The Heinlein Index

The Heinlein Index is the answer to the question:

For how many minutes must a journeyman carpenter [that is, neither an apprentice nor a master] labor in order to be able to buy one additional kilogram of the local standard bread?

For the United States, 2000 data (the most recent I can easily find) shows the median hourly wage of a journeyman carpenter as USD 17.28, and a loaf of bread (approx. 1 lb = 1/2.2 kg) costing USD 2.50. That leads to a current HI of about 19.

The neat thing about the HI is that it represents the marginal relative value of labor, and thus neatly compensates for not only the varying cost of living, but the varying standard of living. We all have to eat, though some of us live in caves and others in high-rises.


Wolf550e said...

AFAIK, It is a standard practice in many countries for the government to subsidize basic necessities like bread, and I'm cynical enough to believe they care about scoring well on the index more than improving standards of living.

What, if any, is the index's connection with Robert A. Heinlein?

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept. I tried doing the same calculation for Norway.

The average monthly salary for a carpenter was NOK 23,588 in october 2004. Deducting income tax yields a net hourly wage of NOK 107.43. A regular loaf of bread weighs in at 700 g and costs about NOK 7.

So, Norway is currently at a HI of approximately 6.

Anonymous said...

Heinlein Index? I got it out of Braudel many years ago, but I don't remember to whom he credited it. The variation I've used since, to measure my own standard of living, is to figure out how long I have to work to buy another beer. Turns out that both in the Czech Republic in the nineties, when I made about $3,600 a year, & now in the US, at $26,000 a year, I work the same span for the same reward.

John Cowan said...

Heinlein publicized the HI in his book Tramp Royale, which is about his travels around the world.