House size doubles?

by John Quiggin on May 14, 2008

It’s regularly stated that the size of the average (new) American home has doubled since 1950, and implied that this increase has continued fairly steadily over the intervening decades. This seems a bit surprising given that (on standard measures) real wages for large groups of workers have not increased since the 1970s. Some, but not all, of the story can be explained by the fact that a fixed stock like housing takes a long time to adjust and so would continue to improve in response to the big increase in both income and equality that took place from the 40s to the 70s. And of course, the top quintile of the income distribution is doing well, and they have a big influence on the market.

But that still leaves a puzzle I think. Here’s one little piece. As far as I can tell, the statistical basis for the statement comes from the National Association of Home Builders and compares the houses being built today with those built by Levitt and others in the 1950s. But not everyone lives in houses. To get the full story you’d need to take account of apartments (I haven’t looked at this).

Even more important, though, are manufactured homes (aka trailers). There are about 8 million of these up from essentially zero in the 1950s. They constitute about 8 per cent of the housing stock now (housing around 19 million people), which must imply a substantially larger proportion of homes built each year. Although they can be quite large, most are a lot smaller than the average home built on-site. Taking manufactured homes into account would substantially lower the size of the average new home. It would also fit the income data, showing rising inequality, a lot better.

Cato Unbound is “currently carrying an interesting contribution from Leif Wenar”:http://www.cato-unbound.org/2008/05/12/leif-wenar/we-all-own-stolen-goods/ on how to combat the “resource curse”. Leif proposes a two-stage strategy for attacking the problem of kleptocrats who use the state monopoly of violence to extract resource revenues whilst their population lives in poverty. The first step is to prosecute (in American, and presumably also European courts) traders in goods stolen from peoples by their rulers. The second step is to go after stolen natural resources that get incorporated into manufactured goods elsewhere (say in China) and then imported into the US. Here Wenar advocates a tariff on those goods, the proceeds of which would be paid into a fund to be held for the benefit of the people whose resources have been stolen, with the fund to be disbursed to them when their government meets minimally acceptable standards.

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Geuss on Rorty

by Chris Bertram on May 14, 2008

Leiter “has linked already”:http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2008/05/geuss-on-rort-1.html , but I guess that not everyone who reads CT also reads Leiter, and it would be a great pity if anyone were to miss “Raymond Geuss’s reminiscences of Richard Rorty”:http://www.bu.edu/arion/Geuss.htm .

Quokkas safe

by John Quiggin on May 14, 2008

Australia is well known as a sophisticated modern nation, prominent in scientific and cultural endeavors of all kinds, and not characterized by marsupials in the main street, top paddock or other incongruous locations. That’s why I hasten to forestall the rumors that Western Australian Opposition leader Troy Buswell may have done something inappropriate with a quokka. Sad to say, all the other rumors are true.

This seems like a big deal to me …

by John Quiggin on May 14, 2008

While most attention has been focused on the never-ending story of the Democratic presidential primaries, the Republicans have just lost a seemingly safe seat in a Mississippi special election, following two earlier losses including that of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. As this CNN story says, this raises the prospect of a wipeout in November. The result is consistent with steadily declining Republican affiliation and massive rejection of Bush (who’s reached all-time lows in several polls recently). McCain is still managing to avoid much of the stench associated with his party, but it seems to me this will be a lot harder for him in the context of a general election, where I imagine he will be expected to campaign on behalf of vulnerable Republicans.

I don’t know, though, whether there’s a common pattern of upsets in special elections. Incumbent governments often do badly in such elections in Australia, since it provides the opportunity for a largely consequence-free protest vote, but this logic doesn’t seem to apply in the US context. I’d be interested in any thoughts from readers

Blind Reviewer Voodoo Doll

by Kieran Healy on May 14, 2008

Via Tina at Scatterplot, you must buy Wicked Anomie’s terrific Blind Reviewer Voodoo Doll. Designed for those moments when you need more than just a brisk letter to the journal editor explaining that your reviewer is unclear on a few points.

This 9-inch doll (without hair) is lovingly crafted within the anomie studio and arrives finished and ready to be put to good use. This doll comes unstuffed, so that you can enjoy the cathartic act of shredding your own offending documents and stuffing them inside the doll. Finishing instructions and extra yarn included.

Proceeds go to fund designer’s trip to Annual Conference. Crooked Timber is not responsible for any stabbing pains you may experience in light of purchases encouraged by this post.