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Discussion: (88 comments)

  1. SeattleSam

    Progressives will never assert that middle-class Americans are better off for the same reason that chiropractors will never tell you that your spine is well-aligned and you don’t need to see them anymore.

    1. Maybe, just maybe the definition of what is ‘middle class‘ might need a little reworking, a tweak if you will…

      Food Stamp Recipients Increased 11,133 Per Day Under Obama

  2. Jon Murphy

    Of course, this varies from person to person. I know that about 40% of my budget goes to food and spending, but that is because I am a vain person who likes to cook :)

  3. Sorry Mark but I do not buy the hype. Yes, people do live better. But the lifestyle that you celebrate has been built on debt and living beyond one’s means is not exactly a sustainable process. The simple fact is that your middle class is looking at close to $100 trillion of unfunded liabilities that it will be asked to pay for. That will come either through higher taxes or lower benefits. In either case there are serious problems that you and Don are ignoring.

    1. Vangel,

      I don’t disagree that those future promises (which are too large to ever be funded by taxes) will stall future progress. However, the lifestyle that Mark and Don celebrate was not built on these largely empty weflare state promises. If anything, these innovations have happened despite the welfare state and have eased life despite its growing burden.

      1. Of course the lifestyle was built on these promises. Americans were told that they would always be able to export dollars to the rest of the world because the USD would always be used to settle transactions in the oil markets and would always be the reserve currency for the global banking system. Those beliefs have caused the USD to lose more than 80% of its purchasing power since Nixon took it off the gold standard and have financed the massive growth in government. While families were able to offset the higher taxes and lower purchasing power by having women enter the workforce such options are no longer possible. We have seen the labour participation rate fall sharply since the 2000 market crash and cannot see any way to make the math work.

        Now I do not disagree with Mark and Don when they point to the great advances made in tech sector and other sectors. But they are having a Broken Window moment when they miss what would have happened had the Fed and federal government been kept in their place and not permitted to rob savers of purchasing power as they grew the size of government.

        1. Vangel,

          They don’t miss anything. This is an Op-ed addressing one issue, not a 16-volume comprehensive analysis.

    2. Jon Murphy

      Um Vangel…

      The calculations here are PCE expenditures share of disposable personal income (after tax income). In other words:



      PCE = Personal Consumption Expenditures of the basics
      DPI = Disposable Personal Income

      Your DPI is Total Personal Income – Taxes. Debt is not counted here.

      In order for the share to be falling like this, PCE needs to fall or not rise as fast as DPI. If these gains were financed by debt, as you suggest, then we would be seeing PCE’s share gain, not fall as PCE would be rising faster than DPI.

      Is there a lot of debt out there? Sure. But it doesn;t seem to be a problem the way it was in 2007.

      This trend has been going on for a long time. It’s hard to suggest such a thing is happening just because of debt.

    3. Are you referring to the ‘100 trillion debt burden,’ which was projected over the next 75 years? A lot of things can change in 75 years and a few tweaks in the assumptions can turn 100 trillion to 1 million or to 2000 trillion.

    4. Micah Pangburn

      Agreed. I looked his credentials up just to see who he is. He teaches at small college. It’s obvious that he can’t read a graph correctly. Let’s overlay inflation over top of that declining graph so we can clearly see that I can’t but nearly as much shit today because the cost of everything has increased while wages have virtually stayed the same. I mean you would think any sane person would grasp this concept. It’s pretty cut and dry really.

  4. Max Planck

    Unfortunately, Mr. Perry simply ignored the 300% increase in health insurance costs over the past decade.

    But never mind. The DVD players are cheap.

    1. Jon Murphy

      Unfortunately, Mr. Perry simply ignored the 300% increase in health insurance costs over the past decade.

      So, in the sectors where there is relatively little government interference, we have seen costs fall.

      In the sector where there is much government interference, we have seen costs skyrocket.

      Sounds about right to me.

      1. morganovich

        well, not really.

        rent is way up. food is up a bunch lately too.

        i’m concerned that this % could be showing relative inflation rates as opposed to affordability.

        imagine a case where every price in this index goes up 10% in real terms while, at the same time, education, healthcare, and food away from home went up 30%.

        you would get a graph that looks just like the one above. the % spending on of these “basics” would drop, but you would also be far worse off in real terms.

        i think we need to be very careful about what we are really measuring here.

        this is not necessarily an affordability index. it may just be measuring relative inflation and a crowding out.

        it could also be measuring differing consumption patterns.

        if more people move to cities, they buy less furniture etc and that drops the spending % as well as the food at home % as urban dwellers eat out more etc. they buy fewer cars and tend to have lower utility bills.

        just the population shift back to cites might account for much of this trend. (though it would tend to increase housing costs as well, so i am not sure how to net that out)

        unless i am misunderstanding how this was calculated, i have some real doubts about this metric being a great way to measure how well a middle class is doing.

