Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It has the gluttony and sloth of Christmas, with little of the greed and envy. And it’s the only day of the year for which it’s socially acceptable to spend three days making a “side dish” that’s really your main course. Plus, of course, there’s family and football and parades and America(!) too. It’s great.
It’s also one of the few days where we Americans take a moment to be expressly thankful for what we have. I remember as a dumb teenager that this used to be my least favorite part of the day—having to go around the table saying what we’re thankful for (“so lame,” said Ungrateful Teen Scott)—but now it’s one of my favorites, especially these last two pandemic years. So, in keeping with this theme, today we’re going to spend some time being thankful for something often overlooked in today’s economic policy circles: our historically mind-blowing age of material abundance.
Now, amid incessant news of inflation and supply chains and other economic ripples, you may scoff at such “abundance” talk. But, in terms of basic necessities like food, clothing, and home goods, it’s really undeniable that Americans of all income levels are much wealthier today than we were only a few decades ago. And this improving quality of life, especially for lower- and middle-income workers, hasn’t been fueled by new debt but instead by a combination of higher incomes (which we discussed at length last year) and lower prices (thanks, global competition!). Thus, everyday essentials’ “time prices”—i.e., the number of hours you’d need to work to afford something—have steadily (though unevenly) declined over the longer term.