I've been thinking about the way things are now as opposed to the way things were then. However, in order to really understand the difference between now and then, one must be old enough to know the difference between color television and black and white television, and a time when there were programs "presented in living color" and how special it was. This isn't about TV, but it's a good frame of reference.
The reason we need a frame of reference is because most of the people reading this are unaware that there was a time in which, if one didn't have the cash to purchase an item, one could not own that item - unless one could secure a loan from a bank. Cars and houses were the big-ticket items in those days. Anything else would have to be purchased with cash.
I remember my parents saving money to buy a new car. A brand new 1964 Ford Fairlane cost my parents around $2,200, which seems cheap until you realize that my father made about that much in a year, so you can imagine the magnitude of saving that had to go on in order for them to buy it. But, even though we were of meager means, we managed to have a new car every two years or so, in addition to a "junker" that dad would enjoy wrenching on to keep it running. One, I remember, could be started without a key.
The reason we had to save money to buy such things is that there was no Visa or MasterCard on which to charge those things. When dad wanted a color TV in 1964, he spent the $400 that the 24" RCA cost and we put it in the living room and watched Bonanza and The Ed Sullivan Show. It was a big decision, but it provided comfort and represented a quarter of a year of his hard labor. We owned it and the pride of ownership extended itself to the local Pep Boys store where dad would routinely buy tubes to replace in the TV when they went bad - which they did - frequently.
The name Master Charge was licensed from the First National Bank of Louisville, Kentucky in 1967. With the help of New York's Marine Midland Bank, now HSBC Bank USA, these banks joined with the Interbank Card Association (ICA) to create "Master Charge: The Interbank Card".
In 1979, "Master Charge: The Interbank Card" was renamed simply "MasterCard". In the early 1990s MasterCard bought the British Access Card and the Access name was dropped. In 2002, MasterCard International merged with Europay International SA, another large credit-card issuer association, which for many years issued cards under the name Eurocard.
When my 1996 vintage 32" Sony Trinitron (which cost me $990) went blank last year, I didn't give a second thought to turning the dozen or so screws to open the back and maybe have someone come over and fix it. Instead, a friend and I carried it down the stairs and to the dumpster, and off I went to Best Buy for a new 37" LCD that cost me $190 less than the TV I replaced. The difference was, I didn't pay cash for it.
I didn't pay cash because (a) I didn't have the cash and (b) I didn't have to pay cash. I had a credit card that (they tell us) gave me the financial freedom to enhance my life by having all the things I want regardless of my ability to pay for them. After all, I only need to come up with $30 a month for the rest of my life and that TV will be paid for. Chances are, the TV will be blank before I can finish paying for it. It's a race against time.
That's the difference between now and then. We're up to our ears in iPods, PlayStation's, big-screen TVs, giant vehicles and over-priced homes because we're told that we can have them and pay for them over time, more conveniently than our parents did, or so they say. We don't have to have anything but a signature to be able to have things in our home that, if they demanded, we could not pay for now. Dad had a TV. I have a bill.
That's why I chuckle quietly to myself when I fill out a form and it asks me if I "own my home or rent". Technically, I'm renting it from Countrywide, but they tell me I own it. Let's see how my ownership claim sounds when I stop making the mortgage payments. The very people lending us the money are part of the scam.
We're told that we have a great lifestyle and that the modern conveniences we have now are light-years ahead of what my parents had. Sure, my car is nicer. my microwave oven cooks meals in minutes. My digital camera takes great photos. My TV looks great. My fitness center is a beautiful place. I have decent clothes that don't embarrass me in public. I have a computer that allows me to access the Internet and write this junk.
How much of it would I have if I had to pay cash for it?