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How much has our economic wellbeing improved from that our of distant ancestors?

A view of economic progress. Ponder the productivity improvement and resulting increase in wealth to go from this:

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

To this:

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The overall standard of living has increased by a factor of somewhere between 30 and 100 in the last 200 years.

The little side trip in this post and the next will lead me back to my discussion of ancient finances in general and Alexander’s haul from his military campaigns in particular.

Writing in Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, Professor Deirdre McCloskey says it this way: the two centuries after 1800 the trade-tested goods and services available to the average person in Sweden or Taiwan rose by a factor of 30 or 100. Not 100 percent, understand— a mere doubling— but in its highest estimate a factor of 100, nearly 10,000 percent, and at least a factor of 30, or 2,900 percent. The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has dwarfed any of the previous and temporary enrichments.

Let me phrase that another way. The value of what is enjoyed today by an average person is roughly equal to what 30 or 100 people had two centuries ago. That means the constant dollar value of what is consumed and enjoyed has grown by a factor of somewhere between 30 and 100.

Value of 1 ancient Greek drachma and 1 Athenian Talent

Image: Flickr by Carole Raddato
Image: Flickr by Carole Raddato

Image: Courtesy of Flickr by Carole Raddato

If you are curious and want to follow along, I’ll be spending a bit of time looking at some details of ancient finance.

If you are already somewhat familiar, feel free to either roll your eyes as I flounder along or chuckle on how slow I am to catch on. If your knowledge of ancient finances is comparable to mine, that is to say approximately zero, please feel free to join me on a journey to learn a few details.

Wikipedia has some information about the Greek drachma which seems plausible. Will also mention some comment by Prof. Holt.

Comparable value

Article in Wikipedia says some economists and historians say one drachma in the 5th century (let me do a mental calculation – – that would be from about 499BC to 401BC) was about US$25 in 1990 or US$46.50 in 2015.

Classical historians give a different read for the 5th and 4th centuries (okay, mental math time, so that would be from around 499BC to 301BC, the 400s and 300s). In that time, one drachma would be around one days wages for a skilled worker or a hoplite. So that would not be minimum wage, but more along the line of a carpenter or mason.