When can median income consumers afford the very best?

by on January 5, 2016 at 2:36 am in Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

Raffi Melkonian asks:

A random Econ ? that pops into my head: are there any goods that a US median income maker can buy that are the best available?

I can think of quite a few:

iPhones and Kindle

mineral water (Gerolsteiner)

most vaccines and antibiotics

writing paper



basketballs and many other sporting goods


Coca-Cola, Mexican or otherwise

Google and Facebook

Raffi himself cites “razor blade” on Twitter.

What else?


1 Sam Haysom January 5, 2016 at 2:39 am

Beans obviously.

2 Econchic January 5, 2016 at 11:57 am

+1, and hummus, yum!

3 Nathan W January 5, 2016 at 11:24 pm

It boggles my mind what hummus costs in most grocery stores. $5 for a few hundred grams of chickpeas?

4 Dzhaughn January 6, 2016 at 12:49 am

They have the capacity to easily make first rate hummus themselves. It is rarely for sale in the US.

“Modernist Cuisine” (both the elitist cookbook and much of the equipment it discusses), remain out of reach. But then it is far from the best cookbook.

5 Axa January 5, 2016 at 2:48 am

Steaks, the median consumer can buy a real beef steak.

6 Ted F January 5, 2016 at 9:44 am

Best steaks are Kobe, which are hundreds of dollars and unavailable in most cities.

7 mahmet January 5, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Kobe beef is awful, the texture is weird. It’s a case of people overvaluing expensive things.

8 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:09 am

Especially if you invest $250 on a sous vide setup. $5/lbs cuts of beef can be made to taste better than fillet.

9 Simon January 5, 2016 at 12:28 pm

This is supposed to be a list of things which a medium income consumer can afford the BEST OF, not just things which they can afford.

The medium income consumer in America/Europe certainly can’t afford the very best steaks!

10 feh January 5, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Given that after a certain point, quality of steak becomes subjective, I would say yes, they actually can.

11 Dude January 5, 2016 at 1:59 pm

I agree with this. A great steak, unprepared, is ~$12/lb. Most people could afford that, especially if they reduce the number of times they ate out at restaurants.

12 Sam Haysom January 5, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Again it’s not a great steak it’s the best steak which costs a whole lot more than 12 dollars a pound.

13 buddyglass January 5, 2016 at 6:44 pm

I agree with him too, but the price of unprepared steak isn’t especially relevant. What you’re paying for is the expertise with which its prepared.

14 Axa January 6, 2016 at 5:44 am

@ Sam “steak pro” Haysom, what’s the price per pound of the best steak? Median income is 51K. Kobe beef starts at 100+ USD per pound and tops at $400-500 per pound. That’s a fraction of the yearly price for an iPhone and iPhones are median income. $500 is 1% of yearly income. The other expensive meat, Polmard, is around 2000+ per cut. You can eat 1 Polmard steak every two years without compromising the future.

The issue here is opportunity cost. With median income you can have the best of 1 thing, perhaps 5 things and no more, choose wisely. Rich people can have the very best of many things. Very rich people have a smaller opportunity cost problem.

15 Sam Haysom January 6, 2016 at 3:46 pm

That’s a lot of words to call me a strangely non-insulting name and then concede that I am completely right. Is there some other issue at work here?

16 JayT January 5, 2016 at 3:20 pm

I agree on steak, but there are many types of food that the median American can certainly afford. The very best bowl of pho I’ve had in San Francisco costs about $7, for example. The best pizza is probably around $30.

17 Widmerpool January 5, 2016 at 2:51 am

What is Coca-cola supposed to be the best of?

18 prior_test January 5, 2016 at 3:37 am

Things a median income earner in America can buy, obviously.

One is surprised that Prof. Cowen did not expand that list to include something like Doritos, or crunchy peanut butter, or cupcakes – after all, this is at best a web site that merely pretends to look at anything beyond suburban East Coast American perspectives and opinions.

19 David R. Henderson January 5, 2016 at 10:25 am

Yes, prior_test, because Doritos are so non-East Coast.

20 Thor January 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

But the German ones are so much superior!

21 Fizz-Assist January 5, 2016 at 11:53 am

I make my own peanut butter using wholesale peanuts from Costco and a food processor. Higher quality than store-bought, for about the same price. You can adjust to your own preferred level of crunchiness or sweetness.

22 Thor January 6, 2016 at 1:28 am

Do you buy organic? I have read that peanuts are among the most sprayed nut grown. (It may not matter. I don’t know.)

23 Brandon P. January 5, 2016 at 1:04 pm

The whole cupcake resurgence was almost entirely an urban phenomenon–the most prominent purveyor of which was DC Cupcake. I have literally no idea what crunchy peanut butter has to do with the rest of the country. You are fooling literally no one.

24 Don Reba January 5, 2016 at 4:10 am

Or rutabagas, for that matter.

25 Steko January 5, 2016 at 5:10 am

G-rated Andy Warhol anecdotes.

26 Highgamma January 5, 2016 at 2:52 am

Pretty much any unique public good. (E.g., the view from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or whitewater river rafting on the Tuolumne River.)

27 Roger Sweeny January 7, 2016 at 11:01 am

The view from the North Rim is much better. More varied. Since the South Rim is ~1,000 feet lower, the view from there is more overpowering, but it’s quantity, not quality.

28 Luis Pedro Coelho January 5, 2016 at 3:03 am

I once saw a Bentley with an iPhone holder.


A meal at El Celler de Can Roca in Barcelona or any top restaurant.

Sure, not an everyday event for a median income household, but for a special event, a couple of times a year… In fact, if they have trouble getting into any top restaurant will be because of the non-economic barriers (it’s hard to get a reservation at some of these places if you don’t have the right connections/are not a celebrity).

29 Colin January 5, 2016 at 8:33 am

Small detail but El Celler de Can Roca is in Girona, not Barcelona.

30 Ray Lopez January 5, 2016 at 3:15 am


31 prior_test January 5, 2016 at 3:28 am

If Gerolsteiner is on that list, why not Warsteiner, the self-described queen of beers? The strategy, and product quality, are similiar. Even if Warsteiner flamed out spectacularly by using Lidl and thus destroying its carefully marketed image, after being savaged by rumors of being connected to Scientology.

On the other hand, I think it was Gerolsteiner that first introduced plastic deposit bottles in Germany for mineral water – that would certainly be something that middle class America is used to, and considers desirable.

32 Harun January 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

Warsteiner the “best” of beers? Man, you are a hoot.

Also, Budweiser is the King of Beers…says so right on the can…do you believe that, too?

Best pilsener: Pils by Lagunitas.

Beer Advocate:
Lagunitas Pils

They actually consider these different types, one being Czech style vs. German, but even among German pilseners, Warsteiner doesn’t win. Something called Prima Pils does. Never had that, though.

Word to the wise: the foam can reveal a lot of quality and the mouthfeel as well, and Pils destroys any German pilsener I’ve ever had, which all taste generic – decent but boring.

33 Jimmy January 5, 2016 at 12:24 pm

Beer Advocate – “5.0 – I can really taste the rare!”

34 Harun January 5, 2016 at 3:52 pm

I used to import craft beers to an Asian country.

I actually used beer advocate ratings to set up my first purchases without ever tasting the beer first.

It worked amazingly well.

35 Lord Action January 5, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Prima Pills is very good.

36 Lord Action January 5, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Pils. Ha!

37 Harun January 5, 2016 at 3:53 pm

OK, it goes on my list.

38 Nathan W January 5, 2016 at 3:33 am

I don’t have anything against the line of thinking promoted by the list, but I think it’s worth noting that the “best of” things which are extraordinarily important to people are far from accessible to the middle class. For example, in the context of the USA, the best of health care, education and access to political/legal representation, the second and third of which imply structural barriers against social mobility (i.e., barriers against a true meritocracy).

39 Millian January 5, 2016 at 3:37 am

Extraordinarily important to people – who says? The #1 priority at the moment seems to be national security, and US median income earners get the best that money can buy. Not everybody would swap everything on this list for a free ticket to grad school.

40 BorrowedUsername January 5, 2016 at 8:42 am

#1 according to whom? Elites care a lot about national security. If you poll people for why they’re going to vote for someone they might list it highly, but that’s because that’s what politicians focus on (elites again) and also that’s maybe what they view as most achievable.

41 Mulp January 5, 2016 at 4:58 pm

The reason it’s best is it is provided for free by putting it on the biggest credit card in the world.

Unlike in the 50s 60s when the middle class could afford to pay for the best defense, since Reagan, the best defense has been too expensive, but can be provided today for free by paying for.consumption with debt.

Along with pretty much everything you want to consume.

42 Brandon Berg January 6, 2016 at 1:08 am

Military expenditures as a percentage of GDP are well below what they were during the Reagan administration, and about half what they were in the 50s and 60s. The debt is due to ballooning social expenditures.

43 Charger January 6, 2016 at 9:43 am

Are you including quasi-military spending on “national security” and “homeland defense”?

44 JOhn January 5, 2016 at 10:42 am

Wonder if that’s not shifting the context of the question from markets to politic. Moreover, it’s not clear what would define the best national security or if everyone will agree with an one definition that’s nontoutological. It’s also not at all clear that the median income earner really have any significant say in the purchase or if it’s even how they would choose to allocate the marginal $s.

45 The Original D January 5, 2016 at 2:47 pm

National security management is provided by people above the median income. National security execution (e.g soldiers) is provided by people a bit below the median though if you count housing and free health care maybe they are at the median.

46 Mulp January 5, 2016 at 5:00 pm

Yeah, including food stamps, food pantries, etc.

47 Drethelin January 5, 2016 at 3:50 am

That’s because the the “best” of all of those are zero sum. There’s bo universe in which everyone can afford the best doctor for a given condition because that doctor is one person out of millions if not billions of potential patients. The same goes for education: Harvard is prestigious BECAUSE it’s extremely limited. far more people can afford to go to harvard than can actually go there.

48 Don Reba January 5, 2016 at 4:14 am

Once doctors are robots, it will be the same as with iPhones.

