Last week, in her State of the Union response, Jodi Ernst mentioned going to school with bread bags on her feet to protect her shoes. These sorts of remembrances of poor but honest childhoods used to be a staple among politicians -- that's why you've heard so much about Abe Lincoln's beginnings in a log cabin. But the bread bags triggered a lot of hilarity on Twitter, which in turn triggered this powerful meditation from Peggy Noonan on how rich we have become. So rich that we have forgotten things that are well within living memory:
[snipped Noonan quote rhapsodizing about our boot-strapping, plastic-bag wrapping American past]
I am a few years younger than Noonan, but I grew up in a very different world -- one where a number of my grammar school classmates were living in public housing or on food stamps, but everyone had more than one pair of shoes. In rural areas, like the one where Jodi Ernst grew up, this lingered longer. But all along, Americans got richer and things got cheaper -- especially when global markets opened up. Payless will sell you a pair of child's shoes for $15, which is two hours of work even at minimum wage.
Perhaps that sounds like a lot to you -- two whole hours! But I've been researching historical American living standards for a project I'm working on, and if you're familiar with what Americans used to spend on things, this sounds like a very good deal.Yes, America is much richer now except for small pockets in time and space that encompass the childhood of Republican politicians. Why, Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't have so much as a tin cup while we lucky Koch-Americans have processed food and flat-screen tvs. And the people who sniggered at Joni Ernst's bread bag story are actually laughing at the poor, plucky little prairie child and the American Way of Life.