Was the 20th century one of inflation?

by on June 29, 2004 at 7:20 am in Economics | Permalink

Peter Gordon looks at a 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog and asks whether money was worth more back then.

Of course it depends how much you are given. $5.00 back then goes a longer way, but I would rather earn $100,000 a year today, and yes that is not adjusting for inflation. For Peter modern pharmaceuticals are the clincher:

Would you want their best 1902 camera for $7.90? Probably not. High-end cutlery for 6 for $1.79? Why not? A great western saddle for $8.95? Sure.

It’s the Sears “Drug Department” that is the real eye opener. “Fat Folks, Take Rose’s Obesity Powders and Watch the Result … $4.20 per dozen boxes.” Herb laxative teas for 16 cents a box may be OK. Dr. Rose’s Arsenic Complexion Wafers 35 cents a box may have few takers today. Vin Vitae for 69 cents (“Not a Medicine … Not Merely a Tonic”). The “White Ribbon Secret Liquor Cure” went for $2.50 a box. The list goes on and does focus the mind.

My question for today: Does this mean that we should adjust the gdp deflator series to show ongoing deflation for the 20th century?

Here is a general plug for Peter’s excellent blog. Here is Virginia Postrel on how we underestimate the benefits from new products.

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