Krugman reviews The Rise and Fall of American Growth

Paul Krugman wrote a good review of Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War in The New York Times todayI haven’t read the book yet but have read Gordon’s work and heard his TED Talk, and I have a few problems with both to put up later. At one point Krugman wrote:

 And it’s hard not to agree with him that nothing that has happened since is remotely comparable. Urban life in America on the eve of World War II was already recognizably modern; you or I could walk into a 1940s apartment, with its indoor plumbing, gas range, electric lights, refrigerator and telephone, and we’d find it basically functional.

That didn’t seem quite right. According to the 1940 U.S. census, 30% of all households did not have running water  and 20% did not have electrical lighting while 40% of all U.S. households did not have flush toilets either.  Those percentages are low enough that most urban dwellings did have electrical lighting, running water and flush toilets.

45% did not have electric or gas stoves. But 50% of U.S. households did not have a power washing machine, 60% did not have central heating,  and 85% still did not have a mechanical refrigerator.

So if including the refrigerator, probably only a very small percentage of urban dwellers had those in 1940 and a sizable minority did not have a washing machine or central heating as Krugman wrote.


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