My first visits to historic Williamsburg’s exhibits had me comparing today’s upper-middle class existence to the upper class of the 1700’s. Life might not have been that different in quality. Your circle of friends was closer. Entertainment was live. They had books, music, booze, parties, sex, and drugs. Medicine was more primitive but it wasn’t as bad as we think it was, and today’s medicine is less helpful than we optimistically hope it is. Besides, the difference was more in lifespan than comfort — they thought nothing of giving you a painkiller that caused cancer, for instance.
The biggest most obvious difference is that this lifestyle is supported now by automation, where it was created in the 1700’s on the backs of the lower classes (free or slave — that’s a different issue). The Wythe plantation in downtown Williamsburg maintained about 30 servants for the family’s support, plus some draft animals. I got to wondering how many motors replace those 30 servants and came up with about the same number. This brought a smile to my face — the notion that with a 1:1 substitution of motors for servants, you get approximately the same life style.
How many motors do you own? Here’s what I’ve got at home. Lawnmower, weed eater, leaf blower, rototiller, chain saw – that replaces 5 gardeners. In place of a team of horses, driver and footman, we have a car — but a car has multiple motors. The engine, the starter, the generator (a reverse-engine), 2 for the window wipers, 4 for the windows to go up and down, a coolant pump, etc. probably a dozen. The kitchen staff is replaced by oven & blower, microwave & blower, garbage disposal, mixer, blender, can opener. We then have the motors in the washer and dryer. Pencil sharpener. 2 working stereos. Two heat pumps, each with a blower, and at least 3 fans. Let’s ignore microchips and electronics, and heaters and lightbulbs replacing fossil fuels. I am probably missing a few — but am at at least 35, well above the number of servants the Wythe’s had.
Many of us decry regressive taxes that hit the poor disproportionately — lotteries, food taxes, and so forth. Back in the 1800’s in Tennesse they had room taxes and chimney taxes. So here’s an idea for a progressive tax for today. How about we’re each taxed based on how many motors we own?