It is very difficult to compare costs of things from one era to another. Over the last few hundred years though, one aspect of world economy has become clearer and clearer—products have decreased in price relative to labor. An expense book of a sixteenth century English Gentlewoman, that I came across a while ago would be a good example. In 1650, she employed maids for two pounds each per year (plus room and board) and bought several yards of nice, but not exceptional, black silk to be made into dresses for twelve pounds—or six times the rate paid for the years work of a house maid. Today, a very nice silk dress might cost several hundred dollars, thirty or forty times less than the prevailing annual wage for anyone in this country. One could make the case that we have exported the low wage textile jobs to places like Bangladesh, but even accounting for all these changes, it is clear that the price differentials for many things have changed radically over time and continue to do so today.
In our lifetime as well, we have seen price differentials change, too. People spend far more money on entertainment, relative to salary, than they did fifty years ago, but they do so for only one form of entertainment, electronic, which has grown to enormous importance. One can make the case that computers offer revolutionary access to the world, but they do so at a price. A computer runs the best part of a thousand dollars and may have a three year life span before the next, better model is needed. And internet services run a hundred dollars a month, often bundled with cable TV at another hundred. Many people download music and movies, and it is common to see young people spending $300 per month or more on electronic entertainment. For a young person, buying a home and with a family, this is a big number. And it is an expense that baby boomers never had when they were young. TV was free (and only three stations), the local theater changed movies every couple of weeks (there were hundreds of movies made each year not thousands), and everybody got one or two local newspapers. Now, online entertainment not only is costly but very time consuming. The prevailing wail in the philatelic community is, "Why don't more people collect stamps?" When you look at how much of people's money is being spent on other entertainment (and there is more inducement to spend your time surfing online because the monthly access fee is fixed—you pay the same whether you use your internet a few hours a month or a hundred) and how much time this other entertainment takes up, philately is doing pretty well in a very competitive entertainment world.