49 Ricardo January 5, 2016 at 4:31 am

Actually, elite universities are not a good example since some of them are literally free for qualified students from median-income families. Much more relevant is whether these students have a K-12 education that is high-quality enough to make them competitive compared to those who attend public schools in expensive, exclusive neighborhoods or those who attend private high schools.

50 Njnnja January 5, 2016 at 9:29 am

Actually there are lots of public high schools in flyover country that are as good as the best school districts on the coasts, at housing prices that the median earner (~50K/year) can definitely afford. Not everyone who goes to Harvard went to Horace Greeley High. So actually the median earner *can* buy the best high school education, they just have to be willing to move to Ohio.

But I think the problem is actually with using higher education as an example, because you can’t “buy” a Harvard education the same way that you buy, say, a Mercedes Benz. Yes, having more money almost certainly increases the probability of your kid getting in, but it’s not a simple economic transaction like buying a house in a good school district for high school.

51 Dan Weber January 5, 2016 at 8:35 am

Anyone can get the Harvard education. They give it away: https://www.edx.org/school/harvardx

It’s the diploma that’s expensive.

52 jv January 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm
53 Norman Pfyster January 5, 2016 at 9:19 am

I grew up in the middle class (lower middle class). I went to top-tier private universities. I had access to very good health care (which is a local phenomenon, not a matter of income; I have access to better health care now than in my youth if only because I have some of the best hospitals in the US in the area where I now live). We never needed legal representation. I get one vote like everyone else. If this is what is important, the middle class has access to it.

54 Michael January 5, 2016 at 9:55 am

In the US, a median consumer can quite clearly afford the very best medical care, and in fact, most get it, when they need it. That is the joy of our generously expensive insurance system. Similarly for education. I have yet to see a middle income family that received acceptance for a child to Harvard/Yale/Stanford that turned it down for purely financial reasons.

Outside of houses and private planes, I have difficulty thinking of a good which a middle-income family can’t afford the best of, although they can’t necessarily afford all of them at once. We are a very wealthy country.

55 Lord Action January 5, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Absolutely. The median consumer in the US is getting the best healthcare money can buy.

It’s in marked contrast to, say, Canada where the median consumer gets okay (in fairness probably good enough) healthcare. It’s the bottom 10% consumer where the comparison turns the other way.

56 carlolspln January 5, 2016 at 4:01 pm

“The median consumer in the US is getting the best healthcare money can buy”

Heh, heh, you’re the best dressed bum on the block


57 Lord Action January 5, 2016 at 4:46 pm

I didn’t say healthcare is great; I don’t think it is. It’s worth massively less than we’re paying for it.

But there’s no question most Americans are getting more of it, at a better level of quality, than most Canadians.

58 Nathan W January 5, 2016 at 11:31 pm

The USA spends more on healthcare than any other country on the planet, regardless of the metric used, and achieves worse average results than almost every other wealthy country.

59 Lord Action January 6, 2016 at 9:18 am

Demographics, man. How does Canada do with it’s indigenous population? The US has the same problem at a much larger scale.

If you’ve had any serious experiences with both US and Canadian healthcare, you’d realize there’s no comparison.

All that said, I’d rather be in deep poverty in Canada than in the US. But the healthcare experience of the median American is worlds better than that of the median Canadian.

60 Brian Donohue January 5, 2016 at 4:24 pm

“…although they can’t necessarily afford all of them at once.”

This x1000. The average American has access to the best of almost anything, but only the rich have access to the best of everything without having to choose.

The average American is quite conscious of the things they “spend like the 1%” on.

61 Floccina January 5, 2016 at 11:06 am

For example, in the context of the USA, the best of health care, education and access to political/legal representation

That is certainly debatable. Is the education really better at the top schools or are the students better, not to mention TED talks and classes i=on the internet. What they cannot get are the credentials although they go to top schools for less due to financial aid.

62 Bob from Ohio January 5, 2016 at 11:29 am

“far from accessible to the middle class …the best of health care”

What are you talking about?

Just in Northeast Ohio, the middle class is served by a top 5 national hospital [Cleveland Clinic} and an excellent regional [University Hospitals of Cleveland] one with a fantastic children’s hospital.

Any middle class family in a metro area has no problem seeing great doctors and being treated at excellent hospitals.

63 T. Shaw January 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

I think you’re conflating goods and services, private sector and state, among other things.

64 Fizz-Assist January 5, 2016 at 11:56 am
65 Careless January 5, 2016 at 3:18 pm

We lived in the best school district in the Midwest in a house we bought for under $200k. You’re full of shit.

66 Nathan W January 6, 2016 at 3:34 am

Lucky you. That’s an exception.

67 Larry Siegel January 6, 2016 at 4:36 am

So do I, but I bought it in 1985. 🙂

68 gamma January 5, 2016 at 3:50 am

Books. Not, perhaps, the best binding, but even the greatest literature can be purchased on a middle-class income.

69 gamma January 5, 2016 at 3:51 am

Oops, sorry, missed that in the original post. But it’s still true.

70 jim jones January 5, 2016 at 4:04 am

I always assumed American products were successful because they were aimed at the lowest common denominator.

71 JWatts January 5, 2016 at 2:36 pm

The Trabant was aimed at the lowest common denominator.

72 Steve Sailer January 5, 2016 at 4:13 am

If the best play of my lifetime has been Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” I can order it from Amazon to read to myself for $17 or so. But to see it with a top interpreter in it like, say, Billy Crudup, I’d have to fly to New York or London or Sydney or wherever it happens to be playing, or wait for years for it to be revived where I live.

73 Steve Sailer January 5, 2016 at 4:15 am

It would be interesting to reverse this and ask what’s the least affordable amenity.

My impression is that rich guys lust after a private jet the most, with a yacht perhaps second. There has been a big expansion of various kinds of leasing and partial ownership of jets and yachts, but outright owning those remain the Big Two of rich guyness.

74 dearieme January 5, 2016 at 6:56 am

I’ve never understood how those rich chaps have the time to scrape and repaint their yachts every winter. Or are they denied this deeply satisfying aspect of yacht-owning? Shame!

75 Cass1an January 5, 2016 at 8:09 am

I thought it’s only required for wooden boats. Majority of modern ones are plastic (big ones probably metal). Wood can be fully repaired part-by-part (old plastic just cease to be a boat), but requires painting and repair more often.

76 enoriverbend January 5, 2016 at 2:20 pm

That’s why the plastic vs wood boat difference is a class distinction rather than an income or wealth distinction. The nouveau riche would favor noticeably large fiberglass boats over anything either smaller or wooden. But for old money a restored wooden Chris-Craft runabout or Herreshoff sailboat would trump any brand new equivalent in fiberglass. In fact, it would seem to be a general rule that organic and old trumps new and practical in the class warfare realm.

77 Peter Akuleyev January 5, 2016 at 8:52 am

As Nathan mentions above, the least affordable are probaby health care, education and access to political/legal representation. Housing would be another one, depending on your definition of “best”.

78 Dan Weber January 5, 2016 at 9:22 am

Yes, not everyone can have the best positional good.

79 Bob from Ohio January 5, 2016 at 11:30 am

“least affordable are probaby health care”

Not if you have insurance which the median family certainly does.

80 Njnnja January 5, 2016 at 9:13 am

Least affordable amenity: Major league sports team.

81 Harun January 5, 2016 at 11:47 am


82 JayT January 5, 2016 at 3:27 pm

However, a ticket to see the very best team play is certainly within the grasp of the median American.

83 mkt42 January 6, 2016 at 1:31 am

To see them, yes. But to see them while sitting in a luxury box, the family would have to give up spending on a whole lot of other things, making it in practical terms unaffordable.

84 JayT January 6, 2016 at 4:14 pm

That’s kind of two different things though. The Median American can afford to see the best athletes play. That doesn’t mean they can afford the best seat in an arena.

85 albert magnus January 5, 2016 at 9:52 am

I would be happy to be able to fly first class every once in a while.

86 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:04 am

Chicks, man.

87 mikeInThe716 January 5, 2016 at 10:32 am

Re: The expansion of leasing and partial ownership also applies to young and hot mistresses ‘market’.
In this case ownership may be sub-optimal.
I base this on my circle of single friends (male and female) and recent Houellebecq re-readings over the holidays.

88 Floccina January 5, 2016 at 11:41 am

Ocean front homes.

89 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm

Nice Homes in any desirable location.

90 notusuallythisanonymous January 5, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Speaking as someone who has experienced most of the more or less ultimate luxuries, private jets and the best hotel rooms are the two things I would pick if I got to.

91 Jeff L January 6, 2016 at 2:55 am

Housing (vacation or otherwise) that is separated from the masses is higher up on the list than yachts. Then the question becomes whether the poor person living apart from others in a low status area has a similar good on their hands.

Status goods in general need to be rare, so just listing status goods that can be purchased purely with money might not be too productive but it would accurately answer your question.

92 meets January 5, 2016 at 4:51 am

-Music recordings (well, except Wu Tang Clan)

-Video games


-Contact lenses


-Kid toys

-Craft beer

-Food truck food

93 Deek January 5, 2016 at 5:03 am

Why “craft” beer (when did you lot stop calling them microbrews?) and not just beer in general?

94 meets January 5, 2016 at 7:10 am

I hear it called craft beer more.

I could have just said beer, but i didn’t want people to think of Budweiser.

The best craft beer (outside of some gimmick ones) never gets as expensive as wine.

95 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 9:24 am

A lot of good food and drink can be had for low prices, but there is the Behavioral caveat that the same food or drink tastes better when is explained to cost more.

96 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:05 am

The expensive wine isn’t any better. In fact quality wine is even more affordable than quality beer. A Jai Alai IPA runs $1.65/can, but there are excellent wines that retail at $5/bottle.

97 carlolspln January 5, 2016 at 4:05 pm

“..but there are excellent wines that retail at $5/bottle”

Plural? Really?

Name one.

98 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 8:03 pm

“In Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal mentions a study of how wine pricing influences the perceived taste.
The experiment participants first tasted $5 wine, and progressed to tasting up to a $90 bottle. The more expensive the wine, apparently the better the wine tasted. In fact, participant brains reflected their voiced opinions, as areas of the brain associated with pleasure showed higher spikes. But in reality, participants were tasting the same wine.”