        1. morganovich

          this metric could also be sensitive to shifts to lower quality goods as well.

          if you buy a cheap shirt instead of a nice one, that would drop your spending and drive this % lower. but you might like it less and have lower quality of life as a result.

          why you bought the cheaper shirt matters. if it was because you liked it just as much as a more expensive one, then your quality of life went up. if you did it because you could no longer afford the more expensive one, then your quality of life dropped even if your spending % did too.

          this has been a real issue in food CPI. the high end cuts of meat were all removed because they became expensive and were replaced by lower grades and inferior cuts. if choice flank steak is just as good as prime rib eye, then one would not expect to see the huge price differential that exists between them.

          if a consumer changes his consumption basket from a $18 pound of ribe eye to a $6 pound of flank steak, sure, % spend on food drops, but i would not describe that as demonstrating an increase in quality of life.

          1. slotowner

            You are right that there could be a change in the quality of what is being bought but that is true in both directions.
            It is true they many be buy cheaper clothes. But they would wear our more frequently & need to be replaced more often so the actual spending would reflect the quality of clothes, appliances, cars and other things that seem more disposable vs. keepers today. Many of these also have upsides such as energy efficiency & additional feature that was not available in the past.
            Food is a big question mark. There is plenty of good cheap healthy food available. How much people actually buy is what we measure so well.

        2. Jon Murphy

          But Morgan, these are the basics. Presumably, you are going to feed, clothe, & house yourself before you start worrying about other things. By being able to devote less of your paycheck to these things, you are afforded the luxury to devote more to education, higher level medical care, etc.

          As an aside on medical care, I think the numbers are way skewed. In the US, medical care costs are on average until Medicare age where the costs skyrocket. I am thinking the perverse incentive of Medicare skews the data upward. If there were some way to remove the influence of this major upward swing, I think we’d see a clearer picture on “actual” medical costs for an average American family.

          1. morganovich


            or, you could have moved to a city and just be eating at home less, buying less furniture, and not owning a car.

            or, you could, as my parents did, skimp on those necessities to send a kid to an expensive college.

            there are lots of possible explanations here.

            the big flaw though seems to be the assumption that this says anyhting about a middle class.

            if the lower class got more welfare and more free stuff, and the rich got far more income and did not spend as much overall relative to it, the middle class could have lost huge amounts of ground and this aggregate metric would not show it.

            i am not claiming that that is what happened, just pointing out ways in which this metric could be measuring somehting other than the fortunes of the middle class.

            the trend of this data would be consistent with a middle class increasing quality of life, but it really does not prove or even demonstrate with a high probability that such a thesis is correct.

            this trend could also be consistent with a barbelling population and the disappearance of a true middle class and heavily influenced by the increase in non income tax paying citizens from 12% to 47%.

            i just do not think this ratio demonstrates what is being claimed in any sort of conclusive way. there are far too many other things it could be reflecting.

        3. valuemonitor

          Part of the reason rent is way up, at least in our state, is that property taxes are way up, and this cost gets passed along to tenants. We have a rental property in our town which we purchased twelve years ago. Over that period, the property probably went up twenty percent in value, rent went up fifteen percent, and property taxes went up a hundred percent. You can count real estate as a sector where government involvement has driven up costs.

      2. Max Planck

        No doubt you would think so. Look at the stupefying logic of this piece you linked:

        “I would not deny the facts that Mark and I report in our essay. I would, instead, trumpet and celebrate these facts, insisting that they are the happy and as-promised results of government programs and institutions such as Social Security, Medicare, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, rarely broken streams of deficit financing since the late 1960s, the ITC’s diligence in protecting Americans from dangerously low-priced (“dumped”) imports, and on and on. (Not being a “Progressive,” I believe that the the continuing improvement in the economic well-being of America’s middle-class occurs despite, rather than because of, these government programs. But contrary to what many “Progressives” seem instinctively to believe, there’s nothing at all about the facts reported by Mark and me that, standing alone, refute the case for government intervention and strengthen the case for freer markets.)”

        A statement by a lunatic. While I ponder why any university graduate, much less an escapee from a mental health institute would drag mortgage securitization into one’s health, the simple answer to increased life expectancy is just better medicine and technology.

        And even a stuffed shirt like George Will supports the massive amount of funding the government has spent in it’s war on cancer, initiated by President Nixon. Anyone familiar with cancer research knows of the enormous progress we’ve made in the past few decades.

        My father died at what is now considered “young,” at 64 years old, of a massive heart attack. Had statins existed at that time, he might have lived far longer. This has nothing to do with cheerleading for free markets. The massive array of options we have to stay alive also adds to the cost of care. (see “death panels.”)

        BTW, Mr. Perry is a curious sort for bringing this up, while ignoring a host of other metrics, like wage stagnation, or the fact that there is no longer a “working week” for many of us.

        Added life expectancy is indeed a blessing. But what makes most American anxious is the creeping sense that their QUALITY of life is being eroded.

        Mr. Perry would also do well to compare life expectancy in Red States versus Blue ones.

    2. John Dewey


      Please provide any evidence you have showing that health insurance costs for the average American rose 300% over the past decade. I do not believe you can.

      1. Max Planck

        I know MY insurance costs have at least tripled since 2000, and I got whacked with another 10% increase for 2013. However, I am self employed, so not everyone may have faced that kind of increase.

        Kaiser estimates a doubling since 2002:

        However- please note these stats do not take into account higher deductibles, and larger contributions from employees.

        Whenever I talk about this subject, I am convinced that the other person must not carry health insurance. How do you lay awake at night worrying about a niggling rise in the capital gains tax rate, (which no is forcing you to take if you don’t want to sell) but say nothing about these costs that outpace wage growth several times over?

        Compared to the “gubbamint” if there’s one place where you’re paying a lot more to get a lot less, here’s your train stop.

        1. John Dewey

          max: “please note these stats do not take into account higher deductibles, and larger contributions from employees. ”

          Yes, they do take the larger contributions into account. The article you referenced does show the change in worker contributions from 2002 to 2011:

          “The average total cost of a family health insurance plan reached $15,745 this year …. Workers paid an average of $4,316 for those plans with their employers paying the rest, according to the survey, which was conducted between January and May. In 2002, job-based family coverage cost $8,003.”

          A change of $8,003 to $15,745 is an increase of 96%. That’s far less than the 300% you argued.

          Max, I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess that you would not understand that employer provided insurance is completely paid for by the employee. It doesn’t matter who writes the check. The employee is the one who bears the cost.

      2. morganovich
        1. John Dewey

          Yep, 100% is not nearly as much as the 300% increase which Max Planck argued.

          Furthermore, Max dies not understand that, if his health care insurance tripled since 2000, he’s seen an increase of 200% and not 300%.

          1. morganovich

            well, max may have been making a % mistake as well.

            if you costs triple, that’s a 200% increase, not a 300%. a 300% increase is a quadrupling.

            it’s also quite possible that his costs did triple. have a kid, turn 50, get somehting chronic, all manner of things can hike your costs more than the national average.

            some states went up far more as well. massachusetts prices soared due to changes in the law.

            but this is why you have to really careful using your own experience as a proxy for the nation.

          2. Max has a lot of trouble with numbers, as he has proven many times, but I’m sure he’ll be back soon with a blustery, venom filled comment he believes will cover up that fact.

  5. morganovich

    a couple questions:

    what are you using for home costs metric?


    i’m not really sure how you constructed this and so i may be way off base, but is this an actual price index or just a spending index percentage?

    if it’s just a spending %, we might have to consider the possibility that we are seeing a crowding out as opposed to an improvement.

    eg. if we are having to spend more on healthcare, education, or whatever else has become a big cost, then the % drop in these items could be reflective of simply not having money to spend on them.

    i’m not saying i know this to be true, but if this is simple a measure of the % spent on things, then it would drop even if everyhting became more expensive and less affordable if items not in it went up more making the methodology a bit problematic.

    you could possibly be getting less of everyhting in such a system while your % spent on these basic dropped.

    i’m not sure how well this metric works as a result.

    1. Jon Murphy


      Over at the Cafe, Don explains a little of their methodology.

    2. eg. if we are having to spend more on healthcare, education, or whatever else has become a big cost, then the % drop in these items could be reflective of simply not having money to spend on them.

      Most people are healthy and the overwhelming majority of lifetime healthcare expenditures (something like 90% of your lifetime spending) comes at the very end of life when heroic measures are taken to keep old people going as they are ravaged by heart disease and cancer.

      While education is expensive, unless you’re majoring in axe-grinding studies, it’s still a positive expectancy endeavor.

      Clothing and food have both declined in price and we all seem to have way too much of both. Walk in closets in even the most modest homes are now de rigueur not because we we’re spending so much on health care and education that we can’t afford to clothe ourselves.

      1. Jon Murphy

        Clothing and food have both declined in price and we all seem to have way too much of both.

        Ain’t that the truth. I’m a single guy, and I find it hard when I go shopping to buy fresh stuff in the right portions for me.

      2. morganovich


        but people also have to buy health insurance and the price of that has gone way up. for most, that’s a monthly cost just like rent or utilities even if that cost is just forgone wages or higher taxes/copays/etc.

        also note that because this is an aggregate and includes people of all ages, you have to look at healthcare the same way. the fact that much of it is consumed late in life does not seem like a reason to take it out of the comparison. education is another huge cost. send 2 kids to private college and it will cost more than a house for many people.

        i’m not arguing that people are not better off than they were in the 50’s. i think they are.

        my point is that we have to be very careful what we are really measuring and that this “necessities spending %” metric could very easily be measuring lots of things other than quality of life and has almost certainly been heavily affected by things like OER calculations, consumption changes, urbanization, and relative inflation rates among goods.

        a drop in this % does not necessarily demonstrate an increase in quality of life. it might, but it might, for example, also be reflecting a big jump in free government housing for lower income, food stamps, etc.

        i am unclear why this chart can be claimed to apply in particular to the middle class.

        it tells us nothing about the shape of the distribution of income and spending.

        though i do not think this is the case, it could reflect a stagnating and even declining middle class combined with a lower class getting more free stuff and an upper class that got much richer.

        to just take aggregate income and aggregate spending and then make claims about the middle class seems to be making some significant assumptions.

        lots of things could drive those aggregates and mask a decline in middle class fortunes.

