Part I of this article, I articulated how the good old
days are overly romanticized as being cheaper than they
illusion of cheapness comes from noting the prices as they
were listed back in the so-called "good old days." Once inflation and purchasing power are introduced
into the equation, bargain basement list prices like 5¢
bottles of Coca Cola and $3 cases of beer can actually be
more expensive than similar products today. Only cigarettes, with higher taxes levied on them
since 1968; movie tickets, which are increasingly less
relevant since we consume more high definition entertainment
at home; and a child's Disneyland admittance, an occasion
most of us would rarely indulge in were cheaper in the past.
In point of fact, most of the items
which count, the ones we define as life's labor saving
conveniences and pleasures, are cheaper now than they were
in the past. In
2001, a state-of-the-art Sony VAIO PCG-SRX99 laptop computer
with its 10" screen cost $1,500 ($2,000 in 2014 dollars). That ‘powerhouse' came with an 850 Mhz Pentium III-M
processor, 256 MB of RAM, 20 GB of hard drive storage, and
one USB port.
Today's finest smart phones are more powerful than this Sony
laptop and at less than a third of the real price in terms
of purchasing power.
In 1937, a round trip airfare from San
Francisco to Hong Kong cost $1,710, equivalent to $28,465 in
today's money, about three times a 1937 American citizen's
annual disposable income. I just looked up the modern day airfare for this same
trip, and it costs $900, less than 3% of a present day
flier's disposable income, and it takes less time, including
the layovers, than flying between New York and Los Angeles
Today's economy class passenger flies better than
yesteryear's first class one.
Nothing new here. Technology has always allowed later generations to
use as standard what it cost previous generations an arm and
a leg to do at a fraction of the quality and convenience.
When we, born of the present day, look
back the past our parents and grandparents romanticize, it's
all too simple for us to dismiss the hype because of all the
technological wonders the past lacked. We don't have to look too far in the past in our own
lives to see a world without the internet, digital home
entertainment, or smart phones. Our own children might be wondering how we were able
to function "back then" without these modern day marvels,
yet function we did.
Because a citizen living back then
could not miss what didn't yet exist. A 1960 television viewer didn't cry in front of his
home TV screen because it was small and in black and white. A 1966 mother didn't shout obscenities when she had
to pay $1 ($7.33 in today's money) for a three-minute long distance call on Sunday from New York to Seattle to
talk to her daughter. A 1985 high school student didn't bitch about going
to the library to research his term paper instead of doing
it on the internet. A 1996 cellular phone user didn't condemn his antennaed device for not working like a smart phone.
Seen from the vantage point
of the time period, each of those citizens thought s/he had
it pretty good technologically. The 1960 television
viewer would have marveled that his 17" Philco set cost just $249 (almost $2,000 today) when ten
years earlier he would have had to pay $499 ($4,928 today)
for a 12" one. The
1966 mother would have been thrilled at the $1 three-minute
Thirty years earlier, she would have paid twelve times the
price. The 1985
high school student would have been glad that the library he
was doing his research at had multiple encyclopedia sets,
microfiche machines, and was air conditioned; this would not
have been a foregone conclusion twenty years prior. And our 1996 cell phone user would have been happy
enough to be walking around with an affordable pocket-sized
cell phone. A
decade earlier he'd need a backpack to carry around his
limited capability phone.
So for us to assess the past and
whether they really were the "good old days" for the people
living in them, we need to take technology out of
It's already a foregone conclusion that tomorrow's citizenry
will have it better off technologically than we do.
As a case study for determining whether
the good old days were really better or not, I use my
present home of Bangkok, Thailand and do my best to compare
it to the Bangkok of 50 years ago. Bangkok is a good case study. Between 1964 and 2014 Bangkok is like a sped up
version of the way richer countries evolved from the
beginning to the end of the twentieth century, a quick way
without spanning too much time to compare the "old" with the
Since I am analyzing the "good old
days" from the perspective of a Western man who grew up in
the USA, I will analyze Bangkok's altered landscape and
experience over the 50 years from a Western perspective as
well. We will imagine two average American men, one from
1964 and one from 2014, coming to Bangkok for a one-week
vacation and examine their typical experiences in order to
arrive at some kind of measure of what seems "better."
