THE PARTY OF MORE STUFF. I'm not sure whether this is funny or sad, but at the end of a David Leonhardt column arguing that middle-class growth and improvement is deeply understated by the inflation rate, Leonhardt admits:
In recent years, the government�s economists have gotten much better at measuring inflation, introducing some new products, like Viagra, into the index within months. Of course, this means that incomes lately have not been understated by much and that their growth really has been miserly. (The recent reports showing healthy gains all refer to averages, which have been driven by huge gains at the top.) For all the sunny numbers that Republicans have offered up, the reality is that not a single piece of government data shows that most workers have gotten a significant wage increase since 2002.
Ah. Well okay, then. The larger point, that snowblowers and cell phones and beta blockers and iPods have improved our lives, is, I think, self-evident and something of a red herring. Life without the Internet strikes this child of the Apple age as nasty, brutish, and unacceptably lacking in online pornography. Whether technology makes life objectively better is a philosophical question that rests on your definition of "better," and requires some deep thinking about how trustworthy self-reported happiness indices are. That we have more stuff able to do cooler things is certainly true, though.
None of this, however, answers whether life has improved as much as it should've for the middle and working class. There's plenty of evidence suggesting that the top few percent now control a much greater portion of the economy than they ever did before, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask why that is, whether it's positive, and if not, how it should be changed. Those questions do not obviate the goodness of iPods. Indeed, they suggest that everyone should be able to own one, and many of us should be able to purchase models with more storage space.