        1. It’s very difficult to know which way the causal arrow goes. Does the decrease in “necessities” spending allow an increase in spending on healthcare? In other words, if the cost of the basic goods in the economy had stay flat or gone up, there would be even less of the pie to spend on whatever else was left out of the definition of necessities. It seems to me that the advances in technology and efficiency of producing the basic goods have allowed us to purchase other things that arguably make our life better.

          1. John Dewey

            rufus: “It seems to me that the advances in technology and efficiency of producing the basic goods have allowed us to purchase other things that arguably make our life better.”

            An excellent point, Rufus. I’ve argued for several years that one of the reasons U.S. health care expenditures are so high – one reason, not the only reason – is because U.S. consumers have so much disposable income. We can afford to outspend the rest of the world because we’re so damned wealthy.

        2. No, in fact, people don’t have to buy insurance. In fact, for most people, insurance is provided as a perk at work and we should more accurately consider it additional income to the money income the middle class receives.

          But consider this: if necessities like health care, housing, food and clothing are so unaffordable, then what explains the fact that we have so much excess income to spend on anti-aging products, cosmetic surgery and IVF?

          1. Credit cards

          2. That’s funny, Moe. You often slay me. Cold weather, in addition to preserving youth also seems to build an excellent sense of humour. Please tell me you are just kidding here.

          3. morganovich


            actually, that is not true.


            only about 44% get their coverage from an employer.

            the rest of that argument seems like it misses the point.

            there is no question that SOME people have that extra money. but IVF is way out of reach for many Americans unless covered by insurance.

            the point of this piece was that that spending ration somehow proved anything about the middle class.

            i do not think it does. it would be consistent with an improving middle class, but it could also reflect dozens of other things.

            again, i’m not trying to say the middle class has not attained a higher quality of life. for the most part, i believe it has.

            all i am saying is that this spending to income ratio mark cites does not prove anyhting at all about that.

            the MC could be far worse off and you could get a chrt just like that just due to spending or wealth redistribution patterns.

            i’m not disputing the basic thesis, just the manner in which he was looking to prove it.

        3. John Dewey

          morganovich: “i am unclear why this chart can be claimed to apply in particular to the middle class.”

          There is one overriding problem with all arguments about the economic situation of the “middle calss”: there are numerous definitions of what is meant by the term. So it’s very possible that too people can be making opposing arguments simply because they are referring to two different subsets of the total population.

          In their essay, Mark and Don seem to be referring to all non-supervisory workers in the U.S. as the middle class. By that definition, almost all working households would be middle class.

          Morganovich refers to an upper, middle, and lower class in his comment. But we cannot know what he is actually referring to.

          I travelled across the southern U.S. a few times in the 1950s and the 1960s. I’ve done so in the last 20 years as well. I just have not seen any evidence today of the large lower class I saw 50 years ago. There are probably more unproductive people today – as a % of the population – than we were burdened with in the 1950s. But government handouts now enable them to live as well today as the lower middle class, blue collar families of the 1950s.

          1. morganovich


            fair enough. middle class is, to be sure, a term we need to define. i think “all nonsupervisory workers” is far too broad to use there. that would lump the guy who asked me if i wanted fries with that in with an engineer at intel.

            the one might make $18k, the other $180k.

            to my mind, that is too broad a range.

            i tend to think of the middle class as just that: the center of the income spectrum. if we used quintiles, then i would call it the 3rd quintile which would include the median workers.

            to me, that seem like the middle.

            of course, such a descriptor works better in a bell shaped normal distribution.

            trying to use the middle 20% in a society in which 45% made 10k, 45% made 100k, and only 10% were anywhere in between would be largely meaningless. you would not be discussing any sort of common group.

            in such a society it would be possible to argue that there was really no middle class at all.

            i have heard some make such arguments about the US, but i have never been convinced by them.

            i suppose another way would be to take a median income figure and then call the middle class +/- 20 or 25% of that.

            in this way, you avoid always having the same sort of middle class and would take some wealth distribution into account.

            thus, we could call those households making between about $40k and $65k middle class. as i think about it, this seems like a better metric as we could then also see if such a group were getting bigger or smaller while using a quintile would not yie3ld such info.

            so, i guess that’s my answer:

            middle class is the $40k-$65k income bracket in 2012 dollars.

  6. I don’t think it is necessarily true that “No single measure of well-being is more important or informative than life expectancy.”

    But for those who do believe that, isn’t it a little bit awkward that so many socialist countries have longer life expectancies than we do?

    1. Of course you’re right, Greg G. There’s obviously a dark cloud to every silver lining – especially if you love comparing grapefruit to tootsie rolls.

      The authors of the essay are not talking about comparative life expectancies across countries but the improvements in American life expectancy over time.

      1. That comparison over time speaks to the question of stagnation. See?

      2. Yes Methinks, it is very true that the authors are indeed “talking about” only the aspects of life expectancy that support their ideology while entirely avoiding the aspects of life expectancy that are awkward for it. That was my point.