Prove to me you can pass this blind test.

99 mkt42 January 6, 2016 at 1:44 am

My parents, who are big wine enthusiasts, once did do a blind taste test when a bunch of friends and relatives came over. Most of them were also wine enthusiasts, but some, including me, were not.

I was surprised that even I could taste the differences in the wines (all were cabernet sauvignon, except for one which was a blend with merlot) and even more surprised at the high amount of agreement among us about which wines were better. To top it off, by mistake my mother had included two bottles of the exact same wine and exact same vintage. But they tasted different, and moreover there was widespread agreement about which one tasted better. We could only theorize that one of the bottles had been stored in better conditions than the other.

That’s the only blind taste test that I’ve done, but we could all taste the differences between the wines and even come to a good amount of agreement about which ones tasted better.

Most people liked a highly expensive one best, but second best was a reasonably priced one. I, along with my brother-in-law, rated the expensive one second best — it clearly had the most complex taste, but to me it wasn’t as good a taste as the simpler, blander, but to me more good-tasting alternative (which my brother-in-law and both rated first, and everyone else rated second best).

But. It took a lot of concentration and careful tasting in a side-by-side comparison to draw those conclusions. Most of the time I can drink any random wine and my conclusion will be that it tastes okay, and I won’t make any more distinction than that. Mainly I just buy wine to cook with, and when I do I buy 2 buck chuck from Trader Joes.

100 Gochujang January 6, 2016 at 9:39 am

mkt42, one thing I have heard, that makes sense, is that for people with an educated palate, “the price signal is broken.” By that they mean that $10-20 bottles are all over the map, and a $20 bottle is not assuredly better than a $10.

Combine that with the Behavioral impact though, and it still adds up to satisfied $20 buyers.

101 Sam Haysom January 5, 2016 at 5:32 am

Soup kitchen food.

Choice locations underneath the freeway are available to all. Anatole France would be delighted.

102 Chris S January 5, 2016 at 8:04 am

The best locations under freeways are already occupied and not at all available. The means of allocation is just toughness / willingness to fight instead of money.

103 dearieme January 5, 2016 at 6:57 am

Coffee? Can they really afford to fly to Italy for a cup?

104 meets January 5, 2016 at 7:11 am

Well the hipster place near me always has the best Ethopian and Costa Rican beans for a few bucks.

Pay an extra $2 and its unlimited refills.

Or you can get a flat white.

105 dan1111 January 5, 2016 at 7:44 am

Even one believes that somehow the best cup of coffee could only be made in Italy, which is clearly untrue: yes, the median income earner could afford to fly to Italy and drink a cup of coffee occasionally, if they really valued that.

106 David H. January 5, 2016 at 9:39 am

It’s time somebody calls bullshit on this fawning over Italian coffee. Yes, they have a better coffee *culture* than Americans, and probably always will, but with a modest investment I can make a better espresso or other coffee drink than whatever I’d be likely to be served at a counter in Italy. For one thing, I wouldn’t be using Robusta beans. (But even if I do, there’s no way I’d sell it to you for a single Euro, like Italians do.)

107 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 10:01 am

IIRC espresso snobs think 15% robusta is optimum .. for foam or something.

I appreciate a good espresso, but just do pour-over (since it was called Melitta). I notice that I have to spend more for adequate beans now. Maybe $9/lb at Trader Joes? Still, cheap compared to the “affordable luxury” Starbucks visit.

108 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 10:55 am

This Starbucks habit of mine has me thinking that I spend way too much money as a middle class Man. $6/coffee is for millionaires.

109 brad January 5, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Is there a name for regular coffee with a little bit of steamed milk? I like espresso a little bit better than coffee, but I like steam milk a lot better than cold milk.

110 Adrian Ratnapala January 5, 2016 at 2:45 pm

No, Italy does not have a better coffee culture than America. Italy has a the world’s best espresso machine cutlure. But after decades of drinking their produce, I can’t bring myself to actually imagine that those machines actually produce superior coffee.

The best coffee culture I have experienced is in Sweden, where you can just ask for a coffee and be confident that it will be pretty good. I guess this is not true across the board in America, but there will be numerous cafes and diners where it is true.

111 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:03 am

You can buy 12 ozs of Counterculture single-origin beans for $17. A great setup of an Aeropress, Bonavita temperature controlled kettle, and Baratza Encore burr grinder can be had for under $200. Use spring water to make sure the brew process has the right ion balance ($.75/gallon). Even if you only use it for a year, and only have 1.5 cups a day, That’s a $1.4 a cup.

I guarantee you that this coffee quality is higher than A) Italy (where stodgy and lazy cafe owners refuse to change to doserless grinders, so their grinds have gotten stale by the time they’re in your cup); B) Keurig cups by so much it’s not even funny, and C) what most Fortune 500 CEOs or Congressmen drink in terms of freshness, roast quality, and taste profile. The reason the vast majority of people take milk and/or sugar in their coffee is because they’re not getting anywhere close to this level.

112 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 10:08 am

I have a $200 burr grinder, but for pour-over I can really do as well with a whirlly grinder and pulse technique.

If I were more patient and noble I’d use a Hario hand grinder.

113 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:18 am

I think you might be right for pour-over. The typical non-professional brewer is probably getting a lot more uneven extraction from bad pour-over technique than inconsistent grind particles. I would think immersion brews like Aeropress may be less forgiving to fines/boulders in the grind.

Now I’m curious. May have to break out the old blade grinder (and Hario), and do a blind taste test later today…

114 Agra Brum January 5, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Italy doesn’t have some monopoly on coffee or a secret stash. Also, in Italy, that coffee is just 1 euro. You can get the best coffee in the US as well at any coffee-snob place (or just have the best beans roasted and shipped to you for a reasonable price).

115 Michael Savage January 5, 2016 at 7:32 am

Not museums, at least not any more. Best are actively differentiating the experience – more crowds and interactivity for the masses, more ‘private views’ and events for those with money and connections.

116 Chris S January 5, 2016 at 8:06 am

Museums are definitely accessible to the middle class. A ticket is in the, what, $20 range? And if its crowds you’re worried about, just find an uncrowded time to go. Tuesday at 10am when there are no school trips? Go to galleries opposite of the tours? Use time flexibility as a means of allocation, instead of just money.

117 Michael Savage January 5, 2016 at 9:04 am

Accessible, yes. But the best available? Not any more, in my view. The ‘best’ draws at the best museums are usually the exhibitions, which can be sold out in advance for all time slots (or with long, long lines). The most popular parts of the best museums are also always busy. The ‘best’ experiences are now marketed for really high prices – out of hours access, private views, functions etc. I’m guessing the point of the original question was to draw attention to the way that today average people can afford amazing stuff – which is true and important. But museums are an example of something moving in the opposite direction – used to be equally accessible, less so now.

118 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:14 am

Many of the best museums, like the Met, are “suggested donation”. The list price is $25, but you can actually just declare $0 at the ticket counter and enjoy for free.

119 alexp January 5, 2016 at 4:38 pm

Scotch, sort of?

There are some expensive bottles, but most premium scotch’s are in the couple hundred dollar neighborhood.

120 meets January 5, 2016 at 4:52 am


-TV Shows


121 Harun January 5, 2016 at 11:30 am


122 Sam Haysom January 5, 2016 at 5:24 am

Chimney brushes.
Shoe polish.
Plastic utensils.
Knee pads.
Not sure about feather dusters.
Microwaveable mini pizzas.

123 Axa January 5, 2016 at 5:24 am

In general things that make life comfortable : heating, air conditioning, a fridge plenty of food, technology that minimizes old age visual and hearing impairment, basics like clean water and electricity, home appliances that minimize labor, books and……. 2 or 3 children

124 Ricardo January 5, 2016 at 7:40 am

This list focuses too much on the life of a young, healthy, individualist. What about medical care, good schools for the children, housing in a safe neighborhood but with access to jobs, and a decent retirement when you are too old to work? The thing worth noting about my list is that these four items make up the majority of a typical household’s budget (with education often folded into the cost of housing in the U.S. via property taxes). A Kindle costs a few days’ rent or mortgage for a middle class person — it doesn’t make much sense to talk about the former while ignoring the latter.

125 Tyler Fan January 5, 2016 at 8:56 am

I don’t think a median income family can afford 2-3 kids, assuming you intend to pay for the kids’ educations, etc. By 2030, it’s expected that a year of private university will cost $130,000/year.

126 Njnnja January 5, 2016 at 9:17 am

And by 2030, they will be so crowded nobody will go there anymore.

If something cannot continue forever, it will stop. – Herbert Stein

127 Axa January 5, 2016 at 10:02 am

Should all 3 kids go to 130K/ year university? What if kids want to be pilot, nurse, dentist, preacher, musician ?

Also, what’s the best college? http://www.payscale.com/college-roi

128 Dan Weber January 5, 2016 at 10:07 am

If you are median income, those private schools aren’t charging sticker price. They are doing price discrimination to charge as much as you can afford.

But why are you going to second-rate private schools? Go big (a super-elite that will pay your entire way if you make “merely” the minimum) or go state.

129 Harun January 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

LOL. Have you ever heard of community college and then local state school for the last two years.

The media income family might not even need college.

130 Tyler Fan January 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm

Again, my premise was a median income household can’t afford 2-3 kids, “if you want to pay for the kids’ education.” If you don’t care if your kids spend their twenties in indentured servitude, yes, the median family can afford 2-3 kids. Yes, some kids might want to pursue careers that don’t require four-year private degrees. But when you’re having kids you don’t know what their ambitions will be 18 years down the line and you probably want to set them up so that kind of schooling will be an option should they want to pursue it.

Something that cannot go on forever will not. But $130k/year is doable for a lot of six figure earners. Just sock away $7k/per kid per year into a 529 plan. Can’t do that for 2-3 kids on a median income.

Admittedly my family is young and I graduated last century, so I’m not sure how much price discrimination/financial aid is out there but my impression is that even if the median income folks are paying less than sticker price the graduates are still coming out saddled with debt.

