The Flintstone Effect

Posted on November 25, 2006 

The Flintstone Effect
Tracing wealth back to the Stone Age.
Economic historians divide the history of living standards into two eras, which could be named for the Flintstones and the Jetsons. The Flintstones era runs from the beginning of time through the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages and up to about 1800. The Jetsons era begins with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and culminates in a utopian future in which—Jane, stop this crazy thing!—machines do everything.

The Jetsons era trounces the Flintstones era in terms of leaps forward in global quality of life. According to some rough estimates, world living standards grew less than 50 percent over the last two Flintstones millennia (from A.D. 1 until the Industrial Revolution). By contrast, they grew a whopping 1,000 to 2,000 percent in the 19th and 20th centuries of the Jetsons era. In light of the importance of this relatively recent past, it would be pretty surprising if the living standards of our prehistoric forbears exerted a lasting influence. But according to a new study, they do.

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