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What is “progress”?

Written By: - Date published: 12:06 pm, July 5th, 2012 - 22 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, quality of life - Tags: ,

What exactly do we mean by “progress”? I’m moved to ask the question because of the following recent article:

Price of progress hurts Kiwis

The rampant cost of living means two-income families are increasingly worse off than single-income families were a generation ago – and it is threatening to put them under. …

In 1970, 16.63 cents in every dollar earned went towards housing and utilities. By 2011 that had jumped to 23.55 cents in every dollar. The fixed monthly outgoings of the modern middle-class family are now 2 1/2 times those of their 1970s single-income counterparts.

What has buried so many families is the level of household debt. In 1980, it accounted for 47 per cent of a family’s disposable income. Today, the debt mountain is equivalent to 143 per cent of disposable income.

Many of us now have bigger houses and flat screen TVs. But when “two-income families are increasingly worse off than single-income families were a generation ago” that isn’t progress. It’s madness.

22 comments on “What is “progress”?”

  1. tracey 1

    The definition of success has too long been based on money and the pursuit of it has become headless chicken stuff. But it keeps the 1% in wealth while the rest stay on the treadmill deluded that they can get long awaited wealth too. Myths and more mytgs

  2. Tom Gould 2

    I’m sure I saw some productivity figures showing massive increases across the board over recent decades had been captured in incomes at the top end, which maybe explains the conundrum? Could be wrong.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      No you’re not wrong, under capitalism that’s where productivity increases go. The entire system is designed to ensure this through it’s ownership model (where a business is owned by someone other than the people doing the work) and secrecy (the accounts are kept from the people doing the work and so they don’t actually know what they’re worth).

  3. Jimmie 3

    Part of the problem is folk have difficulties knowing the difference between needs and wants.

    40 years ago in a typical household (mum/dad/2-3 kids) techno toys would have included a wringer washing machine, some sort of old school fridge/freezer & maybe a radio/black and white tv.

    The only phone would have been an old land line (perhaps a party phone??)

    Kids would have walked or biked to school, wore hand me downs – the family would have had one dungery old car and 3 bedroom house. Perhpas a vege garden out the back. Woodburner.

    Debt was so difficult to get would have been lucky to have a mortgage (with a 20% deposit). HP’s, credit cards – umm what are those?

    2 week holiday at the beach once a year?

    All fairly doable on a single income.

    (Dad would have left school straight into a job saving for a house deposit – mum; well maybe a nurse or secretary until she got married and had kids)


    Fast forward to 2012 and the same family see the difference:

    50 inch plasma tv/32inch bedroom tv/3 or 4 cell phones/ 2 laptops or ipads/sky bill/broad band bill/ heat pump/dvd player/2 or maybe 3 cars/wizzo washing machine & dryer/dishwasher/stereo system/x boxes.

    Kids complain if clothes not label fashions/both parents working so no time for vege garden

    Debts: 2x student loans/house mortgage/car loans x2 or 3/HP’s on house gadgets/high insurance & rates.

    Life is rush rush rush – its no surprise that life tends to get complicated and stressful nowadays.

    And this describes folks with 2 incomes and reasonably well off – consider poorer folks on low income or benefit seeing all this fancy dress gadgets on movies etc. and they cant get them – they feel like they are missing out and have to get these things via legal or illegal means.

    One reason I like living rurally is it allows you to escape the rat race and enjoy simple things in life once again. Like watching sparrows munching seed off a bird feeder, or looking at 5 or 6 little parrots flying around, or having some friendly heifers come over to the fence for a scratch & a pat.

    Keeps life real I reckon.

    • John72 3.1

      Very good Jimmie. Do not worry about your critics. This site needs them to stir the rabble. Without the rabble-rousing whingers the site would die so the critics are probably professionals.
      It is always the same small group, who do not like anything.
      Do they like themselves?

  4. Doug Mackie 4


    Your comparison is misleading. What do you think the relative costs of those geegaws were 40 odd years ago?

