In the 1920s it took 79 hours of work to buy a nice men’s suit; today it takes less than half that.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the average American family spent three-quarters of its income on food, clothing, and shelter; today it spends about one-third on those items, and spends and even greater proportion on taxes (source).
That principle is the exact principle whereby capitalism enriches any and every society that implements it.
But there’s even more:
Electric light was first deployed along Pearl Street in downtown Manhattan in 1882, powered by America’s first commercial electric grid. Electric lighting initially cost much more than gas lighting (the dominant form of lighting at the time) and was available only to multi-millionaire JP Morgan and a handful of businesses in New York’s financial district. By 1932, however, the price of electricity had fallen to one-third its former level, and 70 percent of Americans had electricity. Within fifty years of Edison introducing the electric grid, gas light was all but forgotten, and electricity emerged as the power source for the masses. Electricity not only provided clean, odorless, and safe lighting compared to its predecessor; it also powered refrigerators, fans, heaters, irons, and ovens, and it quickly became the dominant source of motive power in factories (source).
Capitalism lowers the cost of every new technology. It does so by taking products — cars, cotton, electricity, phones, computers, it doesn’t matter — and through constant innovation and the ingenuity that free markets foster, mass producing these items, which lowers and lowers the costs. That is why in this country even those below the poverty level own televisions, phones, microwaves, toasters, and so on. That is why no one starves to death in the United States.
The locus of wealth is production and free exchange. The locus of production and free exchange is private property. And that is why private property is the most important ingredient to capitalism.
Consider that government cannot redistribute or spend a single penny without first either taxing, borrowing, or printing, all three of which deplete real wealth. In this way, government intervention, in any of its multifarious forms, is by definition self-defeating: It can only end in wealth destruction. It’s also why labor unions cannot, over the long run, increase real wages and living standards, and only advances in technology can.
“Historically, real wages (wages adjusted for the effects of inflation) rose at about 2 percent per year before the advent of unions, and at a similar rate afterward” (Morgan Reynolds, Power and Privilege: Labor Unions in America, 1984).
Says Dr. Dilorezo:
If labor unions were responsible for the historical rise in wages, then the solution to world poverty would be self-evident: unionize all the poorest nations on earth. [And yet] private-sector unions reached their peak in terms of membership in the 1950s, when they accounted for about a third of the workforce. Today, they represent barely 10 percent of the private-sector workforce. All during this time of declining union memberships, influence, and power, wages and living standards have risen substantially. All of the ‘declining industries’ in America from the 1970s on tended to be the highly unionized ones, whereas the growing industries, especially in the high-technology fields, are almost exclusively nonunion. At best, unions can improve the standards of living of some of their members, but only at the expense of other, nonunion workers, consumers, and others. When unions use their power to go on strike, or threaten to strike, and succeed in increasing their members’ wages above what they could earn on the free market, they inevitably cause some union members to lose their jobs.
The reason? When wages rise, it makes labor more costly; therefore, to keep turning a profit, employers simply cannot employ as many workers.