Economic View: What Was the Greatest Era for Innovation? A Brief Guided Tour

Economic View: What Was the Greatest Era for Innovation? A Brief Guided Tour

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By some measures, air travel has become more onerous since 1970. There were no security screening lines (those were introduced after a series of hijackings in the late 1960s and early ’70s). Seats were larger and came with free meals and drinks. Arguably, though, the bundle offered by circa-1970 airlines for coach class seats is still available: You can still get a bigger seat and free drinks at a higher price, but now it’s called first class.

Once you factor in the time it takes to arrive early and get through security, flying from New York to Chicago takes about the same time, and costs about the same in inflation-adjusted dollars, as it did in 1936; modern planes are faster, but then one could show up at the airport 10 minutes before the scheduled flight time and hop on the plane.

Automobiles became more reliable, and car travel far safer, with widespread use of seatbelts, adoption of airbags and anti-lock brakes, better technology to understand how to build a car so that it protects occupants in a crash, and legal and public-awareness efforts against drunken driving. Deaths per 100 million miles driven have fallen from about 11 in 1940 to about five in 1970 to around one today.

Compared with 1970, Americans today eat a good bit less beef, pork and eggs, and about twice as much chicken. They eat more fruits and vegetables. But that’s only part of the story. Americans are eating more of their meals away from home, and in restaurants more varied than people in 1970 could have imagined. Thai, Japanese, Middle Eastern and Indian food is now for sale even in small cities.

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