    I have a wee book “New Zealand: Facts and Figures 1968”. It was produced by ‘NZ Information Service, Tourist and Publicity Department’ (this seems to have been a govt department).

    It says:

    page 82 [cost of household articles]
    washing machine, semiautomatic, spin dry $219.00
    Television set (23″) $262.00

    page 86 “Minimum wage rates range from about $21.66 a week for unskilled adult male workers to about $36.00 for skilled men. Women’s rates change from about $14.50 to $30.00 a week.” [I assume ‘skilled’ means skilled labourer.]

    Page 45 [Tax rate information]
    Married with two children for weekly income $30 then tax = $1.95. For $40 income, tax = 4.05.

    Let us consider a married adult male with two children on skilled minimum wage. He would take home about $33 per week. To buy a washing machine would have been almost 7 weeks wages, and a TV cost 8 weeks wages.

    How much does a washing machine or TV cost today in terms of weeks of wages? While the cost of many goods has decreased, overall real wages have decreased by a greater margin. There are many reasons why this is so but it is wrong to think that worker dissatisfaction is correlated to increasing expectations.

    The point is that many fathers housed, fed and clothed their family on a minimum skilled labour wage. Do you think a single skilled labourer wage could do the same today to even the same standards of the late 60’s?

    • joe90 4.1

      1893 – 2008 yearbooks.


    • Draco T Bastard 4.2

      page 82 [cost of household articles]
      washing machine, semiautomatic, spin dry $219.00
      Television set (23″) $262.00

      In real terms:
      $219 in 1968 = $3,615.32 today.
      $262 in 1968 = $$4,325.17 today

      Your $33/week estimate of skilled wage is actually similar to today’s minimum wage ($544.77/week).

      How much does a washing machine or TV cost today in terms of weeks of wages?

      Have a website so you can go check but a quick check shows that two to three weeks of wages will cover a cheap washing machine.

      While the cost of many goods has decreased, overall real wages have decreased by a greater margin.

      Back in the 1950s/60/70s and even into the 1980s wages were going up at rates faster than inflation, productivity was doing it’s normal thing and deflating prices (that’s really what inflation is for – to hide the deflation). It’s only been since the mid to late eighties and especially the 1990s that wages have stagnated but even then they’ve only stagnated for those on the average wage and down. Those right at the bottom have seen wage decreases since then.

      Do you think a single skilled labourer wage could do the same today to even the same standards of the late 60′s?

      Nope, despite what the figures say because the price of houses have been going up at rates far beyond the rate of inflation. A person on the wages you mention could have rented a house and fed the family and had money left over each week. Today, that can’t be done as the rent alone will be taking up the better part of one wage.

      • Olwyn 4.2.1

        Yes, housing plus the precariousness of work are the things that make the big difference. I also think that it is hard to see where the line between want and need is drawn, since many wants become needs once they are embedded in a way of life. Computer-access, for example, is not quite a need yet, but would become one if enough people had email access for physical mail to be abandoned. Furthermore, consume junk is not wealth. TVs, DVD players, etc, tend to float from one person to another like second hand clothes.

        • Ben

          The problem with the cost of living, as I see it, isn’t about what a flash TV (etc) costs. Consumer electronics have never been cheaper.

          The problem with cost of living is the basics: food, power, rent, fuel. It’s the spiralling cost of essential items that’s the problem, not the ‘nice to haves’ which have been the focus of some of the posts in this thread.

          I do agree, though, that there’s a lot of social pressure to have an iThis and an iThat (forget the fact people could get superior products are far lower cost if they didn’t have to have the Apple version….but I digress).

          I wish I had some answers on how to change what society values. We certainly live in shallow times.

    • prism 4.3

      I wonder what proportion of weekly wages were spent on food and on rent or mortgage in 1968? Poorer people now find that housing costs 50% or more of their income, also electricity is dearer, meat and milk have shot up, 4c a pint of milk back in 1960s, now $1 for half litre. The Otago University annual shopping basket comparison always showed that prices for the recommended basic basket were hard to afford for the low budget.