        In fact, I am inclined to agree that the decline of the middle class has been overstated in many places. Healthcare has improved greatly in the last few decades. Many middle class workers whose take home pay has stagnated fail to realize that the value of their employer paid healthcare has gone up enormously.

        1. Oh, so your complaint is that they didn’t drone on about issues completely irrelevant to the one they were addressing. Noted.

          1. No, the complaint is that this was a form of special pleading. Life expectancy counts only on the issues where it helps them even though it is ignored where it works the other way.

          2. My mistake. Your complaint is that you’re hopelessly confused, can’t understand what’s going on and you’re reaching to find something to complain about. Noted.

          3. And now we have reached the point where you are out of arguments and have nothing left to offer but insults Methinks. Noted.

          4. Oh? Do you feel insulted by your own deficiencies? I suggest you make an effort to stop insulting yourself.

    2. Actually here then several things come, by using that measure the US health care system comes up short compared to at least some European countries. Using this Wikipedia Article as a reference: showing the UN report World Population prospects 2010 revision. The US comes in at number 40 on the list. They list 77.97 as the life expectancy. The top number is Japan at 82.73.
      In one sense this argues that the increasing medical expenses pay for the additional years of life no matter the quality of it. Conversely the question to analyze is how to make our system more like the Swiss system which is similar to the model of the ACA? Or is it the inhomogeneous nature of the US population compared to Switzerland.

      1. Lyle,

        If country A’s life expectancy is 100 years and country B’s life expectancy is today 85 years, up over a 30 year period from a life expectancy of 55 years, is country B stagnating in your opinion? Is the relatively high life expectancy of the population of country A evidence of country B’s stagnation?

        1. The question I was posing was which systems deliver better results, yes catchup is good, so neither is stagnating, but A still has a better healthcare system as it delivers better results. Of course one question is what is the limit on life expectancy, given that no one can live forever.

    3. SeattleSam

      Minnesotans have longer life expectancies than Alabamans (5 years actually). I doubt that has much to do with socialism and medical care in Minnesota.

      1. Cold is a preservative. (lived there 8 years)

    4. morganovich


      they don’t really.

      the US figures are heavily affected by 3 things:

      1. we count differently and have a far more inclusive definition of infant mortality. it does not take a lot of 0’s to drag down an average.

      2. the US drives far more than other countries and we have far more deaths as a result, again, often among the young.

      3. the US has a high death rate from violent crime.

      if you take out these fatal injuries, the us has the highest life expectancy in the world.

      in light of just how fat we are, that’s a pretty astounding outcome.

      1. Che is dead

        Yes, but that doesn’t fit the pro-socialist healthcare narrative.

      2. morganovich

        I agree with the points you make on life expectancy…which is why I started by suggesting it is NOT such a great measure of well-being. Mark and Don disagree. They think it is the most informative and important measure of well-being.

        But life expectancy is life expectancy. There are many, many things in every country besides healthcare that impact on life expectancy. Take three of the biggest non-healthcare related causes of death away from ANY country and you can will see a big rise in their life expectancy. Do it in only one country and you are engaging in special pleading.

        1. …on life expectancy…which is why I started by suggesting it is NOT such a great measure of well-being. Mark and Don disagree.

          You mean Mark and Don assume that the most important thing of all to human beings is life itself? Pfft! IDIOTS!!!! Where do we even get these morons?

          1. Yes Methinks, If you make a dumb enough strawman argument, even you will be able to knock it down.

            Saying that life expectancy statistics are not the best MEASURE of well-being is not saying that people don’t care about “life itself.” People care about many things and having the longest possible life is not always the “most important thing” to them. If it was, we would see a lot of different lifestyle choices.

          2. Sorry, Greg.

            I completely forgot that you still don’t understand that we can scroll up and read your past comments.


            Do tell us what, in your opinion, is more important to your sense of well-being than not being already dead?

          3. Or, Greg, to drag you away from your irrelevant and expansive bitching on the general topic of life expectancy and back to what the authors of the essay actually said: you don’t think most people consider themselves better off because they are likely to live longer, healthier lives than their grandparents. I’m not talking about you personally, of course. I know you’re too sharp to be fooled by such tricks. MOST people.

            But life expectancy is life expectancy.

            That is profound. I didn’t even realize you were capable of such profundity.

          4. morganovich

            oh come now methinks.

            if i offered you 20 years of life at liberty in the us or 30 in a federal prison, would the amount of life be your only consideration in making a choice?

            how about 25 years as a billionaire vs 30 as a waitress at tgifridays?

            or how about the choice of life in a society like the US where you are far more likely to die in an accident or a crime or life in a place like denmark that might bore you to tears?

            quality matters as well as quantity.

            does that really seem like such an outlandish notion to you?

          5. I think when most people are asked whether or not they are better off than they used to be, they tend to take life expectancy for granted and assume the question refers to more everyday concerns. Indeed I agree with many of the points they made in the essay. I merely point out that the authors are not nearly as interested in life expectancy statistics when it comes to healthcare issues.

            That’s OK. Mark and Don handle criticism quite well. You Methinks, on the other hand, are such a fawning sycophant groupie that you freak out at the least bit of criticism of them.

