Sunday, December 26, 2010

And so this is Christmas

And so this is Christmas. It has been a subdued season around the manse; Sandy is bummed that our daughter did not make it home for the holiday, but she works in retail these days, and could not get away.
On another front, we have come very close to a White Christmas here, something that has not happened in the years that records have been kept, since about 1871. Snowfall is a rare bird here in central Alabama, as we average it about every eight years, normally just "a trace". This time, we have ended up with about an inch, accompanied by sub-freezing temperatures and a wind advisory, but a day late for the White Christmas standard. Yesterday, we went to my brother Bill's house for the Christmas doings, as he and Diann have grandchilluns, and the other two of us brothers do not. Gifting for the little ones (the adults do not gift), too much brunchy food, lots of noise, and all the things that go with it. An enjoyable time had by all.
As I type this, at 10:40am local time, we have 30F, with blowing light snow. Our "average" high temp for this date is 54F. Weather will do what it will do, and we have no control of it, so just go with it. We shall see. I would rather pass on winter of course, as I ride motorscooters, and have a built-in 40 mph wind chill.
Happiest of holiday seasons to all, and everyone enjoy your family and friends.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How poor are you?

I hear much weeping about how poor we are these days, how the middle class endlessly suffers, and how terrible the cost of living is these days. Things have changed, yes, but how much? "Living" is a whole different thing than it used to be. Inflation adjusted, education and health care have far outpaced inflation, while other things vary from about the same to substantially less. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the price of your computer, for example, has fallen about 80% since 1981, a pound of coffee is down 55% from 1955, and gasoline and utility costs are about the same.
There are a number of inflation calculators online which you can use to compare prices, including the government's own CPI calculator. You discover interesting things.
In 1965, Ford Motor Company had a leading seller econo-sedan, the Falcon. The base Falcon came with a 170ci inline six, rated at 120hp, but that was the "gross" hp, as compared to today's "net" ratings, and a car-magazine test at the time estimated about 70hp at the tires. It came standard with a three-on-the-tree transmission, and this fireball would roll from 0-60 in about 11 seconds. It had a single-barrel carb, a points-and-condenser ignition, and required a major tune-up every 10,000 miles. It had fade-prone drum brakes on all four wheels. Power brakes and power steering were not available. It had no radio, no seat belts, and no outside mirrors, all those being optional, but to its credit, in 1965 padded sunvisors became standard equipment. It got 14-18mpg. The price for this gas-sucking death trap was $2182.00 plus destination charges and dealer prep.
In 2010 dollars, this is $15,150.82, about the price of the current econo-sedan, the Ford Focus. Standard equipment includes a 4 cylinder 144ci engine with more power and torque than the old 170 inline six, fuel injection, and computer-controlled ignition system, and suggests a tuneup at 100,000 miles. Four speed with overdrive manual transmission. Performance-wise, it will spank the old Falcon like an unwanted stepchild. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, front and side impact airbags, three point seat belts, tilt steering wheel, power front disc/rear drum brakes with 4 wheel ABS, electronic stability and traction control, rear door child safety locks, AM/FM with CD, MP3 decoder and 4 speakers, keypod entry, power door locks, remote trunk release, and carpet, among a long list. (in the 1965 Falcon, rubber floor mats were standard) The base Focus is rated at 25mpg city/34 highway.
The price of a typical TV has fallen 70% since 1955, but in 1955 it was a one-time investment - there was no cable, no satellite TV, no pay-per-view, no DVDs. There was no internet, nor even personal computers. No cellphones. No MP3 players. No iTunes. No Netflix. No Sirius/XM radio. Add up your annual cost for any of these that you have.
In 1948, the first of the Levittown subdivisions was built in New York, with the houses selling for $8000, about the same, in inflation-adjusted dollars, as the $72,600 that a comparable house goes for today. If that sounds low, remember that we are talking comparables; the standard Levittown house was 1100 sq ft, and the size of a typical American house is now 2349 sq ft, more than double the 1950 average.
How poor are you?