If we are ever going to raise the actual standard of living, we need to start by raising the mental standard of living. Fox News commentators were outraged when they read a recent study that claimed 99.6% of poor people have a refrigerator. What luxury! They can preserve their food (assuming they can pay their electric bill)!
It’s not just welfare-hating conservatives, either. Before Hurricane Irene struck, the powers that be advised people to stock up on canned food, in case the power went out. Can you eat uncooked chicken noodle soup?
At the turn of the twentieth century, kitchen appliances were an unfathomable luxury for the average American. Halfway through the century, they were an attainable goal. As the standard of living rose, so did expectations. Logically, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, refrigerators and microwaves should be viewed as a necessity.
Instead, people seem to forget that being able to prepare food without a campfire or smokehouse is necessary in modern society. Many people can’t imagine living without their smart phone or computer, but not their refrigerator.
Karl Marx famously declared religion to be “the opiate of the masses,” but if he were alive today, he might revise that statement. Modern communication technology distracts the masses from the exploitative machinations of the bourgeoisie, and from their own terrible lives.
The Internet is essential to modern living, but some things are more essential. We need to view the standard of living in broader terms, like what it takes to physically live comfortably and in good health. A refrigerator may not be as sexy as an iPhone, but everyone should have one, no matter what their income is.