Friday, June 01, 2007

Standard of living for average American. Rising? Falling? Unchanged?

Can progress be measured in technology, rather than consumption?

A feeling that one is making progress seems to be very important to people.

Future generations having it better than past generations. Our own lives getting better and better. Going somewhere. Progressing toward a goal.

Since childhood, the virtue of PROGRESS has been instilled in me.

A lot is written about the American standard of living. Is it rising, falling or remaining the same? Of course this depends on who you are, but more interestingly, it depends on what you define as "standard of living."

How does one measure the standard of living?

That is a very important question.

Does more consumption always mean a higher standard of living?

If that's the case, American living standards are likely to fall as more people consuming more resources can't be sustained indefinitely on this planet.

On the other hand, maybe more consumption is not necessary for a higher standard of living.

Here is one thing that we do keep getting more and more of all the time.


Future generations have more technology than past generations. Our lives keep getting more sophisticated, or some might say more complicated with each new advance in computers, products, concepts.

Maybe we should get our needed sense of progress from the inevitable progress in technology that we see around us.

I was recently talking to a friend, who lives in Ecuador. That's in South America. We were talking for free using Skype. It seemed like he was next door.


20 years ago, such conversations would have been unimaginable. Today, it's taken for granted with "voice over Internet" technology.

That conversation revolved around how expensive housing is getting in USA. How the average American wage has certainly not kept up with spiraling real estate values. Yes, I remember when you could work close to minimum wage and still be able to afford an apartment in an urban area. I knew someone who sold a house in Seattle for $18,000 back in the mid 1970s. Looking up that same house on shows the price well over half a million. Wages haven't kept pace with that, for most people.

This friend of mine has a dual citizenship and moved back to Ecuador in part due to the high cost of housing in USA. Meanwhile, in Ecuador his career has taken off in a positive direction. Positive in terms of doing interesting work at least, not necessarily making a fortune.

What brings happiness and fulfillment? Not necessarily more consumption.

We concluded our conversation saying that future generations may be homeless, but able to talk around the world for free.

The average American home takes a lot of land and resources. Yard space, blacktop to get to and fro by car, heating bills, water, sewage. You name it.
As the Earth gets more populated, our housing choices will need to get smaller. If not becoming homeless, future generations will most likely live in environments of higher density. Apartments, rooms, townhouses, high rises, condominiums.

At the same time, does that necessarily constitute a lower standard of living?

It all depends on how one defines standard of living. For instance, living in a small space and being with-in walking distance of good culture might be as important as owning a huge yard, but having to drive everywhere.

Of course the close-in places tend to be expensive, these days, but with future planning, there can be a bigger supply of "close-in" places.

There's only so much space around the hearts of our largest cities. There's only one San Francisco, but as more of our smaller cities get large, we have more cities.

Population growth is sure putting a crimp on our consumption of land and resources, but as we get smarter, the standard of living doesn't have to fall; not for a while at least.

I am assuming we're getting smarter of course.

Progress in technology and better planning can more than compensate for loss of consumption.

Future generations can have a better life, with more culture, better planning, more "pedestrian oriented neighborhoods," and most predictably, lots of new technology.

Yes, lots of new technology, but consuming less space, energy and natural resources.

I often say it's like going from the vacuum tube to the transistor to the microchip.

Of course some would argue that the microchip isn't always better. I hear that some rock bands still prefer vacuum tubes in their amplifiers.

Rock and Roll: was "the new generation," now it can be nostalgia.

Will "high tech / low consumption" be a high standard of living?

I see you cringing at how far removed our lives are becoming from nature. You say, "technology, but no more yard space?"

Well, I guess we're getting too crowded to own our own yard space. We can still preserve great areas and agricultural lands, but we can't all buy up the last remaining rural areas as private non-farming properties.

We just have to consume less and count our progress in terms of a great society and all that new technology.

You are shaking your head in disbelief.

So, maybe future generations will have to shrink themselves down to a size that allows for living in a cell phone.

No comments: