Thursday, January 12, 2012

“There Is No Great Stagnation”

Measurement of real GDP per capita is not easy, but optimists tend to think growth rates have been greatly understated over the last few decades. Here’s Tim Worstall, quoted in full:

So I’m in Dresden overnight for a 6.30 am flight. No way to get from Freiberg to here by that time in the morning.

And having had a look around the area of this cheapo hotel (now’t wrong w’i't, just cheapo) nothing really appeals as a dining venue. Or even a drinking one.

However, there’s a Lidl on the corner. Rye bread, sliced sausage (hey, this is Germany), packet of crispy things and a jar of hot dip, bottle of some odd end of bin red wine.

The red is a whole two years old now, a 2010, from SE Australia. Not prize worthy, no, but entirely drinkable (the hot dip helps).

All of this for under €5.

And as I’m sipping I’ve talked to my wife in Portugal about her and my days, when I’ll arrive so she can pick me up, what we’re going to do tomorrow evening (cost of call on roaming, maybe another €5). And I’m clearly and obviously blogging on my €40 a month German Vodafone mobile access stick.

On a €300 computer.

It’s possible to take this all different ways.

I’m sitting in a foreign city, no previous knowledge of the place, eating a dinner which costs me less than 1 hour of minimum wage labour, a dinner which these days is regarded as hardship, a dinner which 200 years ago would have been exotically expensive (the wine, specifically) for the average Englishman. Bread and meat….it was around but not everyone was eating it.

I’ve had an international phone call where the price, even on a mobile, makes the casual keeping in touch something that you’re weird if you don’t do. I’m old enough to recall when an international phone call was something you thought about. I still work with people of my own age for whom an international phone call was something that the government specifically forbade. And for my parent’s generation, it was something that you saved for and really, really, did not expect to do for mere trivialities like “How are you?”

And this blogging thing? Even mobile telecomms. They’re both younger than I am (as is of course true of an increasing portion of the world).

I’m afraid that, given that I can now do things for trivial cost that I did not dream would be possible in my youth. Heck, things that I did not think would be possible when I met my wife (being with someone for decades, sure, I knew that was possible, being able to chat to them while you’re away at a price you can afford I didn’t).

Given all of that….umm, what is this Great Stagnation that is being talked about?

Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to see life as not having improved much over the decades.

As an optimist, I would add that Tim is a virtual friend of mine — an idea that was unheard of before about 15 years ago, and one that makes us all richer. Tim has also parlayed a middle-class English west country upbringing, and a series of jobs typical of people in their 20s, into an upper middle-class life in Portugal where he trades in rare earth metals and writes opinion columns. This is the sort of life arc people can have in the 21st century, but we have way too many dim bulbs around who can’t see the forest for the trees. As a student, be inspired by Tim, not by the rest of the crowd.

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