Why America's essentials are getting more expensive while its toys are getting cheaper

Two observations here.

1) On poverty: Jordan Weissmann nails it: “Prices are rising on the very things that are essential for climbing out of poverty.” The road to upward mobility is uncertain, but we know the checkpoints. Graduating from college—whose sticker price is actually rising faster than its actual cost—correlates with higher employment and richer earnings. Chronically sick children affect parents’ mental health, and chronically sick parents hurt a family’s well-being. Single moms and dads who can’t afford daycare and wind up spending lots of hours watching after their kids have trouble finishing school or establishing themselves in the workforce. Just as the benefits of wealth create a virtuous cycle of behavior, the challenges of poverty start a vicious circle that continues to spin down through multiple generations.

2) On productivity: When you look at the items in red with falling prices, they largely reflect industries whose jobs are easily off-shored and automated. The secret to cutting prices (over-generalizing only slightly here) is basically to replace American workers. If you can replace U.S. labor with foreign workers and robots, you’re paying less to make the same thing. Look back at the items toward the bottom of the graph. Our clothes come from Cambodia. Our toys come from China. Meanwhile, Korea, a world-leader in electronics and auto manufacturing, has the highest industrial robot density in the world. Cheap things aren’t made by American humans.

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