In what way are the poor better off than 100 years ago?
The easy availability of food
Low Income Housing
All of which were available 100 years ago. We weren't exactly living in grass huts in 1912, and neither were the poor. The best you can say is that outcomes were negative for the VERY poor (e.g. the homeless) but that's just as true today as it was then.
The difference, as I said, is the balance of civil and social rights now enjoyed by the poor and their ability to resist economic and legal oppression by others. This is not due to any inevitable social evolution or a technological marvel, but due to the fact that four generations of Americans fought tooth and nail to impose change on the system that would benefit them and their children. A sudden regime change could easily undo all of that change overnight, depending on who ends up in charge when the dust settles.
Even poor people today have cell phones and the internet, shoot even television, things that even the richest of the rich would never have dreamed of 100 years ago.
And scaling for technology, black and white television in 1912 would be the equivalent of a '60 LCD with 6-channel surroundsound, high speed internet and an Oculus Rift
for good measure. Television was cutting edge 100 years ago, barely out of experimental. Yet even the poorest families in America owned radios and record players.
Don't get dazzled by the change in technology. A hamburger is still a hamburger, whether you buy one in 1912 or 2012. The question we're asking here is whether a hamburger was easier or harder to get for poor people a hundred years ago. Turns out not only was it a tiny bit easier, but the 2012 equivalent is about 30% food byproduct and slightly carcinogenic. Which leads to your medical equivalency: we trade polio and smallpox for diabetes and cancer. Nobody dies from tuberculosis anymore, so trade in for MRSA (for old people) and HIV (for everyone else).
Nothing new under the sun. Again, the singular difference is the legal protections the poor and minority classes managed to acquire through more than a century of civil combat against their adversaries. Tellingly, the legacy of that struggle remains in force and political machinations still exist which aim to reverse those gains at any cost.
Same shit, different century.
Life is quite simply better today than it was 100 years ago. You may think that life is shitty today, but it is remarkably less shitty than it was 100 years ago.
Indeed it is, for reasons which have absolutely nothing to do with economics or technology (see above).
I had almost this exact same argument on another forum, except the time frame was 30 years. The question was "Is quality of life better today than it was 30 years ago".
30 years ago? Definitely
not. Not least of which because that would put it around the start of the 1980s, by which time Eisnhower's "Great Society" was just hitting their stride and unemployment hit an all time low. That period is remembered by people -- tellingly, by many black people -- as a short-lived economic renaissance that completely disintegrated by the end of the Reagan presidency.
I'm beginning to think that your view of American history is just a tad
You can always tell the difference between a pessimist and an optimist when answering questions like these, because some people refuse to see that despite the walls we still have left to climb/tear down, we have made improvements to society.
Yes, SOCIAL improvements. Improvements to our legal, civil and social rights. Improvements like laws that make it illegal for people to prevent you from voting in an election, or laws that make it illegal to fire you just because you're a homosexual. Better yet, laws that require women to be paid an equal salary as their male counterparts for the same job.
That does NOT translate to "better off" for poor people. You can flood the market with cheap computers and TVs from now until doomsday, but a man who makes $14,000 a year isn't going to do very well in a country where a bachelor's apartment costs $15,000 if
you're willing to pay your own utilities. Comparable housing just half a century ago could be rented for a tenth of that, and even a new car in 1965 could be bought and paid for on a teenager's allowance.
And for all our advances in medical technology, you're quick to ignore the fact that the COST of basic healthcare has increased nearly a thousandfold in the past century; without insurance, hospitalization costs the average patient $20,000 a day
That's simple arithmetic. You raise my wages by 50% and my expenses by 200% and then you ask me if I'm better off. I'm supposed to say "yes" just because I have an iPod?
The only way your dystopian future will come to light...
Nothing dystopian about it. As a matter of historical inevitability, NO government, however well organized, has ever existed continuously for more than 600 years. Most of them, considerably less than that, with an average lifetime of 200 to 400 years. The more violent and aggressive ones burn out a lot faster by bleeding themselves dry in non productive military adventures (sound familiar?). The stronger a particular government is when it is disbanded, the more violent the upheaval when it collapses, and a violent upheaval has an unfortunate tendency to resolve with the most radical factions seizing power, either by force or by lack of coherent opposition.
In which case, there are two things about America that deeply disturb me. The first is that we have an incredibly powerful central government with an EXTREMELY powerful military. The second is that we have an extremely radical and (somewhat) well organized political movement that mostly lacks a coherent opposition. The missing ingredient here is some sort of fundamental instability in the government itself, which -- appearances aside -- is largely absent now. OTOH, if the Washington D.C. government were to collapse tomorrow morning, that "dystopian" future would become a reality for a very large number of people.