• Small Households Want Gigantic Rolls of Toilet Paper

    The Wall Street Journal says single-person households are on the rise, and consumer-goods companies are responding:

    As Procter & Gamble Co. researchers watched the rise of single-person households, they noted two major segments within the group: urban millennials and aging consumers. A giant toilet-paper roll appeals to both segments, P&G found. Young people appreciate the convenience of not having to change the roll so often, and aging consumers find a bigger roll easier to handle, the company says.

    ….Its new Charmin Forever Roll is 8.7 or 12 inches in diameter, compared with roughly 5 inches for conventional rolls, and includes a free-standing stainless-steel holder. It can sit between toilet and wall—unused space in nearly any bathroom, P&G researchers found. “For a lot of the single-user households we hear from,” Mr. Reinerman says, “this will last two or three months.”

    Wait. It’s a foot wide? Now millennials have ruined toilet paper. What comes next on their relentless mission to destroy everything that boomers hold dear?

    Anyway, it turns out that single-person households are willing to pay for convenience. In the case of Brobdingnagian toilet paper, it provides 1,700 sheets at 0.59 cents a sheet, compared to 0.43 cents a sheet for an old fashioned roll that you can pick up with one hand.¹ Likewise, Betty Crocker’s four-serving Mug Treats pencil out at 75 cents per serving compared to 15 cents per serving for ordinary cake mix. Tiny appliances are also becoming popular, and I’ll bet they cost at least as much as traditional appliances.

    But what can you do? Small households are taking over the country. One and two-person households now make up 40 percent of all households in America:

    ¹Of course, these colossal rolls also feature a fair amount of inertia, so be careful with them. You need a smooth, slow motion to accelerate them to a proper rotational speed. The usual quick jerk will just leave you with a single sheet in your hand.

  • Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Is a Mind-Boggling Failure

    In the Washington Post today, David Nakamura has a good piece about President Trump’s foreign policy—such as it is. As Nakamura correctly notes, Trump has pursued a one-note campaign of bluster and economic feuding against allies and adversaries alike: Canada, Mexico, North Korea, Europe, China, NATO, and virtually the entire rest of the world except for Israel and Saudi Arabia. At best, the results have been uniformly unsuccessful. At worst, they’ve simply alienated everybody while getting nothing in return for the United States.

    But as good as the piece is, I still want to gripe about this:

    Though he lured Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table through a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions, Trump’s historic summits with the young dictator ended in failure after talks collapsed in February.

    Trump didn’t “lure” Kim Jong Un to anything. Kim has wanted a high-level summit with the US president since the day he succeeded his father, and Trump decided to go ahead and give it to him without getting anything in return and without any sort of staff preparation beforehand. Now, this was not indefensible: sometimes a bold move can crack open a stalled negotiation—if you know what you’re doing. Trump didn’t, so it led nowhere.

    Either way, though, we shouldn’t pretend that Trump’s infantile tweets along with his continuation of the Obama sanctions campaign had any effect. Trump could have offered Kim a meeting on January 20, 2017, and Kim would have taken him up on it.

  • Women’s Wages Are Getting Closer to Men’s, But Not For the Right Reason

    There’s been a little confusion on Twitter about the meaning of the chart I posted yesterday that compared working-class men’s and women’s hourly wages. I showed women’s wages increasing as a percentage of men’s wages, but what does that mean about actual women’s wages? To get at that you have to look at absolute dollar wages. The only non-confusing way to do this is with a separate chart for each age group, so here you go:

    Keep in mind that these are hourly wages only for workers who are paid by the hour, which accounts for about half of all workers. These charts show several things clearly:

    • Men’s and women’s wages are converging. That’s the good news.
    • The bad news is that the main reason for the convergence is that men’s wages have declined. For the youngest age group, the decline of men’s wages is responsible for 100 percent of the convergence. The decline of men’s wages remains responsible for the bulk of the convergence until you get to the very oldest age group, where the increase in women’s wages is responsible for most of the convergence.
    • The absolute difference in wages widens as workers get older. As before, I assume that this is due to women being cumulatively more likely to have children as they get older.

    Aside from this I don’t have any special comment to make. I just wanted to provide some of the detail behind yesterday’s chart.

  • Bill Barr Is Appalled

    CBS

    Attorney General William Barr sat down yesterday with Jan Crawford of CBS News to talk about the Mueller investigation. As you know, President Trump has claimed that the Obama administration “spied” on him during the 2016 campaign, and Barr himself has also used that word. Crawford asked him about that:

    CRAWFORD: You’ve gotten some criticism for using that word.

    BARR: Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s become a dirty word somehow….It’s part of the craziness of the modern day that if a president uses a word, then all of a sudden it becomes off bounds. It’s a perfectly good English word, I will continue to use it.

    CRAWFORD: You’re saying that spying occurred. There’s not anything necessarily wrong with that.

    BARR: Right.

    Poor Bill Barr. He just doesn’t understand why spying has suddenly gotten a negative connotation that it never had before Trump mentioned it. Prior to 2017, it was just an ordinary, nonjudgmental English word that everyone used for any kind of police investigation. But these are hyperpartisan times, so what can you do?

