economic growth rates of the 1950’s.

        It was an argument that, when people like one aspect of an era, it does not follow that they like all aspects of an era.

  5. Vic Volpe

    Professor Eliz Warren, before she entered politics discussing the Middle Class, not low-income Americans.

    She compares the 1970 household with the 2000 household — listen to her breakout the cost difference.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A

    1. Erik Olsen

      Can’t hear. Sound is muffled.

    2. Erik Olsen

      Costco in Norwalk CT yesterday 12,000 btu unit for $279. Includes remote control and all the bells and whistles.

    3. Jon Murphy

      My cousin has a car he calls Elizabeth Warren because it’s a white Cherokee.

    4. Harold Saxon

      Comments like this make me wonder if some people even bother to read the posts before objecting.

      1. Vic Volpe

        from MP’s Bottom Line — “which translates into a higher standard of living for all Americans, especially for lower and middle-income households”

        Maybe you need to go back and read it and look at the data — that’s why I got Liz posted; she handled a lot of Middle Class bankruptcies. Look at the composition of spending between the periods and what place household appliances have between the two periods.

        There is also an article in the bus section of today’s LA Times on an upper income Middle Class family that is in a very tight sqeeze financially, having to separate what is a “need” and what is a “want”.

        1. Harold Saxon

          I stand by my comment.

        2. having to separate what is a “need” and what is a “want”.

          This is false, as all needs in the US have been met for all people. Everyone, EVERYONE, has access to food, clean drinking water, clothes, water on tap (literally), indoor plumbing, and warm, dry place to sleep. This means that people are choosing between “wants” and not having to give up “needs”.

          1. ——“as all needs in the US have been met for all people”

            And here we see one of the two most popular arguments on CD against any kind of government safety net for the poor.

            Some argue that government aid to the poor could never end poverty. Others argue it has already done so.

            Both sides agree that all possible results are evidence against the wisdom of such an effort.

          2. Greg

            Some argue that government aid to the poor could never end poverty. Others argue it has already done so.

            There is also the argument that government aid to the poor could never end relative poverty, but that absolute poverty is now basically nonexistent in the US.

            Then the argument can become whether government, or capitalism and relatively free markets, have been responsible for this historically unprecedented condition.

          3. Ron

            That is a false dichotomy.

            There is no reason not to think that both capitalism AND government played significant roles. You are assuming your conclusion that it must be one or the other.

          4. Greg

            That is a false dichotomy.

            Let me reword that: “Then the argument can become whether government, or capitalism and relatively free markets, have been *more* responsible for this historically unprecedented condition.

            Since government produces nothing, and can only redistribute income and wealth from those who earn it to those who don’t, we can say that while government has almost certainly improved the lives of some in truly dire poverty, it’s pretty clear that the effect only lasts as long as the redistribution continues, and produces no lasting improvements, as people become dependent on government handouts and can lose their ability to survive in any other way. Disincentives abound, and innovation is discouraged.

            Free enterprise, on the other hand, encourages and rewards innovation, and produces opportunities for the poor to manage their own lives, improve their skills, and create permanent improvements in their own lives.

          5. Ron

            Well, that’s a slight improvement but you are still assuming your conclusion which is: “it’s pretty clear that the effect only lasts as long as the redistribution continues, and produces no lasting improvements, as people become dependent on government handouts”.

            In reality many become dependent and many others use the help to survive a rough patch after which they become very productive citizens. And there is a whole spectrum in between where people become more independent but not fully independent. You still really can’t let go of the false dichotomy thinking here.

          6. Some argue that government aid to the poor could never end poverty.

            Because that’s true.

            Others argue it has already done so.

            I was most certainly not arguing that “government aid to the poor” has all ready ended poverty. I’m also pretty certain no one else here on CD argues that either.

          7. Greg

            Well, that’s a slight improvement…

            Heh!

            but you are still assuming your conclusion which is:

            “it’s pretty clear that, for the most part, the effect may only lasts last as long as the redistribution continues, and may produces produce no lasting improvements, as somepeople become dependent on government handouts”.

