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A Basket of Goods 32 Years Ago Compared to Now

By January 14, 2009

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One of my hobby horses is on how long run inflation is not a particularly meaningful concept, since a basket of goods changes so radically over time with new products being introduced (cell phones, laptops, teeth whitening strips) and changes in quality (desktop computers over the last 3 decades, fabrics, etc.)

Through Mark Perry I found a website that contains old Christmas catalogues - Wishbookweb.com. I have been having a great deal of fun looking through the 1976 JC Penney catalogue. It is rather eye-opening to see what products are in there (and at what prices) and to think about all the products that simply were not available in 1976. A few personal hilights:
  1. A $20 calculator with less features than a current dollar store model.

  2. I would run out and buy this bass guitar tomorrow if it were still for sale for $60.

  3. Save $40 on a 12-inch color television - only $259.99! No remote control, but that is a pretty sweet VHF 'fine tuning' knob.

  4. With this garage door opener you won't get wet getting out of your AMC Matador sedan.

  5. Having a car stereo that plays MP3s is one thing, but this may be even better.

  6. I always wanted one of these as a kid. NFL Electric Football! You can even get your choice of teams. LA Rams vs. Houston Oilers, here we come!

  7. Lime Green Pantsuit! Added bonus: The model looks like she could be Fannie Flagg's kid sister.

Compared to a catalogue from today, this thing looks like it comes from another planet. I guess, in a way, it does.


January 15, 2009 at 1:52 pm
(1) Jeremy Loscheider says:

If I remember the NFL Football game correctly, the players didn’t go in the intended direction so much as in a random walk with drift. I think it also caused the UHF channels to get more static than usual.

January 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm
(2) Lord says:

But would you think your standard of living was halved? I could see traveling back to then noticing the absence of some things and the inconvenience of others, but food, shelter, and clothing would be quite similar. Chilean produce in winter, microwaves, vcrs, computers and games, cell phones, wireless anything, microfiber, but most had substitutes though not necessarily close. Instead of fresh there was canned, tv dinners instead of microwavable frozen entrees, no substitute for moat electronics, phonebooks, catalogs, and the library were poor substitutes for the internet, polyester for microfiber. Sleeping minimally changed. Cooking took a little more time. Television is larger, higher quality picture, with remotes and more options but not hugely different. Landlines and phone booths instead of cellular. Driving is more reliable, possibly more luxurious, has fuel injection, and more gadgets, but not hugely different. Flying is cheaper. The time shifting of vcrs, position shifting of cell phones, and both of the internet would be the largest, but without them you would just spend your time and energy differently. That is probably the largest difference of all, but not so much a monetary one.

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