It is really a bizarre time in history for Americans and for many others throughout the world. The standard of living for Americans has increased over the last 200 years almost continuously. There were a few setbacks with Lincoln's war and the Great Depression, but life got easier for most Americans throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
The growth in the 1800's was really unbelievable. It was a relatively peaceful time (with exceptions) and there was a relatively stable monetary system. The federal government played a very small role in the lives of most Americans. Progress continued greatly in the early 20th century, building off of the capital and technology of the 19th century. Unfortunately, the 20th century also brought us much bigger government. The Federal Reserve, the income tax, and the 17th amendment (dictating that U.S. senators would be directly elected instead of chosen by the state legislatures) all came about in 1913. Then Americans had to endure World War I. Then there was alcohol prohibition. Prohibition was repealed by FDR (about the only good thing he did), but he gave us a continuation of Hoover big government policies. We saw FDR make holding gold illegal for Americans. He gave us the New Deal, including Social Security. Then he got the U.S. into World War II.
The growth of big government has been relentless since then. Every president has been a disaster for liberty since before FDR. Some have been worse than others. Carter is seen as a disaster, but looking back he did less bad things than most others. Reagan is seen as the closest thing to a libertarian. While much of his rhetoric was libertarian, his policies were mostly a disaster as he approved big spending and big deficits.
It is really amazing that we saw as much progress as we did in the later part of the 20th century. This is a tribute to the free market, or at least what is left of it. Despite government interfering in virtually every aspect of our lives, the market has still found ways to flourish. The electronics industry has been the most remarkable as we have seen prices drop with technology increasing at an exponential speed.
The areas with the most government involvement (healthcare, education) have seen the worst results. Health insurance and medical care get more expensive. The same goes for education. Meanwhile, we see little improvements with quality compared to earlier times. With education, we actually see it getting worse in government schools.
It is hard to compare our standard of living with previous times. It has been said that the people of America of 200 years ago would have more in common with the people living when Christ walked the earth than they would with us today. This really is an indication of the massive exponential growth in the last 200 years.
When you compare our living today with the 1950's it gets a little tougher. Our basic needs are more expensive today in some ways because of government. That is why there are far less stay-at-home moms. They need to work to pay the tax bill and the expensive health insurance.
But we also need to acknowledge the great things that we have today. The families of the 1950's did not have flat panel televisions. They were lucky to have one TV at all. They did not have microwave ovens. They didn't have computers. They didn't have internet and cell phones. They did not have information at their fingertips.
It really is amazing what we can do today. If you are curious about something, you can solve your curiosity in seconds by doing a google search. You can use wikipedia. You can look up directions, or the weather, or the latest sports scores, or what is happening on the other side of the planet. You can use skype to see your friends and family who are hundreds or thousands of miles away. You can communicate with the world almost instantly.
There are a few areas where we are worse off today than generations before us. These can be attributed to big government. But big government will not stop the technology train. It can't be stopped at this point. While we may experience some setbacks in the near future, our long-term outlook should be bright. Technology will continue to increase exponentially. It will eventually phase out big government.