More Stuff, Less Time

One of the major complaints that come from people who are in favor of cutting welfare is that the poor have too much stuff.  After all, almost 100% of really poor people have a refrigerator.

It’s easy to make fun of idiotic attacks like that.  Really easy.  But, like all effective attacks, there is a sliver of truth to it.  Poor people do have more stuff.  Mostly, this is because the middle class has more stuff.  And the middle class has more stuff because the cost of stuff really hasn’t gone up much even as the purchasing power of the middle class has stagnated.  The middle class gets a new refrigerator and the poor get a still functioning old refrigerator for dirt cheap.

What is hidden in all of this is the one thing that we haven’t figured out how to recycle.  Time.  Specifically, family time.  The total hours of time worked per family has increased steadily in the United States.  As Paul Krugman points out, you may be tempted to say that is to be expected with more women joining the work force.  Europe has pretty much the same employment rates as the U.S., though, and their total hours worked has dropped steadily.

So we now have a middle class that has slightly more stuff than they used to be able to have but at the expense of much less family time.  You would think that the party that attempts to claim a monopoly on “family values” would want to address an issue as important as this.