Think you’re living in a ‘hellhole’ today? Try being a billionaire in 1916.Roundup
HNN Editor: After we excerpted this column we learned from an article by Emma Roller that numerous passages in the piece came directly from a blog post by an economist at George Mason University, Don Boudroux, whom Will acknowledges in the first paragraph. This is the link to Roller's expose, "Did George Will Plagiarize This Column."
Having bestowed the presidency on a candidate who described their country as a “hellhole” besieged by multitudes trying to get into it, Americans need an antidote for social hypochondria. Fortunately, one has arrived from Don Boudreaux, an economist at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center and proprietor of the indispensable blog Cafe Hayek.
He has good news: You are as rich as John D. Rockefeller. Richer, actually.
Some historians estimate that on Sept. 29, 1916, a surge in the price of Rockefeller’s shares of the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey made him America’s first billionaire. Others say he never reached this milestone and that Henry Ford was the first. Never mind. If Rockefeller was the first, his billion was worth $23 billion in today’s dollars. Boudreaux asks if you would accept this bargain: You can be as rich as Rockefeller was in 1916 if you consent to live in 1916.
Boudreaux says that if you had Rockefeller’s riches back then, you could have had a palatial home on Fifth Avenue, another overlooking the Pacific, and a private island if you wished. Of course, going to and from the coasts in your private but un-air-conditioned railroad car would be time-consuming and less than pleasant. And communicating with someone on the other coast would be a sluggish chore.
Commercial radio did not arrive until 1920, and 1916 phonographs would lacerate 2017 sensibilities, as would 1916’s silent movies. If in 1916 you wanted Thai curry, chicken vindaloo or Vietnamese pho, you could go to the phone hanging on your wall and ask the operator (direct dialing began in the 1920s) to connect you to restaurants serving those dishes. The fact that there were no such restaurants would not bother you because in 1916 you had never heard of those dishes, so you would not know what you were missing.
If in 1916 you suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, a sexually transmitted disease or innumerable other ailments treatable in 2017, you also would not know that you were missing antibiotics and the rest of modern pharmacology. And don’t even think about getting a 1916 toothache. You can afford state-of-the-art 1916 dentures — and probably will need them. Your arthritic hips and knees? Hobble along until you cannot hobble any more, then buy a wheelchair. Birth control in 1916 will be primitive, unreliable and not conducive to pleasure. ...
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