The prices we pay for stuff: A value system gone haywire?

Earlier this spring, the New York Times reported on an interesting and disturbing twist: Over the years, “wired” devices and electronics have plummeted in price, while the costs of education, health care, and child care have shot up. Here’s Annie Lowrey, reporting:

Since the 1980s, for instance, the real price of a midrange color television has plummeted about tenfold, and televisions today are crisper, bigger, lighter and often Internet-connected. Similarly, the effective price of clothing, bicycles, small appliances, processed foods — virtually anything produced in a factory — has followed a downward trajectory. The result is that Americans can buy much more stuff at bargain prices.

Many crucial services, though, remain out of reach for poor families. The costs of a college education and health care have soared.

…Child care also remains only a small sliver of the consumption of poor families because it is simply too expensive. In many cases, it depresses the earnings of women who have no choice but to give up hours working to stay at home.

Add to that the high costs of quality, unprocessed food and good, safe housing and you have a pretty fair idea of what’s more affordable in terms of everyday needs and wants. One could say this reflects a value system gone haywire, where basic health, education, nutrition, and housing needs are harder to pay for, while the latest digital gizmos are relatively affordable.

It’s something to think about the next time you see a person who appears to be homeless talking on a cellphone.

3 responses

  1. Pingback: The prices we pay for stuff: A value system gone haywire? | lornastremcha

  2. Good insight and you have spotlighted a major problem. People have to pay for necessities so the prices rise as high as the market will stand. People don’t need to buy luxuries, so with less money left over after paying for necessities, those prices will drop to the lowest viable level. What people want, need and would prefer is for necessities to be cheap and luxuries to be dear. I suppose it demonstrates that a free market can never be effective for providing peoples needs.

  3. I think we’ll end up like the citizens of Panem. Starving, but with gigantic plasma hi-def color tv sets everywhere.

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