131 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm

I figure the higher education bubble will collapse before my kids get to college.
One should never make decisions like how many children to have based on something that may or may not hold in 20 years.
In 20 years, you’re not going to have another chance to have more kids when you find out you’re wrong.

Anyways, one can always downsize one’s lifestyle in other ways. If you want more kids, have them. It will work out.

132 Thiago Ribeiro January 5, 2016 at 12:49 pm

It surely can’t afford it.

133 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:22 am

Isn’t it almost a tautology that the least affordable items will make up the majority of one’s budget. 200 years ago food made up the vast majority of household budgets. Now its a small fraction. Cheap and plentiful food is a miracle, but you’d dismiss it as unimportant since people don’t spend that much on food to begin with.

134 guest January 5, 2016 at 10:16 pm

spot on comment Doug, +1

135 Kevin Gaughan January 5, 2016 at 5:25 am

Are you sure your list isn’t biased the fact that it only includes product versions that are readily visible to the general public? You can get a diamond encrusted versions of just about anything these days. You can certainly buy $30k Iphones and the very wealthy can even subscribe to their own exclusive social networking sites. These extreme high end products may not be functionally any better than the general public’s version but the exclusivity that comes from having a very expensive item is apparently valuable to some.

136 Kyle January 5, 2016 at 7:04 am

Diamond encrusted iPhone? No thanks, I’m happy not getting poked every time I pull it out of my pocket. And why make my iPhone thicker? Thinness is the measure of sophistication and wealth here, not bling.

137 Harun January 5, 2016 at 3:50 pm
138 Cooper January 5, 2016 at 1:33 pm

But in what world is a diamond-encrusted iPhone “better”?

In theory you can cover anything in diamonds and make it more expensive but that doesn’t make it better.

139 Jake January 5, 2016 at 5:28 am

Someone already mentioned videogames but I think it bears repeating. The very best videogames right now — those made by independent studios, which enjoy more creative freedom — are not only very affordable on a median income, they are much cheaper than the most popular videogames. The past 5-10 years have seen an amazing renaissance in the medium.

It’s quite common for $10-$20 to buy an incredible artistic experience lasting 6-40 hours, e.g. Braid, The Talos Principle, or Papers, Please. If one waits for the Steam sales, the price drops to the $2-$10 range.

140 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 11:21 am

I have no idea what these are but why do they compare favorably to Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Bioshock, Mass Effect?

141 JWatts January 5, 2016 at 2:45 pm

I would agree with Beta Guys list. But to Jake’s point, either way, most video games are extremely cheap compared to most forms of entertainment. $60 will buy Fallout 4 and the median user is going to get 20+ hours of entertainment out of it. (20 hours is pretty conservative, but that assumes that most people will get distracted and not actually finish the game.)

142 Harun January 5, 2016 at 3:49 pm

I have 300 plus hours on some games.

This is why I think virtual reality and gaming end up being the equalizer.

You can have a real yacht, I’ll take a space yacht parked in orbit around Saturn.

143 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 5:44 pm

I’ve put in 60 hours into Skyrim, which comes out to $1 per hour of play.

I’ve put in well over 100+ into Oblivion, probably a good 80+ into Fallout 3, another 60 into New Vegas, and possibly 120+ into Dragon Age.

Immersive RPGs are simply the best entertainment value possible, for the right personality.

144 brad January 6, 2016 at 12:41 am

Something like civilization or sim city has an order of magnitude more replay-ability.

145 Jake January 5, 2016 at 9:14 pm

People get touchy when you criticize entertainment, so please don’t take this the wrong way, I’m simply going to provide my candid opinion of the artistic state of the videogame industry.

Isn’t it strange that in literally all the four titles you listed, the vast majority of the the player’s action is to walk around in a first-person view and shoot/kill things? Sure, you “talk” to some NPCs and get sent on some (repetitive) “quests”, 90% of which fall under one of 3-5 basic types (fetching an item, killing someone, finding a place). During these quests the player spends most of the time walking around a new area and killing things that show up occasionally.

It’s a bit like if every movie was a coming of age story in Victorian England.

Don’t get me wrong, the games you listed are good in their way. Fallout especially is wonderfully atmospheric, I love it, but my heart aches for how beautiful it could have been if it wasn’t held back by its triple-A chains, if it didn’t have to be the cup of tea of tens of millions of people, if it could have EXPERIMENTED.

When triple-A games are called “mature” it means they have blood and maybe sex in them. It’s a pathetic shell of what maturity is supposed to be. The original ending to Fallout 3 came close (closer than any Elder Scrolls title ever has) but then they decided to make an extra buck from add-ons and take a giant shit on the old ending with that bullshit Deus Ex Machina Fawkes.

The games I listed, and dozens of others, have been breaking away from the conventions of industry (parodied in Stanley Parable and The Magic Circle) and there is no short way to explain why they are better; each is for its own reason. It’d be like trying to explain why movies that are not coming of age stories in Victorian England are better than an industry that produces nothing but.

146 mahmet January 5, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Roger Ebert already proved video games are NOT art and in fact can never be art: http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/video-games-can-never-be-art

147 Jake January 5, 2016 at 8:59 pm

I read that article years ago and have always held it close to heart as a cautionary of how an otherwise intelligent person can, by sticking too much to views formed long ago, spew unlimited amounts of bullshit.

148 Thor January 6, 2016 at 8:29 pm

But enough about Theodore Adorno!

149 Seem January 5, 2016 at 5:40 am

Porn. Excluding live action shows etc.

150 Seem January 5, 2016 at 5:43 am

Although this is obviously largely covered in the list except for websites.

151 Richard January 5, 2016 at 11:52 am

Nah, the best porn available is probably on Kate Upton’s cell phone and not available to most consumers.

152 The Original D January 5, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Porn is a substitution for high-end escorts.

153 mahmet January 5, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Is it? I suspect for a lot of users they wouldn’t use escorts even if someone else was paying.

154 Sam Haysom January 5, 2016 at 5:47 am


But not bread.

155 Don Boudreaux January 5, 2016 at 5:52 am

Aspirin, Band-Aids, and (most) other first-aid items.

156 prior_test January 5, 2016 at 9:10 am

Wait, America has the best acetylsalicylic acid in world?

Why stop there, though – how about vitamin C, or pencillin?

But not this, however, as of 2013 – ‘At the time of this writing—some shortages come and go by the week—Atticus’s hospital is low on intravenous calcium, zinc, lipids (fat), protein, magnesium, multivitamins, and sodium phosphate; it’s completely out of copper, selenium, chromium, potassium phosphate, vitamin A, and potassium acetate. And so are many other hospitals and pharmacies in the country, leading to complications usually seen only in the developing world, if ever.

In Washington, for example, health professionals blame calcium deficiencies for rising numbers of NICU babies—also called neonates—with metabolic bone disease, poor growth, and fractures, including a baby with a broken thigh bone.

• • •

Experts call the nutrient shortage a public-health crisis and a national emergency—and are astounded that the government and manufacturers have let the situation become so dire.

“Children are dying,” says Steve Plogsted, a clinical pharmacist who chairs the drug-shortage task force of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN). “They’re not getting any calcium or any zinc. Or they’re not getting any phosphorous, and that can lead to heart standstill. I know of a neonate who had seven days without phosphorous, and her little heart stopped.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire career, and I’ve been a pharmacist for 40-some years,” says Michael Cohen, president of the nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) and a 2005 MacArthur Foundation fellow. “This should never be allowed to happen.”

There are 300 drug, vitamin, and trace-element shortages in the US, the highest number ever recorded by the University of Utah Drug Information Service, which began tracking national shortages in 2001. Approximately 80 percent of these are generic injectables, or drugs given intravenously.’ http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/children-are-dying/

157 JWatts January 5, 2016 at 2:47 pm

“Wait, America has the best acetylsalicylic acid in world?”

Wow, that is truly grasping at straws in your continual American bashing habit.

158 MG January 5, 2016 at 6:29 am

An MIT college education, and likely many over IVY League schools. (I think the margin of argument over “can afford” here is not much larger than it would be over “best”..)

159 KWA January 5, 2016 at 6:59 am

Missed the number 1 thing. Trucks! US pick-up trucks are the best in the world and the most popular vehicle type affordable to middle income and above!

160 Techy3 January 5, 2016 at 7:57 am

My friends who like trucks regard the Dodge Ram Diesel as the best, with the Toyota Tacoma king cab second. The Ram is more than $40,000 new before one adds any options. Do we really think that a median earner @$48k/yr can afford a $50k truck after taxes?

161 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 9:41 am

I through a lot and noticed a bunch of trucks configured for $80k plus. Kinda surprising at first, but I guess they are another crowd’s Teslas.

162 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 10:03 am

I walked through a lot …

163 Michael January 5, 2016 at 10:09 am

You would be surprised what folks will scrimp for, if it is what they value. Here, in rural Tennessee, it is not uncommon to see a $40k+ truck parked outside of a mobile home of roughly similar cost. It is all in what you value, and being willing to make the tradeoff.

Also, several of the guys I know who have done this are all going to keep that truck for 15 years, 200,000 miles. These aren’t Tesla shoppers chasing the trends, buying new every 3 years.

164 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 10:58 am

Re. Tesla, I did say the $80k+ trim models

But backing up, I do think mid $20k cars are an amazing value. Better performance and reliability than ever before.

I think I am going to swap my Prius (originally $22k) for a Subaru ($25k). Great economy/mountain cars for cheap. Looking forward to 8″ ground clearance.

165 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 11:27 am

Subaru Outbacks seem to be an amazing deal, surprisingly I do not see a lot on the road.

166 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 3:19 pm

I am in Utah right now, Subarus wall to wall 🗻🎿

167 Floccina January 5, 2016 at 11:51 am

The truck is usually paid for with before tax including FICA money.

168 JWatts January 5, 2016 at 2:53 pm

This. The trucks are often bought by independent contractors and are legitimate work expenses.

169 Mulp January 5, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Not to mention the cost of tires such trucks chew up quickly.

Given 99% of the use for such trucks is carrying one person to and from work and the grocery, they are clearly luxuries, afforded only by debt.