The purpose of this exercise is not to determine how
the experience of a local Thai resident in Bangkok in 1964
and 2014 has changed over the last fifty years. This change would be far more dramatic and a
different topic from the one I've introduced.
We already know that flight travel has
come down tremendously in cost over fifty years. Mr. 1964 would have had to pay about $1,100 in
today's money just to get from California to New York. Never mind what he'd pay to fly over the Pacific and
how long it would take. So we will assume that both Mr. 1964 and Mr. 2014
have won free tickets to Bangkok, for if they did not,
international air travel would have been out of reach for
the average man of 1964.
Mr. 1964 and Mr. 2014 journey to their
respective Bangkoks with different standards of living. We've already gone over in Part I how people's
disposable incomes in real terms have risen over time.
Mr. 1964's disposable income, in 2014 dollars, is
$19,362; Mr. 2014's is the 2013 figure we calculated in Part
I increased by 1.5% (the average of the GDP per capita
annual growth rates between 2009-13) equal to $34,968. Mr. 1964's disposable income is 55% that of Mr.
Mr. 1964 checks into the Erawan Hotel,
one of the nicest and largest hotels in town with 200
air-conditioned rooms. He reserves a double room (363 baht/night, including
service) and books breakfast, lunch, and dinner at his hotel (105 baht total with service = $5.20). His total daily outlay for meals and accommodation is
468 baht, then equal to $23.40, and in 2014 dollars,
the course of a week, he will spend $1,235.36 or 6.4% of his
annual disposable income.
By 1964 standards, Mr. 1964 will not be
enters the reception, which looks like someone's extra large
living room. He
can be waited on and have drinks served to him by the
attentive staff in the Terrace Bar. The swimming pool is surrounded by tropical gardens,
and as Mr. 1964 swims in the hot humid climes, he looks out at the bare skyline around him. The hotel boasts Le Cave, Southeast Asia's first and
only wine cellar, and its Ambassador Club features Thai
classical dance every night. Staying at the Erawan is a very Thai experience, and
everyone who stays there raves about it.
By 2014, the Erawan Hotel is gone. It was razed in 1987 to make way for the 380 room
Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, another 5-star hotel of the
present day variety sporting all of the expected modern
Mr. 2014 secures a grand king room here with breakfast which
costs 7,100 baht. Add on 2,900 baht for lunch and dinner in one of the
Grand Hyatt's 5 restaurants, and Mr. 2014 is looking at a
daily room & board expenditure of 11,770 baht ($358) with
tax and service included. Per week, Mr. 2014 spends $2,506, about 7.2% of his
annual disposable income. In purchasing power terms, Mr. 2014 pays slightly
more than Mr. 1964.
Mr. 2014 gets to swim in the pool
overlooking Bangkok's now much expanded skyline. When he swims his lap in one direction, he looks at
the 7-story Central World Department Store with its 45-story
office tower building beside. In the other direction, he sees the 22 stories of his
own hotel. After
his swim, he works out in the hotel gym and chills out in
Grand Hyatt's Isawan spa.
Luxury in 1964 is not as
luxurious as luxury in 2014. That's a given. Were the Erawan Hotel of 1964 transported to 2014, it
would be an anomaly, a 3-star hotel in terms of facilities
but with 5-star service. Who would check in and be willing to pay elevated
prices on an aging property, one reason I am sure that it was torn down after 31 years in
Mr. 1964 savors other pleasures.
He drives on
uncongested Bangkok streets. The population of the city is only 2.5m and not many
people can afford a car. As
he's escorted around in a private vehicle, he spots the many klongs (canals) that once constituted Bangkok.
Mr. 2014 experiences a
Bangkok with over 10m souls. He can see the traffic gridlock right from
the hotel entrance. His Bangkok is more industrial and polluted, and
despite the affordability of a private car for the week or a taxi, he
makes do with the city's Skytrain and mass rapid transit
quaint klongs were filled in and turned into roads or land
for more buildings decades ago.
