Tuesday, December 06, 2005

More on capitalism and wealth

I wrote a bit on capitalism and wealth last night. By pure serendipity, I found a historical example tonight.

After work, I went back to Rockefeller Center to take a better picture of the tree and do more shopping. I bought the very pretty ladies' watch that I mentioned caught my eye Friday night. Inside the package is a slip of paper explaining the design's origin in 19th century French jewelry:
A professional and entrepreneurial class known as the bourgeoisie emerged in nineteenth-century France. This transformation of social classes was accomplished by dramatic physical changes in Paris itself. The dark, winding streets were replaced with straight, broad boulevards with sunlight by day and gaslight by night. Bourgeoisie and aristocracy alike strolled the parks and sidewalks, embracing a new era of industrial growth, artistic innovation, and social freedom. Through the century, many astute French jewelry houses provided jewelry for a professional class eager to participate in the fashion of an increasingly public Parisian lifestyle. At the same time, they consistently strove for technical innovation in their craft, developing numerous new techniques in stone setting, metal chasing, and color enameling.
This illustrates so well what I talked about on Saturday. The new source of wealth for the bourgeoisie, i.e. the middle class, primarily came from the Industrial Revolution. The new advances in textiles, metals and factories were initiated by "the rich" and their desire to gain wealth. Yet the money still "trickled down" as it should. The "rich got richer" still, but a true middle class emerged when before there were simply rich and poor.

As the middle class gained newfound wealth, they wished to enjoy it as well as they could. The demand for jewelry encouraged more supplifers, and jewelers strove to improve technology to gain an edge over each other. Like with indoor plumbing, home electronics, and many other things that were once restricted to "the rich," competition resulted in more efficient methods of production, which led to higher quality at lower prices. "The rich" certainly benefited by cheaper jewelry, but the bourgeoisie benefited even more, especially because cheaper prices meant more bourgeoisie could afford the jewelry.

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