170 prior_test January 5, 2016 at 9:03 am

‘US pick-up trucks are the best in the world’

The owners of Hiluxes are likely to disagree with that assessment –

‘The Hilux has gained a reputation for exceptional sturdiness and reliability during sustained heavy use or even abuse, and has been referred to as “The Indestructible Truck”[citation needed]. This was further reinforced on the BBC motoring show Top Gear, when a 1988 diesel N50 Hilux with 305,775 km (190,000 mi) on the odometer and large rust holes was subjected to extraordinary abuse (in series 3, episodes 5 and 6). This consisted of driving it down a flight of steps, scraping buildings, crashing headlong into a tree, being washed out to sea, and being submerged in sea water for four hours, driving it through a garden shed, dropping a caravan onto it, hitting it with a wrecking ball, setting its cabin and bed area on fire,[36] and, finally, placing it on top of a 73 m (240 ft) block of apartments that was next destroyed by a building implosion.[37] Although it was now suffering from severe structural damage, the truck was still running after being repaired without spare parts, and with only typical tools that would be found in a truck’s toolbox, such as screwdrivers, motor oil, and an adjustable wrench.[38] The Hilux rested as one of the background decorations in the Top Gear studio.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Hilux

171 rayward January 5, 2016 at 7:20 am

Of course, middle income earners don’t always choose the best, opting instead for more rather than best. Why do so many middle income earners choose the new and relatively large but poorly built house in the burbs rather than a relatively small but well-built older house closer in? Because they can. Why do so many middle income earners choose cheesy, and poorly built, furniture rather than well-built antiques (i.e., used furniture)? Because they can. It’s not only the i-phone that’s designed for a short useful life. Appliances, from refrigerators to dish washers to hot water heaters, are the worst, made with cheap plastic materials. Everything is disposable. What I find interesting about our culture is what “best” products people do choose. The $4 cup of coffee. The $500 i-phone. People choose cheap for the big things and best for the little things. Why? Because they can.

172 Michael Savage January 5, 2016 at 7:41 am

Good point. Middle earner can’t afford ‘best’ antique furniture, but even low earners can afford amazing high quality today. The choose more expensive Ikea instead.

173 baconbacon January 5, 2016 at 9:50 am

Solid wood furniture is a giant pain. To fill a house with it takes dozens of trips or a very large truck or hours (and skill) taking it apart and rebuilding it. Once it is in your house, there it stays unless you have two people with free time and energy to move it. I can move my couch alone to any room on the first floor, and the love seat it is paired with to any room in the house. Its lightweight and reasonably comfortable (and the cushions come off so it doubles as a fort!). “Expensive” Ikea items, even the heavy ones, can be moved by one person with a simple tool and a little time.

174 Slocum January 5, 2016 at 8:06 am

“It’s not only the i-phone that’s designed for a short useful life. Appliances, from refrigerators to dish washers to hot water heaters, are the worst, made with cheap plastic materials. Everything is disposable.”

Appliances have become more disposable because the human labor of a trained technician has become expensive relative to the raw materials and cost of automated manufacturing. That skilled labor is becoming too precious to apply to the troubleshooting and repair of a 15-year-old refrigerator is a GOOD sign. There’s nothing morally better about ‘repair’ than ‘replace and recycle’.

175 prior_test January 5, 2016 at 8:58 am

‘There’s nothing morally better about ‘repair’ than ‘replace and recycle’.’

Oddly, no one in charge of actual industrial machinery would ever agree with this, though they would consider ‘morality’ irrelevant to their decision making. Replacing a burnt out motor on a printing press is essentially always more effective than buying a new press entirely.

Which might explain why trucks, for example, are designed for long running operation, with repairing a truck being considered better than buying a new truck in most cases. Any truck manufacturer stupid enough to think they will be able to sell to customers whose attitude is repairs are less desirable than replacement will rapidly discover that people who have that sort of money to waste are pretty rare. If only because such customers will lose out to the competition fairly quickly, or the people that think that way lose their jobs.

176 MOFO. January 5, 2016 at 11:05 am

Yea, thats why no one was talking about industrial equipment, dumbass.

177 Slocum January 5, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Obviously vehicles and machine tools that cost tens of thousands of dollars are not the same as appliances that cost a few hundred. But as the cost of skilled labor relative to automated manufacturing continues to rise (and we should all hope that’s the case), the threshold of ‘not worth fixing’ will also go ever higher.

178 Chris S January 5, 2016 at 8:10 am

Are you suggesting that middle income earners are not economically rational?? Pshaw. Don’t you know that rational actors upon which economics is founded always make the most rational decision given the information and means available? If they seem not to, you are missing some of the information they consider.

For instance, maybe they plan to stay in that poorly built home in the suburbs for seven years, so quality doesn’t matter that much.

179 baconbacon January 5, 2016 at 9:55 am

Go dig up a refrigerator from the 1950s. They SUCK. Huge footprint for a tiny interior and heavy. And most of those “disposable” appliances? They aren’t ditched, when you washing machine is hauled away it is usually parted out or refurbished and resold. Just because something leaves your sight doesn’t mean that it is in the trash.

180 Michael January 5, 2016 at 10:15 am

+1. Appliances are far more reliable, and simply better than they were in the past. The only exceptions are laundry and dish washers that have been hobbled by environmental concerns, but here, they are still far more reliable, just not quite as effective.

I think there is a weird observation bias going on here. In the past, things would break, so we would observe them getting fixed. These days, by the time something breaks, we decide to replace them for other reasons. We think something is “less reliable” because we only see them getting discarded, but rarely fixed. In fact, they’re more reliable.

181 baconbacon January 5, 2016 at 12:08 pm

We also have far more options. If your washing machine broke 40 years ago the replacement was very similar. If my washing machine breaks after 5 years I might decide that now that I have 2 kids I want a high efficiency with a larger capacity. Because that option is available I am more likely to upgrade and more likely to pass on a $200 repair bill.

182 MOFO. January 5, 2016 at 11:05 am

Why do so many middle income earners choose the new and relatively large but poorly built house in the burbs rather than a relatively small but well-built older house closer in?

You sound like someone who has never lived in an older building. The are better built only if you dont care about things like good insulation, having more than one bathroom and having a reasonable amount of closet space. Also, most older buildings have substandard (by todays metrics) electrical wiring too. Id say that they have substandard appliances too, but most of them have been trashed in favor of newer, better models.

183 Lord Action January 5, 2016 at 1:32 pm

+1 As someone who’s recently done a lot of home shopping my strong advice is don’t buy anything made before 1980 if you can at all afford it. In 1925 houses were made of poison, kindling, and sparks.

The surviving ones might look pretty, but they’re a big mistake for you.

184 Cooper January 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Building techniques have improved over the years. We have better materials, better modeling software and better building codes.

The old homes that are solidly built are actually way over engineered. They use far more materials than are necessary and in many cases use materials that are actually toxic today (asbestos, lead paint, etc).

Moreover, modern homes are designed to handle things like cable hookups, heavy electrical loads, air conditioning, etc. Many of the older houses just can’t handle these retrofits as effectively.

185 TMC January 5, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Agree here. My old home (1910) was well built and I liked it, but my bigger, better built new home in the burbs is nicer.

I did a lot of restoration on the old one, and the wood used in building it was amazing, but that really means little to those who know how to build a house.
It takes only a few extra $ to make sure the new one is built right. On top of that all the mechanicals are more efficient and better built.

I also like the larger lot of the burbs and nicer neighborhoods.

186 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Why do so many middle income earners choose the new and relatively large but poorly built house in the burbs rather than a relatively small but well-built older house closer in? Because they can.

Seriously? Where I live, the well-built older house closer in is more expensive than the poorly built house in the burbs. People live way out in the burbs because they can’t afford the houses closer in, with the exception of the occasional run-down POS.
Actually people are buying houses they can’t afford and driving up the prices of even the older well-built houses to a point where the people who are living within their means are dropping out of the market. The one solution to this is to allow developers to build more houses. A lot more.

187 Thomas January 5, 2016 at 2:57 pm

“Why do so many middle income earners choose the new and relatively large but poorly built house in the burbs rather than a relatively small but well-built older house closer in?”

They do so for many reasons: heating/cooling cost, electric cost, SAFE building standards, zero maintenance for years, no creaking floors, no damp, dark stone foundation basements, no areas in the home with reduced headroom, no mold problems, no infestation/infestation history, drastically reduced risk of foundation damage through settling, no lead based paint, safe electrical outlets, safely insulated wiring for reduced risk of home burning down, more garage space, larger bathrooms, larger master suite, wider hallways, newer bathroom – toilet, shower, even closet shelving material, lack of 50-100 years of homeowner cobbling, I mean, God, the list goes on and on.

People prefer older “regal, stately, charming, whatever” homes because they are snobs who get their fashion cues from old-wealth which got their fashion cues from European royalty. The whole endeavor is about positioning oneself closer to that of former dictators, tyrants, and slaveholders. Rather disgusting.

188 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 3:20 pm

When someone says well-built older home, I assume they mean from the 70s and 80s, when building standards were pretty decent. Those houses are easy to renovate to add all the amenities. There is a trend towards ridiculously huge houses on tiny lots in recent years from what I can see. But the decent older homes from the 70s and 80s are already priced out of range anyways.

189 Larry Siegel January 6, 2016 at 4:40 am

>People prefer older “regal, stately, charming, whatever” homes because they are snobs who get their fashion cues from old-wealth which got their fashion cues from European royalty. The whole endeavor is about positioning oneself closer to that of former dictators, tyrants, and slaveholders. Rather disgusting.

No, actually it’s about positioning myself close to other people who appreciate regal, stately, charming, and whatever. I live in an old house in an old neighborhood for the same reason that Beethoven fans go to the symphony and Deadheads go to Grateful Dead concerts. But thank you for reminding me how awful the past (sometimes) was.

190 JWatts January 5, 2016 at 4:39 pm

“Why do so many middle income earners choose the new and relatively large but poorly built house in the burbs rather than a relatively small but well-built older house closer in?”

