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Megan McArdle

When Bread Bags Weren't Funny

We've become so rich that we have forgotten something that is well within living memory: Americans used to have much, much less.
Caution: Don't stop on the tracks.

Caution: Don't stop on the tracks.

Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Last week, in her State of the Union response, Joni Ernst mentioned going to school with bread bags on her feet to protect her shoes. These sorts of remembrances of poor but honest childhoods used to be a staple among politicians -- that's why you've heard so much about Abe Lincoln's beginnings in a log cabin. But the bread bags triggered a lot of hilarity on Twitter, which in turn triggered this powerful meditation from Peggy Noonan on how rich we have become. So rich that we have forgotten things that are well within living memory:

I am a few years younger than Noonan, but I grew up in a very different world -- one where a number of my grammar school classmates were living in public housing or on food stamps, but everyone had more than one pair of shoes. In rural areas, like the one where Joni Ernst grew up, this lingered longer. But all along, Americans got richer and things got cheaper -- especially when global markets opened up. Payless will sell you a pair of child's shoes for $15, which is two hours of work even at minimum wage.