The central fact of macroeconomics is that, without the planning of anyone, human society was able to string together more than three centuries of improved living standards.
This has happened … once. And all of our lives depend crucially on it.
And yet there are many people who are certain that the future will be worse than the past. What gives?
The reason mid-20th-century Americans were optimistic about the future wasn’t that science-fiction writers told cool stories about space travel. Science-fiction glamour in fact worked on only a small slice of the public. (Nobody else in my kindergarten was grabbing for "You Will Go to the Moon.") People believed the future would be better than the present because they believed the present was better than the past. They constantly heard stories -- not speculative, futuristic stories but news stories, fashion stories, real-estate stories, medical stories -- that reinforced this belief. They remembered epidemics and rejoiced in vaccines and wonder drugs. They looked back on crowded urban walk-ups and appreciated neat suburban homes. They recalled ironing on sweaty summer days and celebrated air conditioning and wash-and-wear fabrics. They marveled at tiny transistor radios and dreamed of going on airplane trips. [emphasis added]
From my perspective then, macro is hard because people don’t recognize the wonder of it all.
Let me give you some personal experience about what it was like when I took my first and second macro courses in 1981-2.
- This was 6 years before I first used a personal computer. I wrote papers on a typewriter.
- Remember White Out?
- At that time the university library did not have copy machines. I was able to get things copied by taking them to my dad’s office.
- My gosh, I’d received mimeographed handouts within 5 years previous to that time.
- I was the first person in my circle of friends to have portable, personally curated, music. Here’s a picture of it that I found on The Google:
- This was the size of a brick, and weighed as much as a large hardcover book. It did not have Dolby. I got it through mail order, literally from an ad in the back of a magazine. It cost around $150 (about $390 in today’s dollars) in the summer of 1981.
- Any sort of soft tip pen was new within the previous 6-8 years. Rich kids always had felt tip pens. I underlined my texts with pen, and sometimes a ruler. I didn’t get my first highlighter until 1983.
- Textbook resale or buy-back was unheard of back then.
- Our TV had 8 channels. I went to school with many people from the New York City area. This was an amazing thing to them. We were in Buffalo, and we got 3 extra channels because we could bring in the Canadian stations: 2 in Toronto and 1 in Hamilton.
- My father was the first person I knew who had a VCR (a betamax). We got this in early 1982.
- We had many televisions in our house, but only one of them was color.
- At that time, remotes like we’re used to today had to have a physical cable. Our new VCR had one, but our TV did not. You could get remotes for TVs, but they required an actual motor inside the TV to physically turn the knob, and the remote was very big and had large C or D cell batteries to send the signal to it.
- The first front wheel drive cars had just become available. Again, we were the first people to have one. That car sucked.
- Four wheel drive was not something that anyone had who didn’t have a farm, or do serious camping. AWD did not exist.
- My cousin (a sales rep) had air conditioning in his company car. So did some richer people I knew (but not all of them).
- My parents didn’t get a microwave until I bought them one as a gift in the late 1980’s.
- The first thing I bought with my first full time summer job: a turntable. (I still have it. Apparently it’s one of the ones that audiophiles like to get their hands on. I got it out a few years ago to show my kids).
- I had a reel-to-reel tape deck for better quality recording of my musical adventures.
If you’d like to live with any of those … keep telling yourself that the future is going to be worse than the past.
Cross-posted from SUU Macroblog, which is required reading for my students.