          6. how about 25 years as a billionaire vs 30 as a waitress at tgifridays?

            That’s actually not a clear choice. I’d rather live a shorter life as a healthy and pretty waitress than as an ugly and quadriplegic billionaire. But, now I’M getting off topic.

            When has this ever been the choice, Morganovich?

            The choice for the waitress has always been to live longer or not to live longer. That’s also the choice for the billionaire. Switching places is not an option and completely irrelevant as a criticism of the essay or anything I said. Ceteris Paribus are you wealthier by the additional time on earth? Apparently, most of us think so as waitresses and prisoners don’t seem to be committing suicide because they aren’t millionaires.

            Being alive is sort of a prerequisite for being able to enjoy the additional consumption we now have. Life expectancy also rises along with wealth and better health. For those reasons, I think it reasonable to deem it the most important of measure.

          7. Greg,

            You’re right. I’m a sycophant groupie of logic and reason. That explains my revulsion to your endless fatuous nonsense.

          8. morganovich


            i mean, unless you are a character in faust, sure, no one walks up and makes offers like that to you, but we make such choices all the time.

            would you rather live for a year in the hospital or pull the plug?

            would you rather have a longer life and not drink or smoke or risk a shorter one because you enjoy those things?

            but again, my point is that length is not the only consideration in terms of quality of life.

            as you yourself point out, perhaps you’d prefer 20 years off being pretty and healthy to 30 years of being ugly and ill or be happy to risk early death by driving a lot so you can live where you prefer.

            you just cannot boil quality of life down to the one variable of “how much life did you get?”.

            lots of other things matter.

          9. morganovich


            “The proportion of baby boomers – born 1946–65 – with three or more chronic conditions is 700% greater than the previous generation, the researchers said in a media statement.

            Compared to their parents, people in midlife now have more than twice the rate of obesity (26% vs 12%), twice the rate of asthma (10% vs 5%), triple the rate of diabetes (9% vs 3%), double the rate of hearing loss (17% vs 8%) and almost double the rate of high cholesterol (14% vs 8%).”

            sure, some of this may be extra diagnosis, but this is not a healthy bunch. they are much fatter, have higher blood pressure, and are less physically capable that their parents were at the same age.

            they have had more heart attacks and have more diabetes. they are more likely to survive them, but that does not make them healthier, just better treated.

            do you really see being sick but better treated as superior to being healthy?

            the trade off i laid out was simply to get you to see that length of life is not the only factor in determining its quality.

            are you seriously contesting that simple claim?

            it seems to me that you are basically trying to take one variable and make it stand for too many things.

          10. morganovich


            but you have pots of trade offs like that.

            do you work more and get more money, or exercise more and perhaps live longer?

            let’s not get bogged down in arbitrary examples.

            what i am really driving at is that we value many things other than longevity.

            sure, at the margin, if someone came up to you and said “your house or your life” most would give up the house. but how often does that happen?

            but people choose to drink, smoke, drive, skydive, ski, and a zillion other things all of which have a risk of death. we make such choices on a risk reward basis.

            a happy society of cliff divers that tend to die young could be a a rational thing to join even if it affects length of life.

            sure, living longer is generally a good thing, but it’s not the only thing. that’s what i have been trying to get at.

        2. morganovich


          i’m with you on LE not being the best measure of well being.

          there is a very strong correlation between life expectancy and wealth, but it tends to flatten out dramatically at the upper end (see chart in the piece i linked) which makes it a less useful marker between societies.

          as reported, japan and ireland have higher LE than the us, but they do not have anyhting like our quality of life or wealth.

          diet, genetics, etc all play a big role.

          but, in general, i suspect that a society that has a rising life expectancy is usually getting richer too, but even that could be driven by lots of things including more exercise, better diet, or whatever.

          i agree that it’s a tricky metric to use. it’s not how i would try to measure increased quality of life.

          1. Morganovich,

            there is a very strong correlation between life expectancy and wealth,…

            That’s because there’s a very strong correlation between life expectancy and HEALTH.

            You’re getting too tangled up in Greg’s total nonsense.

            If you had to choose between any material possession and more years of life, you’d seriously choose the material possession?

            If you ranked your possessions, your very life wouldn’t be in first place?

          2. morganovich


            1. this: “most people consider themselves better off because they are likely to live longer, healthier lives than their grandparents. ”

            is likely not as true as you seem to be claiming. the retiring boomers are actually a great deal less healthy than their parents were at the same age.

            i’m not sure this jump in LE is based on health. i think it’s based on access to drugs that allow you to survive being unhealthy.


            this is the first generation less healthy than their parents in us history.

            2. i’m not sure life is the most valuable. what about health? surely there are health conditions that could push any of us into not wanting life. further, this ignores some basic trade offs.

            would you rather have a 20 year free life or 30 years in prison? how about 25 years of wealth or 30 of grinding poverty?

            sure, at the margin right now, there is no possession i would not trade for my life, but if someone offered me a billion dollars to live to 84 instead of 85, well, that might be an attractive proposition.

            hell, you could even make the argument that you’d be happier dying earlier for free. i can tell you my grandmother would have been. she suffered horribly for almost 2 years. only religious fear kept her from doing somehting about it.

