Today’s Luxury is Tomorrow’s Necessity

There is much necessary stuff in the market that a lot of people can’t afford due to their restricted economic circumstance. And the contrary is also true. A lot of people have access to a wide range of unnecessary products and services because they can afford those luxuries. It is a matter of unfair distribution of wealth. Not a matter of lack of resources. Michael Lind in his study “Worldly Wealth” is positively clear about the fact that there are enough resources for the future in the planet even after an eventual rise of the population to 9 or 10 billion. His insight about consumption’s needs is very informative: “In thinking about the future of civilization, we ought to start by asking what people want. The evidence demonstrates that as people get richer they want a greater range of personal technology, they want lots of room (preferably near or in natural surroundings) and they want greater speed in travel. More stuff, more space, more speed.” (Lind, Michael. “Worldly Wealth”).
On the other hand, as prices go down due to the technological advances, those luxuries will become necessities in the long run. That happened with the electric bulb, the automobile, electrical appliances, and more recently it’s happening with computers as they become cheaper and omnipresent in everyday life.
We can also notice the benefits of civilization in the fact that our present generation has a higher level of comfort and life expectancy than former generations. Jane Katz in an article published in the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s website gives valuable statistical data comparing three different generations up to the present one. Let’s take a look at certain relevant facts: “When technological advance gave us electric lighting, Americans lengthened their daylight hours by spending forty times on electricity in 1929 what they had spent in 1900 in constant dollars — 265 times as much by 1990, even as electricity became relatively cheap. (…) By comparison, medical expenditures increased merely eight times between 1900 and 1929… (…) Medical expenditures did eventually climb, but only after 1929, when penicillin and advanced surgical techniques began to significantly increase life expectancy. (…) …spending on transportation, which accounted for less than 5 percent of a households budget in 1918, now commands a share approaching 20 percent, including 8 percent on vehicles alone. (…) And although Americans have enjoyed extraordinary consumption gains over the entire century, David Cutler and Larry Katz find that average consumption declined 4.5 percent in real terms for the neediest Americans from 1980 to 1988, mirroring their decline in real wages during that period.” (Katz, Jane. “The Joy of Consumption”).
In many cases, the driving force behind consumption is not a real need, but desire or social pressure. But even in those cases, when we buy compulsively or senselessly, the luxuries that we enjoy in that altered state of the ego may become a real necessity in the future. This is so because most probably we are using that product for the wrong use and eventually that same product can solve a problem if we use it appropriately in the right direction. For example, there are many unknown computer-based products that are hidden in the head of a computer wizard who is going to implement it sooner or later. When that time comes, we will discover new uses for the computer thanks to the computer wizard’s new products. And future technologies and inventions can give a real twist to any product or service.