Our wildest dreams for the year 2015 haven’t come true. We have neither flying cars nor sassy robots to clean our houses. But at least the 21st century has managed to deliver yesterday’s miracle machines at nearly miraculous prices.
Consumers have benefited from a few factors that have driven down price tags, including the slugfest between big-box and online retail, not to mention companies moving manufacturing jobs to countries with cheap labour. Prices have fallen precipitously for most devices and gadgets. A 21-inch television set cost around $300 in 1956, nearly four times the average weekly salary. Adjusting for inflation, that’s $2,820 in today’s money. If you can even find a TV that small in 2015, you will easily pay less than $200 for it, roughly a day’s earnings. Or reverse the direction of time travel and think backwards: Today’s comparatively gigantic 40-inch $300 TV works out to $47 in 1965 dollars, a garage sale price by the standards of the day. And our models are far superior to anything that existed half a century ago, in televisions and many other devices besides.
The family car is the big exception to the rule: Automobile prices have tended to keep pace with inflation and then some (see the VW Beetle example in the interactive timeline below). To be fair to the cars of 2015, they do offer abilities and safety features they lacked in decades past—but they still can’t fly.