          3. is likely not as true as you seem to be claiming. the retiring boomers are actually a great deal less healthy than their parents were at the same age.

            Holy shit! Morganovich, did you just give me a study that claims baby boomers “may” not be as healthy as their parents at the same age because they don’t report feeling as “hale” and “hearty” as their parents? You must be joking.

            Yeah, they’re probably on more drugs than their parents because the drugs didn’t exist when their parents were retiring, not because their parents didn’t have health conditions that would have been helped with the same drugs.

            Guess what, you’re not going to get prettier or healthier as you age. Nobody has said otherwise, but you’re going to have to produce something a little more substantial than self-reporting by aging baby-boomers with faulty memories.

            would you rather have a 20 year free life or 30 years in prison? how about 25 years of wealth or 30 of grinding poverty?

            As I said above, since when have those been the trade-offs? I will tell you from experience that even in the misery of the Soviet Union, people preferred life to death. In the grinding horror of WWII, they preferred life to death.

            More importantly, however, rising life expectancy is highly correlated with rising wealth and better health, making your hypothetical trade-off completely ridiculous.

    5. John Dewey

      Greg: “I don’t think it is necessarily true that “No single measure of well-being is more important or informative than life expectancy.”

      I actually agree with that statement, but our reasoning may not be the same at all.

      Life expectancy is hardly the measure of the well-being of a population. U.S. medical expenditure growth since 1980 have been much more focused on improving quality of life rather than extending life. Recovery times for surgeries have plummeted. Prosthetic devices, such as the hearing aids in my ears, are orders of magnitudes better. Pharmaceuticals have minimized the impact of many diseases.

      Of course, for most people, life expectancy is a function of lifestyle choices and not medical spending.

      As for your suggestion about “awkwardness”: the truth is that the entire globe has benefitted from the medical innovations funded in large part by Americans. So Americans should be proud of the huge contribution to the human standard of living made by our corporations and our medical research facilities.

      1. John Dewey,

        Improvements in life expectancy indicate, among many other things, better general health, advances in technology, sanitation, medicine, pharmacology, vaccinations, and access to nutritious food.

        Thus, as a single metric, it is very much the most important because it depends on so many variables moving in the same direction. No other single variable will tell you more.

        The issue with cross-country comparisons for wealthy countries that the small differences in life expectancy can result from the differences in the way each country compiles those statistics, so the stats must first be normalized. They never are. If, however, an the life expectancy of a poor African country is rising, it’s a safe bet that the well-being of its population is improving.

        1. John Dewey

          “Thus, as a single metric, it is very much the most important because it depends on so many variables moving in the same direction. No other single variable will tell you more. ”

          If one is comparing large differences in life expectancy – such as the differences between developed and developing nations – then I agree that life expectancy is the important measure. But, for the developed world, I think life expectancy is no longer important.

          I certainly do not agree with the damned progressives who use life expectancy and per capita medical spending to argue that government run medical care is superior. And if you use life expectancy as a measure of the performance of a nation’s medical care system, you will fall into their trap.

          1. John,

            I agree that for comparing developed countries, life expectancy is not at all helpful. The small differences could be attributed to ethnicity, lifestyle habits and how statistics are compiled.

            As a measure of general well-being, it is important. Even for developed countries. When life expectancy rises, you can bet the population is not at war and sanitation, technology, medical care, pharmacology, nutrition, and other measures of well-being are getting that much better.

            What’s most important is not the comparison between developed countries but the direction in which life expectancy is moving for the same country. The fact that U.S. life expectancy has increased by 10 years since 1950 is a big deal because it does very much speak to many improvements in our well-being.

          2. And if you use life expectancy as a measure of the performance of a nation’s medical care system, you will fall into their trap.

            I hope by now it’s clear that this is not what I’m doing, John. Please note that I have now several times said that life expectancy is a function of many variables, of which only one is medical care. Even that one variable “medical care” is not independent of other variables that factor into life expectancy such as peace (vs. war) and technology.

      2. John Dewey

        I have little quarrel with most of what you wrote there except for one thing. You want to make the argument that our medical spending “has been much more focused on improving quality of life, rather than extending life.”

        OK then, if that’s the case you really can’t claim that the spending that you say was mostly not about extending life expectancy had much to do with the better life expectancy statistics in many other countries (which were the thing that I found awkward for those who think that is the most informative metric available.)

        1. John Dewey

          No, Greg, you misunderstand me.

          To the extent that life expectancy improved due to U.S. medical research, the bulk of that research was done prior to 1980. The global population benefitted from that research both before 1980 and after. The benefits were realized in the developed countries first because they had the economies and the infrastructure to implement the fruits of that research. In the developed countries and in many true socialist countries, the implementation was more gradual, occurring both before 1980 and continuing up to this day.

          Over the past 30 years, quality of life medical research did become more important. But that doesn’t mean all the medical research on life extension ended.

          FYI, it has been the capital, technology, and management techniques from the developed world which enabled the so-called socialist countries to grow their economies. Only as those economies grew was it possible for them to afford much of the medical innovation developed in capitalist countries over the past 60 years.

