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June 13, 2010



I thought the main reason mobile phones have got smaller is because batteries have.

Tim Worstall

"Whereas most of my car is vastly technologically superior to anything one could have bought in the 1970s, batteries are little different: how often do you need to recharge your phone, iPod or laptop?"

Well, the lead/acid car battery hasn't changed all that much, this is true, but there have been huge leaps and bounds in the other forms of batteries. NiCd, Li, etc etc etc.

Yes, I take the point, but batteries in general aren't all that good an example.

john b

What they said above - the reason you need to charge your phone every day is because it uses a lot of power because it's Well Posh. If you were to put the battery from your phone into a phone capable of doing what a phone could do five years ago, then it'd last a week (which is exactly what happens on the budget Nokias I've variously had as work / travelling phones).


Lead acid batteries have improved somewhat over the last 30 years, and your car not fitting into your garage is an example of bad planning.
So your errors aside, I seem to recall reading of a study or two which put the highest standard of living for your normal man in the stree in the USA was back in the 70's, with the most equitable income distribution, pretty good environmental laws and of course being top of the economic tree in the world.


"Strictly speaking, he’s right. But let’s be clear - that word “overall” is doing quite a bit of work."

Ok but if we can carry with the mobile phone theme: regardless of the quality of batteries, one of the indicators of rising prosperity is that just about everyone these days has a mobile phone. Kids who get free school meals have them. Whereas you'll remember as I do that they were once the preserve of 'yuppies' - this being one of the reasons I resisted getting one for years. Another form of 'technological advance' is that things once considered luxuries become available to just about everyone.


Back in the 60s and 70s though I remember that cars often used to have flat batteries, they also used to often over heat in traffic jams.

I cannot remember that last time I had a flat battery or a car over heating, although having checked with my father it says it was extremely common.

So the basic problem has not changed, but technolgy has improved to make the likeihood nuch less likely.

I read an interview recently with a BA pilot. He said that when he started his career it was common for one engine to fail on transatlantic flight. Nowadays he cannot remember when an engine last failed. So again the problem has not changed, engines fail, but how often?

john b

Workingman: yes, that figures - when my dad started doing lots and lots of business travel in the 1970s, he was on a flight which had to abort due to an engine flame-out, whereas I've never had any such problems despite doing just as much.

The corollary of that is that when your pilot started his career, only a suicidal nutter would consider flying a 2-engined plane transatlantic, whereas now most transatlantic flights are 2-engine. Which makes aviation sightly cheaper, slightly slower, slightly less annoying (in that a relatively frequent engine failure on a 4-engine plane means you end up in Newfoundland with no drama, but a very rare engine failure on a 2-engine plane is much hairier for all concerned), and about as safe, as it was in 1975...


I laughed when I read the bit about garages being too narrow for cars. I've seen three new garages go up in my street last year, and each of them was too narrow for the cars in the yard. I just don't believe that builders and owners think things through, but continue to build the garages that their parents had - fit for a Morris Minor, but nothing bigger.


Ordinary people now have long-haul holidays in Thailand or the Dominican Republic - the idea that they are not now better off than their counterparts 30 years ago is ludicrous.

The cars thing is due to unnecessary bloat - carmakers seem to think that each new generation of cars needs to be bigger than the last. The current Mondeo is longer and wider than the last Granada/Scorpio. Housebuilders don't build bigger garages because they know they will just be used as storerooms.


Gentlemen - pointing to the ubiquity of mobile phones or foreign holidays is no proof that living standards have risen, any more than the unaffordability of housing or demise of free university education is proof they have fallen.
The proof that living standards have risen lies in the macroeconomic statistics, which show that average incomes have outstripped price rises.
Mu point was merely that, in some (a few) dimensions (and I concede that msaybe batteries are a poor example), people are worse off than they were years ago.

Kevin Carson

To the extent that basic necessities like shelter are much more expensive, and employment is precarious, I'd say that's an objective decline in *overall* quality of life. It means that the average person lives in a chronic state of economic insecurity that would have sounded nightmarish to someone forty or fifty years ago. When you're a couple of paychecks away from homelessness and the state of the job market means a job-loss is tantamount to almost certain long-term unemployment, cheap computing power and better medicine isn't necessarily sufficient compensation.


Yes, current planes are slower than Concorde (a subsidised government project after all!). But they are as fast or faster than their standard civilian counterparts were 30 years ago. They are are also safer, more fuel efficient and substantially cheaper.

I would contest your point about building sites. Although I am no expert, it seems to me that modern techniques have shortened construction time, but that this has been disguised by increasing complexity in housing design.

As for music quality, if there's one thing listening to CDs through a hi-fi can tell you, it's that most studios in the 60s and 70s were rubbish at getting decent quality from their microphones. Yes, some say that CDs are worse than records, but who buys CDs nowadays anyway? Consumers have shown they value convenience, portability and ultimately lower prices over quality.

It seems to me you're taking very specific metrics and moaning about them, rather than looking at the broader picture and saying "are these industries more pareto efficient than they were 30 years ago?


Lots of bad examples: battery technology is vastly superior to that even in the early 90s let alone the 70s. How much talk time did you get from one of the early mobiles for example?

Modern houses may be thrown up by mediocre tradesmen working to humdrum designs, but they have superior electrics, more and better bathrooms, better kitchens (often with built-in appliances), and are vastly better insulated.

The main reasons why flying from London to New York is slower are: the retirement of Concorde (which hardly anyone used anyway) and congestion at either end. That's not a technical problem, it's a supply and demand problem.

john malpas

personal service has not improved.
Humans are fatter.
Fish and chips don't taste so good.
All compared with 1952
Oh and mobile phones have been invented. A real backward step.


So my friends audi had a flat battery a few weeks ago, he called me up to help him jump start it , I said call the garage you cheapskate ( he earns in the top .0001% ish ) he eventually persuaded me to go round and help, first we had to buy jump leads then we spent about two hours trying to find the battery removing all sorts of bits of engine, then on the internet we found it was in the boot! , after melting the jump cables trying to start the thing we got a message on the onboard computer saying call the garage , they make cars nowadays that wont restart without the garage relieving you of 300 quid blackmail money to reset the computer, is this a step forwards or backwards !

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