It’s been my experience that houses built after 1990 are distinctly better than pre-1980 houses. The wiring is far better, the insulation is better, the framing is more consistent (less variation in stud spacing), manufactured trusses are generally superior to built on site trussed, dry wall walls are superior to plaster walls, the paint is lead free, the caulking is UV resistant (and, for that matter, they have caulking) & they’re built with HVAC instead of retrofitted ducting, Also, heating is generally electric heat pump or gas, instead of resistance electric, wood, oil or some other more expensive and higher maintenance option.

191 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 5:16 pm

Understated truth here. Older homes are romanticized. Newer homes are better adapted to modern needs.

Some older homes have remarkable construction and remarkable charm. You can create some charm into your newer home, but a lot of New Construction is called “Builder Grade” for a reason.

I really like Crafstman homes, but this is a personal preference. My Wife looks at a coffered ceiling and feels cramped, and hates crown molding. I love that stuff. Wish I had the skill to make it: my Dad custom-built his own chair rail a decade or so back. Looks like a fun project now, but I didn’t appreciate it at 16.

Some builders really try to make a quick buck in ways that novice buyers don’t understand. Most buyers do not understand floor joists at all, or sub-floor. My home is technically over-engineered at 2 by 10 spaces 14.5″ center-on-center, which means GARBLE GARBLE GARBLE to most people, and those people might end up with garbage.

192 Rex January 5, 2016 at 7:47 am

Travel is the biggest difference to me that the median income cannot match.

193 Chris S January 5, 2016 at 8:14 am

Not “travel” but “the best travel.”

So much of the devil is in the word “best.” For instance, two modes of travel: A luxury three-week trip that flies you and a dozen others in a private jet, with limos waiting at the door of the plane to take you to the five-star suite, then to all the best restaurants, sights and museums in town, with private access and all the caviar you can eat.


A solo backpack trip across southeast asia staying in hostels, eating like the locals, swimming in hidden coves etc.

One could say that the luxury version misses the point of travel, while the backpacking trip gives much more the essence of travel and exploration through its unmediated contact with the destination, plus various hardships/inconveniences to build character and provide future stories.

As always, YMMV.

194 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 12:03 pm

And housing.

Not many places where the median income could afford a 5 bedroom house on a 10 acre lot.

195 Thomas January 5, 2016 at 3:00 pm

“Not many places where the median income could afford a 5 bedroom house on a 10 acre lot.”

Probably the majority of the United States has access to that for median income earners. What median income earners don’t have access to is that type of estate within a urban or metropolitan area – which is clearly a positional good, and so limited tautologically.

196 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 4:20 pm

It’s not limited tautologically, it’s a matter of population density. Theoretically, a lower population density would allow for larger lots and more space for individual families. It’s possible to have for example, smaller population densities, or just plain smaller populations, period. If politicians are going to push for higher populations then that will ultimately mean smaller houses and lots for median earners, because commute distances are physically limited and hence the radius of living space around any city is fixed, but population growth is a policy position not an inevitability.

197 Larry Siegel January 6, 2016 at 4:46 am

Hazel, positional goods, such as being in front of somebody else in a line, *are* limited tautologically. You and the person behind you cannot occupy the same position in the line.

198 joe January 5, 2016 at 7:52 am

Top of the line outdoor gear is affordable. A middle income American could outfit themselves for a large scale Arctic expedition with all the technology and support infrastructure in a manner that would have required state sponsorship not very long ago.

199 Slocum January 5, 2016 at 8:00 am

I’d harder to think of best-of-category goods that middle-income Americans *can’t* afford. I’d argue that they can afford pretty much everything that’s not a status symbol — especially manufactured goods. The general truth is that the most useful, amazing products are mass-market goods that are expensive to invent but relatively cheap to manufacture, so the economics are such that they have to be affordable by the median consumer simply in order to amortize the R&D over a large-enough number of units.

200 CL January 5, 2016 at 8:11 am

Everything except housing, cars, travel, jewels, education, some healthcare, certain tech (like hi-fi) and certain restaurants.

201 LR January 5, 2016 at 8:12 am

Protection services from the US military.

202 Thiago Ribeiro January 5, 2016 at 8:59 am

You mean, like Mafia protection services? If you pay them, they will protect you from being hurt by them? By the way, I have heard Western European, Japanese and South Korean “median income makers” also get these protection services (they got the soldiers, fighter aircrafts and military bases to prove it). One of bin Laden’s pet causes was to get rid of American “protection services”, and America cut and run–again.

203 Thiago Ribeiro January 5, 2016 at 8:13 am

“are there any goods that a US median income maker can buy that are the best available?”
He could have written “a country with indoor plumbing median income maker” and it would remain true, in most cases. Coke (are we talking about the same Coke– the one with the vile medicine taste– or are we talking the expensive stuff, tens of bucks the gram?) and basketballs and paper? Seriously? Great Stagnation indeed!
In my parents’ time– and even as recently as when I was a child–, America’s living standards were the envy of the world, even the rich world. Trotsky, who had been to Vienna and London, was impressed by the amenities the humble apartment he could afford to rent in New York provided. Nowadays Americans are told they should be glad they can afford Coke, not writing on clay tablets, not playing basketball with boulders and, maybe, not dying for lack of penicillin! What happened to the American Dream? Well, Americans (and everyone else with Internet access) can enjoy Facebook, too, so I guess it is a new Golden Age.

204 Thomas January 5, 2016 at 3:02 pm

“or are we talking the expensive stuff, tens of bucks the gram”

Ten bucks to the gram? Apparently there is at least one benefit to living in Brazil over the US.

205 Thiago Ribeiro January 5, 2016 at 3:34 pm

“Thus, this is why a kilogram of cocaine in Colombia can be purchased for around $1,800 (the price for kilo of cocaine paste from the cultivation farm is about $900) but in New York City can be purchased for around $30,000.”– http://www.narcoticnews.com/drug-prices/cocaine/
You know what “gram” means, American boy? I don’t know how much it is in “cubits”, “English king’s feet” or whatever you are used to, though.

206 alexp January 5, 2016 at 4:48 pm
207 Thiago Ribeiro January 5, 2016 at 5:31 pm

And yet most calibers are measured in inches. It is stupid. Wouldn’t a 0.9652 cm be much more popular than the 0.38 inch? It surely sounds more threatening, yet children in Brazil are all about “três-oitão” (“big three-eight”). The government proposes laws against foreign words and tried to create a national holiday to compete with the Halloween (as far as I know, only a few cities adopted it), meanwhile our youth is been colonized by unnaceptable and obsolete measurement units. Make no mistake, every time someone is killed by a Brazilian kid brandishing a .38 instead of a 9 mm, something inside us dies, too. “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

208 Agra Brum January 5, 2016 at 5:42 pm

I guess that is why all americans now live in tiny apartments with no amenities…oh wait, Americans still have the biggest houses by far with the most stuff in them. Go to Japan if you want to see tiny and cramped.
Americans are told today that they should perhaps think of buying less stuff, but they still have way more stuff and space. Trotsky would be blown away by the size of the average US home today. The average house has about 900 more square feet in it than in the 60s (probably 1000+ more than in the 30s). And in what world is depression era New York nicer than the New York of today? It’s probably 50 times cleaner than when Manhattan was filled with factories and lead gas fumes.

209 Chris S January 5, 2016 at 8:20 am

Computing technology, if one is willing to learn a lot and if we can define “best” as “razor’s edge five years ago.”

For instance, one can, right now, get a free account on IBM’s Watson cloud service and write programs using the very same “machine” (software actually) that won Jeopardy.

“the Watson APIs — a series of standard REST methods — look straightforward enough to work with. Java, Node.js/JavaScript, and Ruby are all supported languages, with examples included for each. Bluemix’s pricing is also pretty liberal: 30 days free, and up to 1,125 GB-hours free each month thereafter. ”


210 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 9:35 am


211 LR January 5, 2016 at 8:26 am


212 Pshrnk January 5, 2016 at 9:27 am

And the drones to mount them on.

213 punditbear January 5, 2016 at 8:29 am

concert tickets, guns, baby formula

214 eccdogg January 5, 2016 at 8:44 am


215 Psmith January 5, 2016 at 11:36 am

Good call. Bourbon is remarkable in that well-regarded bottles over $100 or so are vanishingly rare (although production runs are sometimes quite limited, so the secondary market will sometimes bid up the price.).

216 Becky Hargrove January 5, 2016 at 9:13 am

You’re showing a picture of turnips, not rutabagas. The only reason the latter would cost a little more (here) is that the root vegetable is not as widely grown in the south. So long as its tradable goods, most people with even small incomes can buy them unless they are intended as a consumption signal to “fit in” with a desired group. Non tradable goods are the problem.

217 Nick_L January 5, 2016 at 9:57 am

I suspect that Tyler is well aware that its a picture of a turnip. Sometimes, all you want is a Turnip, in the country.
See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jD2iYSKHHzo

218 _NL January 5, 2016 at 9:17 am

This question makes me get philosophical. Like, the best possible smartwatches on the consumer market are somewhere in the low $400s – but you can buy some for thousands of dollars because they are basically jewelry sold by expensive brands. So is the relevant metric the best smartwatch-as-smartwatch or the best smartwatch-as-watch?

If I buy the original Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch, then I get a modernist design with a synthetic band. If I pay $50 more for the classic Gear S2, then I get something that looks more like a traditional watch and it has a leather band. But all the electronic functionality is identical, except for the appearance. So is the original version the “best” or is the classic version “better” somehow? If the classic is better, then wouldn’t a smartwatch sold by like Rolex or Tag Heuer or Breitling for thousands of dollars be best?

And couldn’t we say that the “best” iPhone would be one custom-designed to have precious metals and stones incorporated by a name-brand jewelry designer and offered through a jewelry boutique? I mean, the basic iPhone isn’t better, but at what point does the case become part of the iPhone?

At some point, anything could be made more expensive and arguably better by adding some expensive element or by shipping it far away. Is a pear wrapped in gold leaf paper better than a pear wrapped in paper? If your answer is no, then will you trade me your gold-leaf pear?