Our man from 1964 is greeted with
smiles wherever he goes. He is rather a rarity. Only around 200,000 foreigners visited Thailand
annually in 1964. Blissfully unaware of what's going on back home, at
night, he journeys to the night spots of Sukhumvit, first
stopping by a popular bar called the Copa between sois 5 and
7. With central Bangkok being quite small and the number
of visitors so few, Mr. 1964 runs into the same people again
and again and strikes up some camaraderie with a few he
joins up with in the days to come.
By 2014, Thailand attracts more than
18m tourists, and Mr. 2014 is just another guy passing
impacts his connections with locals and other foreigners.
Sukhumvit is now chock a block full of buildings. He
stops in an Irish pub on Monday, but when he returns on
Tuesday, there is different clientele entirely. He meets no
one whose contacts he would want to add to his cell
phone. The pub blares out soccer matches from its large
television. As Mr. 2014 inattentively glances at the screen,
his smart phone beeps. His boss back in the US needs him to
look over a few figures in the next few hours and e-mail him
back the changes.
Everything has become bigger and
hotels, the residences, the discoes, the restaurants, and
there's more of all of them. Mr. 2014 is part of a globalized world. The same McDonald's and Starbucks he's addicted to at
home he can enjoy here as well. His room at the Hyatt offers cable TV, and he can
watch the same TV and news here as he watches in his own
On their fourth days in town, Mr. 1964
and Mr. 2014 decide to dip their wicks in Bangkok's infamous
prostitution industry. Mr. 1964 heads up to New Phetchaburi Road which over
the next few years grows into a 5 mile strip of bars with
local girls catering to the burgeoning American GI crowd
coming to Bangkok for R & R. An all-nighter with a cute local costs him $5 (100
baht then, $37.71 today), slightly less than 0.2% of his
annual disposable income. The people of 1964 have fun for fun's sake and his
pickup is very informal. Some of the broke soldiers he's encountered have met
girls in these bars who've gone home with them for free.
Mr. 2014, by contrast, has his choice
of fish bowl massage shops, erotic massage parlors, and
pickup bars scattered all over town. Tuk tuk drivers beckon to him all the time with
journeys over to the Nana Plaza Discotheque and picks up a
jaded hottie who looks like she's slept with the entire
country of Denmark and may, possibly, be on drugs. She's asking 3,000 baht. The last ten guys she's
picked up over the prior three days paid that. Mr. 2014,
ever the shrewd bargainer - he looked up prices on the
internet - gets her down to 2,500 baht ($76), slightly more
than 0.2% of his annual disposable income. The friendliness
factor in the sexual encounter may have changed over fifty
years, but the relative cost remains about the same. None
of the fellow middle-aged foreign tourists Mr. 2014 has met
stand a chance of getting these girls to put out for
free. People in 2014 go out with an express purpose in mind
and fun usually involves a bar fine.
I could go on and on with the
comparisons, but I think you get the gist of it. The passage of time has made places more commercial,
less distant, less distinct. We don't need to be talking about foreigners visiting
could be referring to a Los Angelino visiting New York in
1964 vs 2014.
Though we're more connected online with more people than
ever before with social media, in reality we feel less
connected than ever. People work longer today and with 24/7 internet
access, are never really ever fully removed from it.
When our grandparents speak of the
"good old days," price is the wrong thing to focus on. Mr. 1964's Bangkok isn't much cheaper in purchasing
power terms than Mr. 2014's. The good in the "good old days" was in it being
simpler, with less choices and options, but packaged with a
you belonged and others cared. Sometimes you catch yourself longing for that
simplicity when you feel
you're being overwhelmed with too many choices and
options today and treated like nothing more than one more
generic ID number in the global marketplace.
Grandpa and Grandpa weren't sniffing
too much moonshine. The good old days really did have something special
to offer. For my
next vacation, I'd happily take a time machine back to 1964
and revel in a time when there was less which also offered