            In reality many become dependent and many others use the help to survive a rough patch after which they become very productive citizens. And there is a whole spectrum in between where people become more independent but not fully independent.

            And you may be assuming that few of these people – especially those who only need a temporary hand, – would receive any help from those of us who are able to help – friends, family, neighbors, other members of the community – and a better solution is for the faceless, compassionless state to steal money from all of us to provide for all of those those folks, according to formulas, regardless of their actual needs.

            What if, instead, those who provide value to others, were allowed to keep their own earnings and provide help to others as they perceive the need and choose to do so, while continuing to create value, including improved standards of living and jobs for many people?

          8. Ken

            Does any of this sound familiar?

            “all needs in the US have been met for all people. Everyone, EVERYONE, has access to food, clean drinking water, clothes, water on tap (literally), indoor plumbing, and warm, dry place to sleep.”

            Is meeting everyone’s material needs not ending poverty?

            Does government not provide the means to pay for these things for many poor people?

            Did you forget your earlier comment is still up there?

          9. Greg,

            Is meeting everyone’s material needs not ending poverty?

            That people can meet their material needs is a far cry from claiming that people are meeting their material needs because of “government aid to the poor”.

            Does government not provide the means to pay for these things for many poor people?

            That the government transfers wealth from A to B does not mean that B does not live in poverty because of that transfer. Their materials needs of all Americans are readily available before those wealth transfers occur.

            Did you forget your earlier comment is still up there?

            Of course not. I just understand how to properly parse English sentences and understand basic logic.

      2. Harold

        Comments like this make me wonder if some people even bother to read the posts before objecting.

        I suspect they do, mostly, but with that “progressive tint” on their glasses, some words change meaning before they reach the eye.

  6. Bob Smith

    Not all measures of “efficiency” are equal. In particular, dish and clothes washers save energy by government mandate, not by improving efficiency, but by using less of it. Lower water temperatures make these appliances far less functional, and in some cases almost non-functional.

    1. Dish washers now actually use the colder water and heat it up to an appropriate temperature. If you keep your water heater too cool it isn’t a problem. Also most newer ones can heat the water to 155 degrees or so, so that the water temperature is more efficient.

      I do agree with the water savings though. To cover government mandates, the cycle time for dishwashers has had to increase considerably to clean with less water.

      Clothe washers, though, can save time, because they spin harder taking out more moisture, so you save in the dry cycle, since the clothes dries much more quickly. Clothe washers tend to be close to your water heater to get the best of the high temp water. Too cold water there is an issue of you keeping the temp too low in the water heater.

      Point is, your comment is rather dubious.

      1. Bob Smith

        Consumer Reports substantially marks down modern clothes and dish washers, to the point that they barely receive a score of “acceptable”, because they use water that’s too cold. Eliminating encrustment is but one of the problems created by low water temperature. Another problem is insufficient agitation: eliminating or paring down the agitator saves quite a bit of energy, because it takes work to move a heavy load of clothes, but fails to get clothes clean. Side-loading washers save water, but also can’t get clothes clean, both because of a lack of agitation and lack of water.

        We did not need the heavy hand of government to mandate these things. If consumers wanted them it would have been done.

        1. hitssquad

          I’ve never had a problem getting clothes clean in cold water in a front load. Maybe I don’t get my clothes very dirty. Remember to use Tide HE.

        2. Yes consumer reports does complain that many side loaders don’t wash as well as washers 20 years ago and will tell you most 20 year old washers got top ratings.

          Of course then they are proud to tell you their Consumer’s Union division was instrumental in lobbying for the stringent water standards. Consumer reports is also bad about reviewing standard washing machines – because it isn’t in their left wing interest.CS is a horrible left wing organization and their reports are quite dubious at times.

          My clothe washer works just fine – and when I purchased a new GE dishwasher a few years ago- I couldn’t believe how much cleaner the dishes were. – Too bad we had to move.

        3. Since we’re outside the city limits and on a septic system, we’re free to add phosphates to our dish and clothes detergents. It makes a huge difference in the cleaning power of both. You just buy a box of TSP and add a little to the ordinary detergent. The phosphates stay right here on our property, where they are an efficient fertilizer, and never end up in the rivers or bays, where algae blooms would be a problem.

