One hundred years ago, the average American family of six lived in a four-room house the size of a two-car garage, heated by wood and lacking electricity. Nor did they own such exotic items as refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, and flush toilets. To see how far we’ve come, of course, just look around your own home.
These and other arresting comparative statistics are compiled in the new book, The First Measured Century (edited by Theodore Caplow, Louis Hicks, and Ben J. Wattenberg), companion to a PBS special of the same name. Among other data: Although Americans, by and large, work less than their 1900s counterparts (from a ten- to an eight-hour work day and from a six- to a five-day work week), they earn far more (average household income, in adjusted dollars, rose from $15,745 in 1929 to $47,809 in 1998). At the same time, the amount Americans had to spend on food and clothing fell, freeing dollars for education and medical services. Not only are Americans earning more, they are also giving more. In 1929, individuals donated around $10 billion; by century’s end, that figure rose to over $120 billion per year.
Make no mistake, such quantum leaps in prosperity–and in the potential for greater human flourishing–are intimately linked to free markets, as well as to the innovation that markets fuel. Such economic innovation, however, must be linked to a system of value higher than a merely economic one and must be disciplined by faith as well as reason. The Acton Institute has been promoting this message for the past ten years. Likewise, we have benefited from the enterprise and generosity of our supporters. Each year we are humbled by the great response to our annual appeal. Your generous annual gifts will ensure that the Institute continues to educate religious leaders in the essential elements of a free and virtuous society. Thank you.
Fr. Robert A. Sirico