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The relative amount of disposable income leads changes in lifestyle: As an economy grows, lifestyle improves. Conversely, as disposable income decreases, lifestyle degrades. This can be a difficult concept to grasp unless there is some point of reference.
Lifestyle changes follow technological changes. This is clearly evidenced by the rise and fall of the ancient empires. Further, the enabling force behind technological advancement is the acquisition of gold, which has a long history as the de facto standard of wealth.
As civilization advanced from the hunter-gatherer society to a trade-based economy, gold became the accepted exchange medium. It constituted the basis of portable wealth, as epitomized by the members of ruling elite and successful merchants plying the silk routes from Europe to the Far East during the 13th century.
The Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire reflected the lack of wealth. It was the Renaissance and the subsequent discoveries and inventions which ignited the short fuse of technology. Overcoming opposition of religious and secular rulers, the discovery of the New World and its seemingly endless supply of gold fuelled mighty sea-faring empires, not the least of which were Spain and England.
When the Spanish Armada sailed to invade England in an undeclared war in 1588, the Spanish fleet was devastated – losing half its ships and more than 5,000 men, while the English suffered no loss of ships. Spain had squandered its resources on the trappings of lifestyle, leaving virtually no capital to rebuild an effective economy, which to this day impacts lifestyle in Spain. England – under the influence of Queen Elizabeth I – realized the true measure of wealth was not gold, but the resources of the people of the colonies.
Colonial expansion brought in more wealth, however, at the expense of the lifestyle of the colonists. It wasn't until the advent of the Industrial Revolution that England started seriously divesting herself of the vast empire she had spent centuries acquiring. This had an intriguing side-effect of making staunch allies of former colonists.
The Industrial Revolution was accompanied by discovery and use of the second-most favoured disposable asset: Oil. Oil and gold have a relative value, in that oil and gold have a consistent and fairly stable ratio of trade value, true until the devaluation of gold and the implementation of fiat currencies during the 1930s.
It took the Technological Revolution of the latter 20th century to re-establish the concept of disposable income. The world economy as a whole improved with the advances in technology, creating wealth where it didn't exist before.
Approximately 75% of the gold that exists today has been mined and put into circulation since 1910. The wealth – and primary source of disposable income – increases every day. It may take another revolution to spur the current stagnant economy, given historical precedence. Which, in turn, will result in better lifestyles for those participating.