Recently, curiousity encouraged me to compare normalized commodity prices in order to gain a bit of historical prospective. I stumbled across some USGS data (http://minerals.usgs.gov/ds/2005/140/) and plotted it, normalized to 1985. Neat, eh? Notice the significant drop in prices preceeding the great depression? Seems like some sort of interest rate manipulation by the newly created Federal Reserve may have fueled a bubble... hmm...
Anyhow, prices only tell half of the story. I'd like to dig up some wage data so that I can look at the normalized costs to normalized earnings (minus taxes) ratio. This is just for my own edification, but I'd like to get a feel for how much things have improved since 1900. Any suggestions for a good place to look?
What are "normalized prices"? What makes it "normal"?
Well, I was just looking at relative costs... I normalized commodity prices to their price in 1985.
Normalized Worth = Units per $ / Units per $ in 1985
Assuming that I didn't fudge up my Matlab program, it looks to me like many commodities were significantly more expensive in 1900... which is what you'd expect. Aluminum, for example, requires cheap electricity to produce; significant drops in the price of electricity likely resulted in an associated reduction in the cost of Aluminum (~8x). Concrete seems to have amazing price stability.
In this interview Peter Diamandis mentions specifically how in the 1840s aluminum was more valuable than gold and platinum.