Letter Re: Observations on the Price of Milk

Dear Editor:
In the 1880s milk sold for $0.56 per quart or $2.24 per gallon which at the time was 0.112 oz of gold per gallon of milk.

To put that in perspective today, it would cost $190 for a gallon of milk.

So if you had a cow producing 1 gallon per day 10 months out of the year, it would have been the equivalent of having $57,000 / year in revenue today. (You have significant capital and labor costs gathering hay and water for just one cow not to mention the distribution costs and short shelf life).

At that same point in time, rent would cost $16 per month (equal to $1,360 today) and you could have paid your rent with the equivalent of less than 2 gallons of milk per week.

With prices like these it is no wonder that every family had their own cow which would have cost $70 dollars or 4.3 months of rent or $6,000 in today’s dollars.

So today a cow costs $2,000, raw milk costs $10 / gallon and industrial milk costs $4 / gallon. This shows you just how much our economy has grown in the past 130 years, the relative price of milk has fallen to 5% or less of what it use to cost.

This also shows you how valuable a cow and the milk it provides would be if the global food distribution system were to have any significant problems as a result of hyperinflation. – Daniel L.

JWR Replies: While a comparison of prices before the days of electric refrigeration might not be completely fair, your illustration at least shows the long term erosive effects of chronic currency inflation. It also gives a glimpse of what people might be willing to pay for milk in the event of a grid-down collapse–when reliable refrigeration will presumably once again be scarce.