Is the US so successful because of… air conditioning?


Brad Plumer has a great piece in the Washington Post analyzing the productivity boost the US receives from AC and its possible environmental consequences:

…there are even studies suggesting that extreme heat can strangle a country’s livelihood. A 2008 study by three economists, led by Northwestern’s Benjamin Jones, found that poorer countries experience a plunge in economic output during hotter-than-average years. It’s not just that drought kills off crops. Industrial output declines, and political unrest becomes more unlikely.

What’s curious, however, is that this  happens mainly in poorer countries — wealthy countries are far more immune to the heat penalty.

One explanation for the difference, of course, is air conditioning… Stan Cox, in his fascinating book, “Losing Our Cool,” offers a long list of ways in which air conditioning has transformed the U.S. economy. Here’s a description from the National Building Museum of the state of affairs in the 1920s, before the invention of AC:

Before air-conditioning, American life followed seasonal cycles determined by weather. Workers’ productivity declined in direct proportion to the heat and humidity outside — and on the hottest days employees left work early and businesses shut their doors. Stores and theaters also closed down, unable to comfortably accommodate large groups of people in stifling interiors. Cities emptied in summers…

The weather really affects our lives in some surprising ways.

You know what determines the value of fine art? Yeah, the weather. It also:

Cold makes us feel lonely and hot baths help us feel loved. You can actually make a party more social by turning up the temperature.

On the other hand, when it’s hot outside people are more likely to get into fights and pitchers hit more batters in baseball.

The weather isn’t just safe small talk. It has profound effects on your happiness.

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