OF SMART GUYS, SALARIES, AND WHAT WE BUY A new look at the Ford Whiz Kids (fascinating but flawed); a diatribe against high pay (just flawed); and a history of consumption (just fun). SAY, IS THAT ON SALE?
By DOUG BANDOW DOUG BANDOW is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Did you know that even in 1900 Americans typically spent more on food than citizens of almost any other nation? Or that in 1960 only 12% of French households owned what Americans by then took for granted -- washing machines? Obviously, our nation-of-consumers label is pretty well-worn. In Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, $22.95), Stanley Lebergott, an economics professor at Wesleyan University, entertainingly explores that history and, in a blizzard of tables and charts, documents in marvelous detail what we buy, what it costs, and how our choices have changed over time. His statistical snapshots of purchasing trends range from things like housing, clothing, fuel, and appliances to the health care, transportation, and other services we consume. Lebergott also provides comic relief, while making a serious point, by reporting the eternal complaints of the cranky opponents of ''excessive'' consumption. In 1905 populist Henry George declared it ''abnormal'' for a millionaire to have a phone by his bed. Indoor plumbing, whined one skeptic, ''made life seem curiously insubstantial'' and ''insulated people from primary experience.'' And so it goes today. ''Few articles in the economist's creed outrage non- economists more than the pure, imperturbable belief that human wants are insatiable,'' notes Lebergott. But as he rightly observes, ''how forbidding society would be if one man's aesthetic/moral preferences decided what goods his fellow consumers might select.'' Amen. Now, let's go to the mall!