Two Minutes, $9.99

Yesterday afternoon I got Facebook notification of a new post by my friend Clark Neily. On clicking “View Post,” I found Clark’s enthusiastic recommendation of The Martian. The embedded link took me to Amazon’s page for the Kindle edition of the book, where I clicked “Buy now with 1-Click.” Immediately I received notification that Amazon was sending The Martian to my Kindle.

I don’t know how much time passed between my first learning that Clark likes that book and my having it in my possession, ready to read, but I doubt it could have been more than two minutes. It might have been as little as twenty-five seconds.

That little experience put me in mind of the widespread claim these days that the American economy is not making average Americans better off anymore. A quick Google search finds me, for example, a report from the Economic Policy Institute entitled “A Decade of Flat Wages, The Key Barrier to Shared Prosperity and a Rising Middle Class.” It states,

The wage and benefit growth of the vast majority, including white-collar and blue-collar workers and those with and without a college degree, has stagnated, as the fruits of overall growth have accrued disproportionately to the richest households. (emphasis added)

Is that italicized passage true? I don’t think so. The focus on money incomes obscures the way our still mostly free economy delivers the goods, in tremendous abundance, to average Americans. Facebook, which makes it easy for me to keep in touch with friends like Clark, was founded in 2004, within the past “decade of flat wages.” And from the average Americans who use it, Facebook requires no expenditure of wages at all. It’s free. Amazon’s Kindle, enjoyed primarily by the non-rich, was launched in 2007, also within the last decade. It’s not free but it’s wonderful, and $9.99 is less than I would have had to spend for a book a decade ago. The Google search, with which I found the EPI’s report explaining how my life has stagnated in recent years, was also free. So is the report.

Such fruits of overall growth are accruing to everyone.

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