Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Shopping in 1975: Blogger Don Boudreaux recently bought a copy of the 1975 Sears & Roebuck catalog on eBay and has been comparing consumer goods from back then with their 2006 counterparts.

Here are some excerpts of his interesting analysis of what things cost back then (as well as an estimate of the number of hours of work it would take to earn the purchase price):
Sears' lowest-priced 10-inch table saw: 52.35 hours of work required in 1975; 7.34 hours of work required in 2006.

Sears' lowest-priced gasoline-powered lawn mower: 13.14 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 20-inch swathe); 8.56 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 22-inch swathe. Sears no longer sells a power mower that cuts a swathe smaller than 22 inches.)

Sears Best freezer: 79 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a freezer with 22.3 cubic feet of storage capacity); 39.77 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a freezer with 24.9 cubic feet of storage capacity; this size freezer is the closest size available today to that of Sears Best in 1975.)

Sears Best side-by-side fridge-freezer: 139.62 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a fridge with 22.1 cubic feet of storage capacity); 79.56 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a comparable fridge with 22.0 cubic feet of storage capacity.)

Sears' lowest-priced answering machine: 20.43 hours of work required in 1975; 1.1 hours of work required in 2006.

A 1/2-horsepower garbage disposer: 20.52 hours of work required in 1975; 4.59 hours of work required in 2006.

Sears lowest-priced garage-door opener: 20.1 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a 1/4-horsepower opener); 8.57 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a 1/2-horsepower opener; Sears no longer sells garage-door openers with less than 1/2-horsepower.)

Sears highest-priced work boots: 11.49 hours of work required in 1975; 8.26 hours of work required in 2006.
In an earlier post, he also notes:
Other than the style differences, the fact most noticeable from the contents of this catalog's 1,491 pages is what the catalog doesn't contain. The Sears customer in 1975 found no CD players for either home or car; no DVD or VHS players; no cell phones; no televisions with remote controls or flat-screens; no personal computers or video games; no food processors; no digital cameras or camcorders; no spandex clothing; no down comforters (only comforters filled with polyester).

Of course, some of what was available to Sears' customers in 1975 is also quite noticeable to those of us looking back from 2006: typewriters, turntables for stereo systems, 8-track players, black-and-white television sets. And lots and lots of clothing and bedding made from polyester.

The lowest-priced electronic calculator available in this catalog set the citizen of 1975 back $13.88 -- it had a whooping six digits and could add, subtract, multiply, and divide.
(As Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution notes, "The past is another country. I once lived there but have no desire to return.")