219 JayT January 5, 2016 at 3:47 pm

I would argue that the iPhone that has precious metals and stones incorporated into the body is actually worse than the standard phone, because it would make it less user friendly due to increased weight, thickness, and how it feels in the hand (diamonds are sharp!). It might be worth more money due to the materials used, but because something is worth more doesn’t always mean it’s the best. Which do you think would be the best sushi: a piece masterfully made by Jiro himself, or that same piece with melted gold poured over it?

220 Pipe Tobacco salesman January 5, 2016 at 9:25 am

Pipe tobacco; the rental of wedding chapels; cotton candy; roller coaster rides; Beaujolais Nouveau; triangles (the musical instrument); crab cakes; trifecta tickets.

221 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 9:33 am

I think a good lifestyle can be designed for any near median income, or higher of course. It helps if you approach it that way. On the other hand, I know people with millions who buy lottery tickets because they “need more.” Sad, in my opinion.

I personally feel best when I can manage to run a bit of trail in the mountains.

I am fine doing that in $35 (regular $80!) shoes.

222 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 10:17 am

I mean, consider a ski town. Some do it the low cost way, working in the grocery store. Others have the big houses on the hill.

I bet the grocery folk get more time on trail, summer and winter.

223 Harun January 5, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Exactly. And while some guy wants the best sports car I could care less.

I think way too much emphasis is put on income by people who make a lot of income, while people who don’t come in two (or more flavors): people who’d like more work, and those who prefer leisure time.

I know some weird people who fix up bikes and sell them as a job, who manage to golf and recreate every day while living in some horrible apartment without a car…but they like it.

224 SamChevre January 5, 2016 at 9:36 am

Completely OT, but Raffi Melkonian: I haven’t seen that name in years (and I still make the Alsatian coq au riesling and tarte flambee from his recipes.)

225 Raffi January 5, 2016 at 10:13 am

Good to hear! I still cook almost every night; just don’t have time to write about it.

226 efim polenov 2016 January 5, 2016 at 9:43 am

American shorthair kittens

227 C January 5, 2016 at 9:53 am


228 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:08 am

The middle-class and even poor, with a little bit of effort and research, can almost certainly eat better than the median meal of a Fortune 500 CEO.


229 Michael Foody January 5, 2016 at 10:10 am

Virtually everything (though maybe not all at once).
What makes most things better or worse is not (usually) quality but a false consciousness born of exposure to classical conditioning in advertising.
Lobster is a luxury to be savored now that there aren’t many left, when it was abundant it was a hardship food.
Coca Cola is good and I like it, but you’re kidding yourself if you think that this particular formulation of sweet carbonated water and aromatic compounds is somehow best in class rather than something that’s anchored to hours of associations with youth, summer, christmas, budding romance, connection with fellow human beings, beauty, fun, innocence etc. The formulation of feelings and associations is much more at the heart of what makes coke good than the formulation of orange oil to clove oil.

230 Doug January 5, 2016 at 10:11 am

Gym access. In most of the country, membership to an excellent quality gym can be had for $20 a month or less.

231 bjk January 5, 2016 at 10:37 am

There is a huge debate on tennis sites about whether Federer plays with the same racket as you buy in the stores. He does. He could walk into a retail shop, buy a Federer racket, and then put it in his bag. It’s the same racket from the same factory.

232 Gochujang January 5, 2016 at 10:48 am

I own a pro player’s old racket. Confirmed.

I don’t play any better with it, empty of magic.

233 Regular guy January 5, 2016 at 10:47 am

Most top quality woodworking tools and wood carving tools are priced so that they fall into this. Leather working tools as well. I’ve thought about this before and I think it’s because the wealthy don’t engage in these activities so there aren’t many high status goods.

234 Harun January 5, 2016 at 11:34 am

I suspect a lot of things we’d say they can’t afford are mainly due to market segmentation pricing rather than true quality, or if there is a quality difference its very negligible.

235 Bach January 5, 2016 at 10:50 am

The greatest music in the world, which is free. http://imslp.org/

236 Floccina January 5, 2016 at 10:55 am

Spices they are expensive by weight but we use so little of them. If you are willing to plant fruit trees and vegetables they will tend to better than what you can buy due to being fresher.
Olive oil the very expensive stuff is a fraud (much of the low end stuff is a fraud also).

237 Floccina January 5, 2016 at 10:58 am

Oh how could I forget, sfogliatelle!

238 Bill January 5, 2016 at 11:08 am

None of the comments stated what the median US income is.

So, here it is:

“The U.S. Census Bureau reported in September 2014 that: U.S. real (inflation adjusted) median household income was $51,939 in 2013 versus $51,759 in 2012, statistically unchanged. In 2013, real median household income was 8.0 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the latest recession.”

Now, take a family of four with two kids, living in an urban area..

Tell me how much discretionary income they have.

239 Hadur January 5, 2016 at 11:27 am

If they budgeted wisely, they could still afford almost anything on that list, assuming they made it a priority and made sacrifices elsewhere accordingly.

240 TheNumeraire January 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

The median income of a 4-person household is closer to $65,000, or 30% higher than a median U.S. household.

241 Harun January 5, 2016 at 11:36 am

Also, you’d need to use median income for each area.

The national median doesn’t really live in San Francisco, because they’d get paid more to live there.

We need a national median locale with national median pricing, so, say a family of 4 living in Tulsa, OK.

Not Arkansas median income living in New York City.

242 Bill January 5, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Where do you get the $65k from for the median household income.

Here are my sources and please post yours.

“Household income is measured in various ways. One key measure is the real median level, meaning half of households have income above that level and half below, adjusted for inflation. According to the Federal Reserve, this measure was $51,939 in 2013, below the 1999 peak of around $57,000.[1] The Census Bureau estimated real median household income at $53,657 for 2014 and $54,462 in 2013. Household income varies by race, with Asians the highest in 2014 at over $74,000 and African Americans the lowest around $35,000.[2]

The distribution of U.S. household income has become more unequal since around 1980, with the income share received by the top 1% trending upward from around 10% or less over the 1953-1981 period to over 20% by 2007.[3] After falling somewhat due to the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, inequality rose again during the economic recovery, a typical pattern historically as the wealthy tend to be affected relatively more by economic swings.[4][5]”


Here is the link:

243 TheNumeraire January 5, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Bill, the figure you quoted is for all households — hence it is incorrect to apply it to a hypothetical “Now, take a family of four with two kids, living in an urban area.”. The median household does not resemble a family of four with two kids.

My figure was obtained from 2012 Census data for Median Four-Person Families.

244 Bill January 5, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Numeriare, I think you can read. I quoted median household income with supporting data. I followed with a question about a family of four. Please link to your data source.

245 JWatts January 5, 2016 at 5:07 pm

TheNumeraire is correct or maybe even low.

2008 Family of 4 Median household income: $67,019

Here is the web table up to 2008. The later years would need to be downloaded individually as excel spreadsheets.


246 Bill January 5, 2016 at 8:35 pm

JW, It appears that we are both correct: Median household income is $51,939, and median four person families as $65 k, which tells you that you can make money by having children.

247 Lord Action January 6, 2016 at 9:24 am

Bill, maybe I’m having trouble reading, but it looks like TheNumeraire is correct and you are wrong.

248 karl January 5, 2016 at 11:32 am


249 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 11:47 am

“Household” does not mean a family of four with 2 kids. You’re factoring in a lot of demographic trends to arrive at that median household income figure.

250 Larry Siegel January 6, 2016 at 4:51 am

That’s right. The modal household size is 1. The mode isn’t really relevant to this discussion, other than to suggest that a typical family with two adults and two kids in an expensive city isn’t living on the median household income.

251 Floccina January 5, 2016 at 11:55 am
252 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 11:59 am

Yes, that guy’s great if your idea of retirement involves never travelling, never eating out, and wearing the same clothes every other day until they wear out. And if your ideal diet involves pasta primavera and canned beans every day.

253 Slocum January 5, 2016 at 12:23 pm

If that guy is too frugal for you, there’s always Mr Money Mustache and his family. They spend a lot more but still much less than the US median.

254 eccdogg January 5, 2016 at 12:29 pm
255 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 1:22 pm

Mr. Mustache in the real world runs into this problem:
It took quite a bit of time to force my Wife to realize that a 3000 square foot home plus finished basement on a 1/3 acre in a 10-10-10 school district is NOT normal and QUITE expensive.

Not to mention the bi-annual vacations abroad!

Mr. Mustache provides valuable information, but it requires forgoing “the best” in many areas. For instance, riding your bike everywhere and driving a 15 year old car. Mustache also lives in an area with schools of middling quality, but home-schools his single son.

I don’t mind riding my car into the ground, but I did purchase a rather expensive $35,000 small-size SUV with a lot of bells and whistles for comfort and ease of use. Back-up cameras are amazing on my 35-yard driveway and I like my heated seats.

256 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 3:28 pm

I’m already pretty much doing everything on the list there.
The one thing is that I’m sacrificing most things on the list to save for the one thing I really want: a single-family home on a 1/4 acre lot in a nice area. The latter is not negotiable, nor do I think it is an unreasonable thing for someone to expect at the median income. I’m not asking for a McMansion on 3 acres, just the kind of house that people in the 60s took for granted. I’d be happy with 2000 square feet. I just want an OK sized back yard for the kids ot play in.

257 eccdogg January 5, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Where do you live that you can’t get that on the median income?

I know several folks who are at or below the median, and they can afford to live in 2000 sqft house in the outer burbs with a big yard. This is in Raleigh NC, not the most expensive area but also not the cheapest either.

And the school district thing is way overblown. As long as the schools are safe and meet a minimum standard your kid will turn out fine. Most schools in the burbs fit the bill.

258 ed January 5, 2016 at 4:04 pm

Am I the only one that hopes Beta Guy’s wife and kids escape?

259 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 5:33 pm


2000 square feet is not 3000 square feet, with a finished basement, etc.

I live in the Chicagoland area, and that’s affordable in the “Outer Burbs,” but among the sprawling metropolises, “Outer Burbs” means painfully long commutes. Time and frustration is far more important than money or household space.

Leaving the Chicagoland area is also not acceptable, since all relevant family members live within an hour drive and the majority live within a 30 minute drive. Buying proximity to family is vastly more important than buying additional “living” space.

