One of the greatest material triumphs of civilization is that, in modern developed societies, the average person (and even some of those who are called “poor”) is actually wealthier than the great kings, tribal chiefs, and elites of ages past. Wealth has greatly increased even for the common person. Know that “wealth” (in the economic sense, not spiritual) is NOT money, for money is useless by itself. We only want money to buy the things that we need and want. Money is only the intermediate medium of exchange, exchange of the real things we want. Therefore, the definition of wealth is actually well-being, satisfaction of needs and desires, pleasures, comfort, happiness, etc. Given the true meaning of economic wealth, the above statements make more sense. Here are a few examples:
- Music: Kings of old had to spend a lot of their money to hire live musicians to play music in the room or theater. Such music was only of a few types and styles (dull to our standards), by a few types of instruments (harpsicord?, lame). And, the King didn’t have a lot of privacy while listening to music (live musicians in the room), and he could only listen to it during certain times. He could not carry the musicians with him on the horse-drawn carriage. If there was a great composer in another kingdom, he could only hope to have the chance to hear him (a composer can’t be everywhere at once). But, today, we are vastly wealthier than this king. The average person, through ipods and the internet and such, has access (and often times FREE access!) to mountains of varieties of music, so many types and instruments and artists at our fingertips, where ever we go (portable). The greatest musicians in the world, from any time period, are in our pockets, waiting to play for us at our command. And we have the ability to listen to music in privacy (turn on the Jazz in the bedroom). Given how delightful music is to the soul, this example alone goes far in explaining my point.
- Air Conditioning and heating: Kings of old, if they wanted to cool down, would have to hire servants or get slaves (still costly to care for) to wave big fans in their faces, and that would only help a little in comfort. It would also prohibit privacy. But, today, we have air conditioning, and it’s much more effective than a fan-waver, and allows privacy. As for heating, some kings or tribal chiefs might have had some type of heating system that only functions modestly, but besides a basic fire place, many also did not. Better wear lots of layers in that palace. But, today, we have heating.
- Internet: Do I even have to say anything? Knowledge, education, communication and entertainment are valuable (people usually pay for such things), and we have so much more ability to learn and study anything we want at our fingertips. I bet the kings of old are salivating. The best they could do is stock up some library with books that cost his treasury much since everything is handwritten and scarce. And even that library would contain a tiny fraction of our access to knowledge today. Also, they don’t get to see all our awesome cat and puppy videos. It sucks to be king.
- Food varieties: Kings of old would rarely get exotic cuisine, (it’s hard to transport foreign foods by horse). He’ll probably have ample good quality food. But, does he have various restaurants fighting to sell him the best pizza? Can he routinely eat ice cream, or Oreos? And, most kings back then never had chocolate. Poor bastards. What about ice cubes for coke or any kind of refrigeration for a cold beer? Nope. That reminds me, they didn’t have a great beer variety either. But, today, we can select from which ever Chinese restaurant serves our tastes best… or, Korean, Indian, Italian, Greek, Ethiopian, Mexican, French, or whatever. We easily get different foods from around the world. Our selection and variety and quality is (usually) much better than what the kings and tribal chiefs of old could get. Just go to a grocery store and you’ll see all the things they could never have, not to mention spice varieties and candies.
- Telephones: Kings of old, if they had friends or loved ones far away, or just an inconvenient distance, would have to write letters and spend a lot of treasury resources hiring servants to carry their letter to the receiver. And this took much time, especially if you had to cross an ocean. But, today, along with the internet, telephones allow us to easily and instantly talk to whoever we want, no matter how far away they are. We can even see them live with programs like Skype.
- Lifespan: Lifespans were short back then, even for royalty. No matter how much money you have as a king, you could still easily die of sicknesses that we don’t worry about much anymore. Today, we live longer and healthier lives. Our biggest health enemy is that we simply don’t exercise enough, or we eat too much sugar, and these problems are due to our own choices, not a lack of resources or wealth.
- Pain relief: Even royalty gets sick with headaches and other pains. Besides better cures today, we have simple and cheap pain relief pills that help that (or more specialized prescription drugs). We have many cheap ways of alleviating symptoms that kings and tribal chiefs of old never had. They just had to bite the bullet.
- Cars and other transportation: If a king of old wanted to explore the world around him, or just go throughout his nearby kingdom, this was a difficult task. He’d have to get some horses and drivers ready and then go slowly on a very bumpy ride with no heating or AC. Today, we can cruise anywhere in the world easily. We can take a vacation to the Caribbean, or Asia, just for fun. We have the ability to explore and satisfy our curiosity of other cultures and gain much fun and many memories that kings of old had less (though some) ability to do.
- TV, movies, and other entertainment: Kings of old could only hope to occasionally go to a theater play or some other performance, or hear jokes from a jester. I haven’t yet been to a really professional broadway play, but I’ve been to several other plays and they aren’t that great, and that’s including the fact that today we have better production capabilities than back then. Centuries ago, I’m sure that it was RELATIVELY entertaining compared to what they knew of in their dull lives, but it was nothing compared to what we have today. Back then, if there was a great actor or director of a play, such people could not be everywhere at once, so most kings would never get the opportunity to see the best in the business. And, hiring all those actors takes a lot of money from the treasury. Ouch! And, there’s no privacy in these settings. How is the king going to make his move with his queen at the right moment in the middle of the play, what with all those proper etiquette rules? Today, we can watch movies and TV shows from around the world, whichever ones suit our tastes the most. We have decades of compiled awesome movies and TV shows that greatly entertain us and make us think about other people’s perspectives and cultures. I’m thankful for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Forest Gump, South Park, The Office, Dexter, and so much more. We have Steve Martin and Will Ferrel, SNL, and countless comedians competing to make us laugh. For those who are into sports, good for you, too. Ladies, don’t you love those classic romantic comedies? And what about surround sound theaters? It sure sucks to be a king; maybe your jester was sent there to assassinate you. Watch out!
- Roller Coasters and other theme parks: Awesome!
Wow, it sure sucks to be a king back then. Today, the economic wealth and well-being of the average person in the US (or other developed societies) is better in quality and comfort than the average king or tribal chief just a couple hundred years ago and the thousands of years beyond. Of course they may have had more money and gold, but even that immense wealth couldn’t buy them the things that we easily buy today. As I said before, money itself is not the measure of economic wealth. The true measure is what you can buy with that money, the satisfaction of needs, desires, and preferences. Even many (though not all) of the people we call “poor” today are actually wealthier than the kings and tribal chiefs of old once we realize this. What’s striking is that I’m not even comparing the average person long ago to the average person today. That would be an even more amazing story that supports my point, for if the average person today is wealthier than the kings of old, and the kings of old were much, much wealthier than the average person, than the average person today is inconceivably wealthier than the average person of old, once you compare apples to apples (then I’d make a list of 1,000 instead of 10!) In fact, when you consider the total number of humans in all the past and present around the world, the AVERAGE person in a developed society today is easily in the top 1% wealth-wise. Yes, you are probably part of the 1%.
And all of this is due to industrialization and capitalism, the great emancipators of humanity from poverty and material misery. Yet, so many leftists and progressives hold the remarkably stupid idea that industrialization and capitalism are harmful to people’s standard of living and material happiness. This is, of course, because they don’t know the definition of capitalism (they define it as anything that has to do with greed, money, and business, while its actual meaning is a system of private property rights and free trade) and also because they, usually having no understanding of economic science, mistakenly blame “markets” for most of the problems that we see that are actually caused by government.