Poor People Own Appliances Because They’re Cheap

My colleagues Melissa Boteach and Donna Cooper have a great piece on the Heritage Foundation’s “poor people aren’t actually poor because they own cheap electronics” theory of poverty. This infographic nicely highlights the silliness of looking to basic appliance ownership as a standard of material welfare in an advanced capitalist country:

The relative price shift this reflects is an astounding fact about economic history. Back in the late 1920s, a refrigerator would be worth a lot more than eight days’ worth of food. And a microwave wouldn’t exist at all. But in the modern day, these appliances don’t represent meaningful levels of accumulated wealth. What’s more, they’re not luxuries. They’re actually thrifty things to own. If a single mom raising three kids sold her fridge, she’s be making a very imprudent call from a strictly financial point of view. Buying food at the grocery store and saving it thanks to the miracles of modern refrigeration is sound household budgeting. Given the dynamics of a modern economy, it would be pretty irresponsible for a poor person not to own basic household appliances. Or think about the market wages a person might have to forego in order to handwash all her family’s clothing and compare that to the price of a low-end washing machine.