Back in December, Virginia Postrel marveled at being able to buy a 5-pound bag of flour for 69 cents. In response, Brad DeLong on his weblog calculated the cumulative gain in productivity over the last 500 years, using flour as the unit of measurement. I used this as an opening anecdote in a talk that I recently gave on economic growth (I brought along a bag of flour as a prop), and it went over well.

Now, readers of Wired can enjoy DeLong’s story.

The 7,500 calories in today’s bag of flour would equal the diet of a four-person peasant family for a whole day; the difference is that it would take three days of medieval work to afford.

…By the bags-of-flour standard, we are some 430 times wealthier than our typical rural ancestors of half a millennium ago.

For Discussion. If you were to trade places with the richest person living in 1903, would you regard your standard of living as having improved or deteriorated?