          In summary, Greg, the standards of living – and the resulting increases in life expectancies – in the rest of the world are directly the result of the U.S. and other free market capitalist nations. The many decades of medical development in the U.S., the investment by U.S. corporations in developing nations, and capital provided by the U.S. and others are exactly the reason the entire globe has longer life expectancies than 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

          1. John Dewey

            One sentence above should read:

            “In the developing countries and in many true socialist countries, the implementation was more gradual, occurring both before 1980 and continuing up to this day.”

  7. No single measure of well-being is more informative or important than life expectancy?

    Life Expectancy Plunges For White High School Dropouts In U.S.: In a stunning development, life expectancy for some Americans is actually declining.
    The life expectancy of white high school dropouts in the U.S. has dropped since 1990, according to a new study published by Health Affairs, which analyzed government data. The researchers found that the life expectancy of white female high school dropouts plunged to about 73 years in 2008 from 78 in 1990. The life expectancy of white male high school dropouts has fallen by 3 years to 67 years in the same time period, according to the New York Times.

  8. Hopefully not too far off topic, I ran across this from Moody’s this a.m.;

    “Over the past five years, U.S. consumers have defaulted on $585 billion worth of debt obligations, including mortgages, credit cards and other personal loans, according to U.S. household debt peaked five years ago at $13.8 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Today, the debt level stands at $12.9 trillion, three times the total back in 1998. In the past five years, Americans have defaulted on around $3 of debt for every $2 they’ve paid off. Corporations, on the other hand, have defaulted on $35 billion to $40 billion in debt per year in recent years.”

    1. Che is dead

      Actually, Moe, that story juxtaposes nicely with Jon Murhpy’s story:

      U.S. household debt burden hits 29-year low

  9. Citizen B.

    “Household spending on food, housing, utilities, etc. has fallen from 53% of disposable income in 1950 to 32% today.”

    and yet…

    Personal Consumption Expenditures as a percentage of Disposable Personal Income was 92.9% in 2011, but was less in the the 1950s.

  10. There are a lot more data in that spread sheet to look at
    one example is health care expenditures, if you take the ratio of Health Care expenditures to PCE it starts looks like this
    1930 2.94%
    1940 2.86%
    1950 3.04%
    1960 4.3%
    1970 6.4%
    1980 8.5%
    1990 11.8%
    2000 12.5%
    2010 14.3%
    2011 15.1%

    Now it would be interesting to make a graph showing that as well as categories like financial services and the other bolded categories in the spread sheet and plot that graph which would show how the componets of PCE have changed.
    Note that even adding the 15% to the 32 % gets 47 where as the number in 1950 would be about 57%.

  11. Todd Mason

    Some statistical sleight of hand here. Food at home is now roughly 60 percent of all food spending, and has declined in part because households spent more money on food away from home. The shift is exacerbated by the fact that higher income households use takeout and restaurant meals more than lower income households, which are more frugal by necessity. Nor can takeout be considered a luxury. Working wives have less time.

    What’s lost in this debate is the standard of living provided by one income/household in 1950 is being compared to multiple incomes/household in 2010. The authors ignore resulting changes in spending. Childcare expenditures, for example, would show the opposite fever line.

  12. Income growth for the bottom 90% grew by $59, adjusted for inflation, from 1966 to 2011. About 270 million people have less than $60 more in income than their grandparents had 47 years ago.

    For the top 10%, income grew by $116,071.

    For the top 1% of 1%, about 10,000 people, income grew by $18.4 million.

    AEI says that this disparity does not matter because the cost of food, clothing, and shelter, as a percentage of total income has declined. AEI says this income disparity is good for all of us. AEI says viewing it as inequitable that 270 million people have about $59 more than they would have had in 1966 while 10,000 people have $18,400,000 more is SOCIALISM. After all, 47% of the population — 210 million people — are “lucky duckies” because they do not even pay income taxes, or get their income taxes back because of the earned income tax credit.

    AEI, Romney/Ryan and the WSJ say the way to improve things is to make that top 1% of 1% even richer. Eliminating all taxes on capital gains, dividends, and capital gains would give them at least $30,000,000 more in income. Of course, if we were to be revenue neutral, everybody else would have to pay about $400 in income taxes, but the benefit of making the enormously rich even richer would trickle down to the rest of society.

  13. If health costs and all taxes, other than federal income taxes, were included, then the graph would show people to be worse off now than in the past.

    Health insurance, federal social security and medicare taxes, excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline, state and local taxes are altogether much more now for people who make less than $100,000 per year.

    By excluding spending for taxes and healthcare, this chart clouds up reality. It HIDES the truth, instead of SHOWING the truth of how 90% of the population is only slightly better off than 50 years ago.

  14. The income numbers we typically see for “middle class” make NO sense. Apply some logic: if there are three classes, lower, middle and upper income, then “middle class” is the group of people whose incomes fall between the 33% and 66% level.

    To see what percent you are, plug your income in here:

    Middle-income works out to (rounded a bit) an annual income between $27,000 and $70,000.

    So now how do we all think the middle class is doing?

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