Yet ironically, Americans’ immense prosperity in 2017 is revealed most vividly in riches that are difficult to see if you aren’t looking for them. Most of what makes Americans today materially far richer than Americans of 1987 are things that are so familiar now that we take them for granted. Consider just some of the goods and services that were unavailable to ordinary Americans 30 years ago: individual-serve coffee-makers (“Keurigs”), high-definition televisions, downloadable and streaming music, movies and TV shows, Lasik surgery, Viagra, smartphones, GPS navigation, laptop computers, the Internet.
Each of these items was attention-grabbing when first introduced. But they all became so widespread so quickly that they are today part of our landscape.
Even more hidden from view are smaller innovations that were either nonexistent or very rare 30 years ago. One of my favorites is plastic garbage bags, each with its own internal drawstring.
(To be clear: plastic garbage bags were widely available and used in the U.S. in 1987, but they did not commonly each have its own convenient, internal drawstring.)