I looked through Zillow and found some homes in our “budget” at 2000+ sq feet plus and they are Northwest of Raleigh along Route 70. I am not familiar with Raleigh,but this seems quite distant, and the closer homes feed into schools like Needham Broughton. This may not be a relevant factor to you, but this is not a good school:

This is where Hillary Clinton went to school. This is a good school:

The school my children will attend is ranked marginally worse than that, but acceptable for my standards. My children will not attend a school where only 7% of the students know algebra. There is no point in money if you send your kids to a school like that. That’s a core value to me.

260 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 5:42 pm

“Am I the only one that hopes Beta Guy’s wife and kids escape? ”

Pretty common attitude among the #microaggressions crowd, and somewhat among the #feelthebern crowd.

I probably come off a tad more jerkish here than I do in real life, because, you know, GIFT.

261 eccdogg January 5, 2016 at 7:12 pm


Needham Broughton is where my kids will go. It is the old money school in Raleigh. John Edward’s kids went to school there.


Like lots of big schools in Raleigh there is substantial income based districting so it draws from very rich areas and also very poor and that influences its averages. Zillow the neighborhoods surrounding the school to the north and west, 90% of those people will send their kid to school there.

Look Beta, you have champagne taste in schooling and housing. Nothing wrong with that. But i am not going cry that you can’t afford them on a Bud Light income. You can live a very adequate life on the median US income (or even lower). I personally know several people doing just that.

Anyway, I was mainly talking to Hazel Meade. a 2000 sq ft house in a safe neighborhood with safe schools and decent yard is attainable lots of places for 200-300k. That is a mortgage of ~$11-17k/year. The 17k upper bound is just over the recomended 1/3 of 55k which is the US median income.

262 A Definite Beta Guy January 5, 2016 at 8:16 pm

Oh, well, you’re quite right about that, and no major disagreement. We all make our own choices. Trade-offs and all that. I do have champagne-taste when it comes to education and community and it’s something for which I will pay a hefty premium.

I am definitely not whining about how crappy my life is. I feel pretty blessed.

The preferred lifestyle of most Americans, though, is incompatible with the Mustachian lifestyle. I say this as someone who regularly reads Mustache blog and sometimes frequents the forums.

263 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 11:57 am

Not much, given the cost of a typical home.
If there is one single thing that could be done to improve most people’s lifestyles, it would be if new home prices fell by 50%.

264 Kevin Frei January 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm

That happened a few years ago and I thought that was considered a calamity for most people.

265 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 12:23 pm

People are dumb.

It’s a calamity when you lose your job through no fault of your own.
It’s not a calamity when you buy a house you can’t afford and the bank takes it away.
And the former only happened because there were enough people who did the latter that it collapsed the banking sector.

The people hwo lose their homes aren’t the victims, they are the perpetrators.

266 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 12:25 pm

lose = lost.

Anyway, it’s not the fall in home prices that was the problem, it was the bubble that got people into mortgages they couldn’t afford. The bubble being the run UP in house prices.

267 Floccina January 5, 2016 at 11:08 am

I am tempted to say a broken in Lexus is the best car in the word but perhaps median income cannot afford a 2 year old Lexus.

268 JayT January 5, 2016 at 6:25 pm

In cars in general “best” is definitely a hard to define concept, because it would change greatly from person to person. While one might want the speed, looks, and status a Ferrari brings, another person might think that reliability, space, and safety are the things that define the “best” car. If you are in that second group, a Honda Odyssey would probably be your concept of “best” and it is within range for a median income family.

269 Floccina January 5, 2016 at 11:13 am

A titan blueberry bush for the yard. In fact almost any new plant and they are amazing technology bred for years, hybridized and often the best scions on the best root stock.

270 Alain January 5, 2016 at 11:18 am

Fantastic topic Tyler. It really does show how, despite the constant protests, things have gotten so much better for almost all segments of the population with G20 nations.

271 Moo cow January 5, 2016 at 11:42 am

Anyone say 4k tv? I see Sony has one out for $1600.

272 Moo cow January 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

Best laundry detergent – Tide.
Best dishwasher detergent – finish.

I got 20 boxes of Finish tabs at Rite Aid last week for free. You have to do the coupons right, of course.

273 Hazel Meade January 5, 2016 at 11:54 am

What can’t they afford?

Healthcare (as mentioned previously)

I’m not sure if it matters much that middle class consumers can afford the best writing paper and mineral water if the essential goods for a middle-class lifestyle are unaffordable (i.e. a single family home).

274 critic January 5, 2016 at 11:58 am

Recorded music. Virtually all the great recordings of the past are readily avalable. A lifetime of listening. Toscanini, Rubenstein, and hundreds of others. And top quality equipment to play it. It is a golden age if ever there were one

275 Justin Kelly January 5, 2016 at 11:59 am

Colt model 1911: the best handgun, ever.

276 Sean Ditullio January 5, 2016 at 12:47 pm

They can buy just about anything that isn’t a status good or can buy a product that has 95% of the quality of the top product. They can’t afford the best wine, but even many wealthy really can’t tell the difference between a top win and $30 bottle.

The biggest discrepancies are probably in housing and vacations. That is where you can really run up big tabs on things that are not primarily status goods. Even education is getting very close to being available at low costs when you take away the status good part of the education.

277 Sean January 5, 2016 at 1:12 pm

I can almost make an argument a median income can purchase the best cars.

I drive a gwagon. A girlfriends sisters drives a 10 year old jeep.

They have the same amount of space in side, travel at the same speeds. As far as human comfort they are pretty similar. Biggest difference is curb appeal and status that comes with one of the cars.

278 RM January 5, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Late to the party, but after buying all these “best” things, is any money left over for retirement or charitable contributions?

279 RM January 5, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Can it buy the best retirement? Or even a reasonable retirement?

280 Bill January 5, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Actually, with this post, Tyler is demonstrating that Average IS Over-, or that his thesis was incorrect-t since even though your income declines, you get to purchase items that would have cost more 10 years ago.

In fact, he is demonstrating that GDP did not measure happiness, did not measure improvements in Facebook, healthcare, vaccines, antibiotics, etc….all the items listed in this post.

It is a brave man who admits his error. And, provides the evidence as well.

Or, Maybe this is just in preparation for you to accept the growth in the top 1%, or not discuss it because you can go on Facebook.

281 DBH January 5, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Experiences in US state and national parks

282 Joe Mack January 5, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Tru dat!!!

283 jdd6y January 5, 2016 at 5:36 pm

Blue Star Donuts

284 wiki January 5, 2016 at 7:01 pm

It’s simple. Anything that is widely desired and positional and rare or dependent on highly elite labor services is not affordable to the mediam consumer (the Ivy League, top rated restaurants, highest critically rated hotel suites, exclusive travel, Picassos, etc.). Anything that can be mass produced can or will be available widely. Other things might be available on a highly limited basis (i.e. if you happen to be born near a great scenic or other location and the market is not open to the richest to outbid you or drive you away). In some cases the best are not sought after except by eccentric subsets so that bidding might not go too high also.

285 Joe Mack January 5, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Canned meat, cereal in a box. Magazine or newspaper, pay per view events.
Computer keyboard. Beats headphones
DVD or BluRay of favorite movie.

286 Robert January 5, 2016 at 7:37 pm

You can get the World’s Greatest Operating System, Microsoft Windows 10.

287 JayT January 5, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Not sure if you are being serious, but it is a good point. The median income American can afford the best home PC available.

288 DCBillS January 5, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Anyone worried (or thinking) about what is “best” needs to get a life.

289 guest January 5, 2016 at 10:30 pm

And introspect about their circumstances compared to anything that’s ever been. The people who see injustice and suffering everywhere they look are masters of the pragmatic and flunk-outs in real history.

290 Virginia Postrel January 6, 2016 at 3:08 am

A relevant quote from Andy Warhol: “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it. Sometimes you fantasize that people who are really up-there and rich and living it up have something you don’t have, that their things must be better than your things because they have more money than you. But they drink the same Cokes and eat the same hot dogs and wear the same ILGWU clothes and see the same TV shows and the same movies. Rich people can’t see a sillier version of Truth or Consequences, or a scarier version of The Exorcist. You can get just as revolted as they can—you can have the same nightmares. All of this is really American.” That was published in 1975. How true is it today?

291 TallDave January 6, 2016 at 4:21 am

A better question might be:

What non-positional high-quality goods exist that median income consumers cannot afford?

Of course, there aren’t many, because making them affordable offers huge profit opportunities, and many such goods have already been commoditized, but true scarcity does still exist to some extent.

292 asdfG January 6, 2016 at 6:01 pm

There’s a ton of price description going on across a boatload of product categories. If you want to spend an order of magnitude more on a refrigerator, car, mattress, TV, or shoes they’ll be someone there to take nearly as much as you want to spend. Generally the top of the line isn’t all that much better than products aimed at a wider audience.

293 Larry Siegel January 6, 2016 at 4:57 am

Hazel Meade wrote: >The one thing is that I’m sacrificing most things on the list to save for the one thing I really want: a single-family home on a 1/4 acre lot in a nice area. The latter is not negotiable, nor do I think it is an unreasonable thing for someone to expect at the median income. I’m not asking for a McMansion on 3 acres, just the kind of house that people in the 60s took for granted. I’d be happy with 2000 square feet.

You are romanticizing the 60s (but the music was great). I grew up in the 60s in a household that earned above the median income. We had 1083 square feet of housing space, not 2000. It was a stretch for my parents to afford it. And it was in a deteriorating area. But we did have a quarter acre. The lifestyle you are describing was the professional-technical-managerial class; my father’s boss, well into the top quartile by income.

294 NSFoodsMemo January 14, 2016 at 10:20 am

Extra Virgin olive oil. 50 years ago it was high-priced, for the upper class foodie. Today it’s a mainstream product that’s inexpensive. Affordable to the masses. Problem: Much of it, regardless of price, is adulterated. But that’s not an economic class issue. Rather, is fraud.

Premium chocolate bars. A top quality domestic or imported brand can be had for less than a cheeseburger, fries, apple pie and Coke at McDonalds.

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