The kitchen that my mother used 50 years ago is really not that different from the one we use today. Electricity, a mechanical refrigerator, and hot and cold running water have been here for a long time. But 60 years before that, the kitchen was a very different place.
According to Princeton’s Stanley Lebergott (1918-2009), in Pursuing Happiness, in 1890, 24% (the majority in cities) of all homes had running water. In 1900, no one had a mechanical refrigerator and only 3% of all U.S. kitchens had iceboxes and horse drawn wagon deliveries of ice blocks. A freezer? No.
Looking at those two kitchens, economist Tyler Cowen expresses concern. He relates the lack of meaningful technological change in the home to a stagnant standard of living and ineffectually rising health care and education spending.
The bottom line? Nationally, we have to live within our means until the next technological revolution.
The Economic Lesson
What kind of technological revolution is meaningful? Sometimes less is more. Research from Edwin Mansfield (1930-1997) indicates something as simple as a new kind of industrial thread can make a big difference.