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Phillips' "Modern London," illustrated with numerous plates from 1804, now in my hands, has many excellent engravings of the very soul of the metropolis showing "the busy haunts of the inhabitants, whether for the gratification of ambition, avarice or pleasure and scenes which characterize the manners of the people."--I was particularly interested in "the itinerant traders of London," including: --the baker of boiled apples
What struck me from all these curious and accurate illustrations was that the price of most commodities has not advanced much over the last two centuries. Indeed, a little study and counting, aided by Tooke's classic treatise "Thoughts and Details on the High and Low Prices" of 1823, shows that the price of a very representative basket of commodities has advanced some 1% a year over the past 200 years to 5 to 10 times its original price. This compares to a million-fold increase in the price of stocks over the same period.
Below are listed the year-end prices from Tooke's book for representative commodities in the food, energy, and industrial sectors, in 1800 and the present, with annual compounded rates over the past 205 years.
CORN 1800 3s8d to 2005 £2.20/bushel; 1.22%
WHEAT 1798 12s to 2005 £3.50/bushel; 0.86%
COAL 1800 10s4pnc to 2005 £12.09/ton; 1.56%
IRON 1800 7s to 2005 £68.25/ton; 2.60%
COPPER 1800 57s to 2005 £3355/ton; 3.51%
The data illustrate that Julian's Simon's point about the ever decreasing real price of commodities because of substitutes and more efficient methods of production is upheld by the last 205 years.
The Assistant Webmaster adds:
Brings to mind the factoid "in the 1850's more than three-quarters of America's millionaires lived in the region between Natchez, Mississippi, and New Orleans, their wealth based on vast plantations of sugar cane and cotton." Now, 150 years later, this commodity-producing region brings up the rear. Last weekend in New Orleans a Royal St shopkeeper asked me how my kids liked the local zoo, adding defensively, "we're a poor state, we just don't have the money some other cities do."
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