      It could be that looking at capital items like washing machines does not show where the real pain is coming from for low income people.

    • mike e 4.4

      You can’t feed and house a family with TV’s and washing machines.The machines you bought then lasted 30 years plus.The same machine today would be lucky if it lasted 5 years.

      • prism 4.4.1

        mike e
        When I complained about the short life of whiteware it was pointed out how they had come down in price in comparison with wages. Look at DTB at 4.2 for examples.

  5. muzza 5

    Progress, the word is nothing more than a misnomer,

    Anyone with one eye open can tell that that the world is regressing for all but the select few.

    Progress is a lie, a fariy tale ray of hope to keep people fooled into believing that their life is getting better because of gadgets, shiney things, and communication behind screens..

    No, what is sold as progress, is nothing more than the lives of those who cant see it for what it is, getting progressively worse!

    Of course there are statistics to quote which prop up the illusion, comparisons and stats which enforce our progress, yet these are simply part of the lie, the mirage.

    See through the mirage, then we can actually have progress!

  6. Colonial Viper 6

    Capitalist leaders create the conditions to pay workers less and less. This allows the capitalist leaders to withold monies that would otherwise go into worker wages and salaries.

    Workers, in an effort to keep up the lifestyles that they have been promised through years of consumer brainwashing, end up working longer and longer hours. And taking on debt. In order to sustain their spending patterns.

    This is the magic part:

    The capitalist leaders take the monies that they would have otherwise paid out to workers in decent wages and salaries, and instead lend the workers the money at interest.

    Just beautiful and elegant.

    • joe90 6.1

      Just beautiful and elegant


      • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1

        Good graphic. I especially liked the bit about Walmart getting away with paying low wages that people can’t live on because the taxpayers will pick up the bill – just like we do with WfF.

        • prism

          I suggest that WFF replaces an allowance that was embedded in tax tables before the system was changed to simplify it. There used to be a code for people with children that went say F1 F2 etc to about 4. At each child to four the tax rate went down. Now the tax is the same for everyone, but the allowance is paid through WFF and there are child care subsidies etc.

          It’s not simply a subsidy so working parents can subsist, it’s the last vestige of recognising the real costs that ordinary workers face and a desire to allow and encourage women into the work force and increase national production.

          At one time there used to be a tool, and a travelling allowance that could be claimed for by wage workers. Now you have to be a contractor with all the worries and bookwork that employers would have done in their office.

    • fender 6.2


      And then they get the workers and citizens to pay for failures caused by their incompetent handling of such an elegantly beautiful scam.

  7. xtasy 7

    Progress s or may be a free Mexico:

  8. tracey 8

    It’s not progress, however in 1968 women could not be considered in a application for a mortgage, Maori were being hit for speaking Maori at school, rape within marriage and sexual abuse of children in white middle class families was being covered up, how many women were in parliament? Partners in law firms? architects? Engineers? Doctors? Children and wives were still widely treated as property, homosexuals were stung by police toilet operations…

    However one thing remains the same, the triangle.

    At the top is the extremely wealthy who can only remain there if the rest of the triangle is in tact, with the majority, low paid at the bottom.

    The myth is that anyone can get tot he top, with hard work and perseverance… not true and not borne out by those who work hard and persevere. Even our esteemed leader was supported by the state through a roof over his head and his mother’s widow pension. Everyone gets help.

    As long as everything we do and focus on is measured by money to the exclusion of other factors including social, environmental etc we will stay on the merry-go-round. Sadly one of the only ways for an ordinary person to “get ahead” is to not have children, because they are very expensive.

    BUT the nation voted in a currency trader… so the majority think that money is the best measure of success and prosperity….

    Mr Reynolds from Telecom does not work exponentially harder than the fitter and turner in a mine, not when you look at how many hours there are in a day and how many he would have to work, when his salary is compared to the fitter and turners… at least Telecom “produces” something, don’t get me started on the money traders…

  9. Herodotus 9

    There is little mention of what has been lost gained from going from 5 day shopping and late nights to 7 days. The family time has been broken up and disjointed,

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