If you are of a “certain age,” you grew up without air conditioning. As unthinkable as it is now, we made due with window screens and fans. And we survived.
Honestly, it was pretty miserable sometimes. Especially if your dad happened to have a vinyl recliner that you sat on during hot, humid August days watching Brady Bunch re-runs. Peeling yourself off one of those is an experience that will scar you forever.
Air conditioning is more than just a way to make our lives more comfortable; it’s economically advantageous.
Air-conditioning makes our lives more comfortable, but let us not forget the importance of air conditioning for the economy. As Walter Oi writes in The Welfare Implications of Invention, temperature and humidity have a strong influence on labor productivity. For example, in machine shops, labor productivity is at its peak at 65 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity between 65 and 75 percent. Productivity is 15 percent lower at 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 28 percent lower at 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, accident rates are 30 percent higher at 77 degrees Fahrenheit than at 67 degrees Fahrenheit. In many factories, temperature and humidity also affect the product, ruining paper, threads of textiles and so on. Similarly, in the old days, main-frame computers required climate control to function effectively. It was undoubtedly the introduction of air-conditioning that caused value-added per employee in manufacturing in the South to increase from 88.9 percent of the national average in 1954 to 96.3 percent of the national average in 1987.
In 1938, an air conditioning unit cost $416; that would have taken the average worker 640 hours to afford, at a wage of 64 cents an hour. In 2014, an air conditioning unit (far more efficient!) cost $1,608. The average worker would have to put in 58 hours for that, a reduction of 91 percent.
Air conditioning: it’s good for the economy!