  7. Gerald McInvale

    There are clearly advantages to modern appliances, but the particular example of a window air conditioner is not exactly typical. In the past 4 years we have replaced 3 central air conditioners and two furnaces – all less than 5 years old. We have had major repairs (over $300) to a one year old dishwasher, two year old wall ovens, and a 4 year old refrigerator. The new features are nice – when they work – but the improved energy efficiency comes at the cost of less effectiveness and decreased reliability. I’ll still take it over the 1950’s, but Dr. Perry’s experience with these appliances must be a lot better than ours.

    1. As I mentioned above, I wish some of my appliances would break more often. I haven’t had an issue.
      Furnace and air in one house is 15 years old without a repair, in the other the furnace is 5 years old having recently replaced a 35 year old one in the house. It had one minor repair because the kids managed to get deflated balloons sucked in through the air intake.

    2. I’m living in a house in Michigan that I bought 12 years ago, and all of the appliances were about 5 years old when I bought the house. By now the stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer, dryer and microwave are all about 17 years old, and I’ve needed one minor repair on just one of those appliances – the refrigerator.

  8. Jon Murphy

    This weekend, I found a 1908 Sears Catalog. It was amazing how many things that they had which were considered “middle class” living but we’d consider extreme poverty now. Things like stoves you had to put wood into. Or washboards. They had a lot of farm equipment, too.

    1. Jon

      They had a lot of farm equipment, too.

      That would make sense in 1908, considering 40% of sears customers were probably farmers.

  9. It is not near as good for the Chinese factory worker who made the A/C and who makes $3.61/hr (2012 wages – latest I could find) so this is 60 hours of his labor. Nor for the USA worker who is laid off from the USA A/C Factory because they are now made in China. And yes, it will probably fail much sooner but its replacement will also be cheap.

    1. Is that real wages or based on the exchange rate? I think if you go by what can be purchased with that salary (real wages) in that part of China and the Chinese laborer is doing much better than you stated.

    2. It is not near as good for the Chinese factory worker who made the A/C and who makes $3.61/hr

      Because you think that it’s better for a Chinese person to be a subsistence farmer working nearly 80 hours a week earning $3.61/day? To try to make some sort of comparison of 1950’s America with today’s China is incredibly dishonest. Today’s Chinese are clearly better off that the Chinese of the 1950’s.

      Nor for the USA worker who is laid off from the USA A/C Factory because they are now made in China.

      False. Look at all those USA farmers who lost their jobs after farm mechanization came into being. In 1800, 98% of Americans were dedicated to food production. Today, less than 2% of Americans work in food production. To claim those 96% are now worse off is stupid.

      Switching from high cost processes to low cost processes is what efficiency is about and is the only way to improve living standards.

      And yes, it will probably fail much sooner

      False.

      1. hitssquad

        @Ken
        > Today, less than 2% of Americans work in food production.

        According to the CIA World Factbook, in 2009, “farming, forestry, and fishing” together employed only 0.7% of the American “labor force”.

  10. John

    It is not near as good for the Chinese factory worker who made the A/C and who makes $3.61/hr (2012 wages – latest I could find) so this is 60 hours of his labor.

    What are you talking about? This is extremely good for the Chinese worker who can live comfortably on that wage, and who might otherwise be living in grinding poverty.

    Nor for the USA worker who is laid off from the USA A/C Factory because they are now made in China.

    You will find that the gain to US consumers outweighs the loss to the recently laid off A/C worker. Consumers now have more to spend on other things, so they are richer, and their higher demand for other things will provide opportunities for the A/C worker, who no longer must spend day after day in mind-numbing, repetitive, low paying factory work.

    1. chuck martel

      So it’s OK for the Chinese worker to “spend day after day in mind-numbing, repetitive, low paying factory work”?

      1. So it’s OK for the Chinese worker to “spend day after day in mind-numbing, repetitive, low paying factory work”?

        If he chooses to do so, yes. It may be the best job available to him.

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