    Following this linguistic flim-flam, Barr explains that he wants to investigate this spying because he came of age during the 60s and is really, really sensitive to the possibility of the FBI violating someone’s civil liberties. Yes, we’re talking about the same Bill Barr who approved this. Seriously:

    BARR: The fact that today people just seem to brush aside the idea that it is okay to you know, to engage in these activities against a political campaign is stunning to me especially when the media doesn’t seem to think that it’s worth looking into. They’re supposed to be the watchdogs of, you know, our civil liberties.

    CRAWFORD: What have you seen? What evidence? What makes you think, I need to take a look at this? I mean, what have you seen in the summer of 2016?

    BARR: Well, I’ll say at this point is that it, you know, I, like many other people who are familiar with intelligence activities, I had a lot of questions about what was going on. I assumed I’d get answers when I went in and I have not gotten answers that are well satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.

    CRAWFORD: What do you mean by that?

    BARR: That’s all I really will say. Things are just not jiving….

    Barr has seen things. He can’t tell us what they are, but they’re worrying, very worrying. For example, there are those texts between the two FBI lovebirds that Trump keeps tweeting about, which all of us have seen and pretty much dismissed:

    BARR: It’s hard to read some of the texts with and not feel that there was gross bias at work and they’re appalling. And if the shoe were on the other—

    CRAWFORD: Appalling.

    BARR: Those were appalling.

    Appalling! And just in case you were not as appalled by those texts as Fox News was, Barr has some more shocking news for us:

    BARR: From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.

    CRAWFORD: And you think that happened even with the investigation into the campaign, potentially?

    BARR: I am concerned about that.

    Resisting a president! Good God, what’s next?

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 1 June 2019

    Hopper is happy as a clam nestled in Hilbert’s chin. Hilbert, on the other hand, is obviously a little unsure of what to do. He’s accustomed to using other people as a pillow, not having other people use him as a pillow. He lasted a few more minutes after I took this picture, but eventually he’d taken as much as he could stand and leaped up from the couch. Hopper just curled back up and continued her evening nap.

  • Raw Data: Wages of Men and Women Paid by the Hour

    I just wasted about two hours screwing up some data and then screwing it up again, but then, almost by accident, I got this. It’s not what I was looking for, but after two hours, by God, I’m going to show it to you anyway:

    These are hourly wages for workers who are paid by the hour. This accounts for about half of all workers (80 million out of 160 million) and it’s pretty solidly working-class. What it shows is two things:

    • Working-class women have made considerable gains on an hourly basis over the past four decades.
    • Younger women have always been closer to earning as much as men, and today earn 92 percent as much. The three older cohorts are at 80-83 percent.

    The older cohorts, of course, are more likely to be women with children. I don’t know precisely what the mechanism is, but this seems likely to account for the difference.

  • Did Cell Phones Reduce the Murder Rate?

    Why did crime decline in the 1990s? I think you all know my answer. But yet another theory was offered recently by Lena Edlund and Cecilia Machado in an NBER working paper: cell phones. Their paper is complicated and I’ve only skimmed it, but their basic theory is simple: cell phones changed the nature of drug dealing, making it less turf-based and therefore less violent. This reduced the murder rate, mostly in urban areas.

    I don’t have a strong opinion about this, other than the observation that the crack epidemic of the late 80s has long been considered responsible for an increase in urban crime, which then declined as crack itself declined. In any case, I don’t think the cell-phone theory is incompatible with lead as a driver of crime. Take a look at the chart below of the US murder rate:

    Please note that I’m not offering this as an explanation, just as a possibility. Lead might well have been the primary driver of the murder increase, doubling it between the mid-60s and mid-70s. But other things affect crime too, and you can see that there are several humps in the murder rate. The late-80s hump might very well be caused by the crack epidemic, and it’s possible that cell phones reduced it. Lead then did the rest.

    It’s also possible that the crack wars simply burned themselves out, and it’s only a coincidence that this happened at the same time that cell phones were starting to enter the market. This has always been the most popular theory, primarily because drugs are faddish and we know for a fact that crack distribution declined in the 90s as it was replaced by marijuana as the illicit drug of choice. It’s never been clear to me why crack distribution is inherently more violent than other drugs, and naturally I suspect that crack just happened to hit the market at the same time that lead poisoning peaked among 18-year-olds. But that’s just a hunch on my part, not something backed up by evidence.

    Aside from this, I’d warn generally that there aren’t all that many murders in the US: only about 20,000 per year even at its peak. This means that the change in the murder rate over a short period is always based on a fairly small sample size and can be fairly noisy, especially when you rely on state-by-state or city-by-city comparisons. Caveat emptor.

  • Quote of the Day: The Mueller Report Says Bad Things About Trump? Fox News Never Mentioned That.

    From Cathy Garnaat, a Republican who attended a town hall meeting held by Rep. Justin Amash, who says the Mueller report contains enough evidence of wrongdoing to support the impeachment of President Trump:

    I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report at all about President Trump. I hadn’t heard that before. I’ve mainly listened to conservative news and I hadn’t heard anything negative about that report and President Trump has been exonerated.

    This is why Trump is so desperate to prevent anyone from testifying before Congress. Right now the Mueller report is just words on a page, and hardly anyone has read them. Congressional testimony, by contrast, is televised, and millions of people will watch. Trump knows well that the only thing that matters is television, and at all costs he wants to prevent people like Cathy Garnaat from ever watching people testify about the Mueller report on their TVs. The evidence it contains about Trump’s serial obstruction of justice is pretty obvious, after all.