Monday, June 29, 2009

Too Soon?


Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Invisible Hand of Population Control

A look at economic freedom, population growth, and the Tragedy of the Commons by Ronald Bailey at reasononline.

Hardin believed that Smith's metaphor of an invisible hand was contributing to "the dominant tendency of thought that has ever since interfered with positive action based on rational analysis, namely the tendency to assume that decisions reached individually will, in fact, be the best decisions for an entire society. If this assumption is correct it justifies the continuance of our present policy of laissez faire in reproduction." As the essay makes abundantly clear, Hardin is convinced that "rational analysis" will prove that Smith's invisible hand leads to inevitable population ruin.

In fact, several recent studies suggest that Hardin might have it backward. Under certain circumstances, there may actually be an invisible hand that leads to an optimum population.

Norton persuasively argues that Hardin's fears of a population tragedy of the commons are actually realized when the invisible hand of economic freedom is shackled. Many poor countries have poorly specified and enforced property rights. Poor property rights means that many resources are effectively left in open access commons where the incentive is to grab what one can before the other guy gets it. Norton points out that in such situations, more children mean more hands for grabbing unowned and unprotected resources such as water, fodder, timber, fish, pastures, and for land clearing. Lacking the institutional incentives to invest in and preserve resources, this drive to take as much as possible as quickly as possible leads to perpetual poverty.
The inverse relationship between wealth and fertility is quite evident, however, it will be interesting to see how prosperous countries fare as time progresses. Can a society maintain its economic strength while declining in population? More specifically, can the immense welfare commitments of Western nations be upheld by fewer and fewer young workers? An equilibrium will be reached - either by increased fertility, immigration from lands with excess youth, or a decline in benefits and entitlements.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Alternative Sugar Names

Here's a list of various sweeteners that you may not recognize as sugar on an ingredient list. Some were quite surprising. (link)

Barley malt. A sweetener produced from sprouted barley that is mostly maltose. It is used in combination with other sweeteners and for cooking and baking.

Brown rice. A sweetener produced commercially by cooking brown rice flour or syrup brown rice starch with enzymes. It can be used for cooking and baking and is sometimes combined with fruit concentrates to be used in food products.

Brown sugar. A refined sugar coated with molasses.

Cane syrup. A very sweet syrup made from sugarcane.

Corn syrup. A manufactured syrup of cornstarch that contains varying proportions of glucose, maltose, and dextrose. It is used in salad dressings, tomato sauces, powdered drink mixes, fruit drinks and juices, and desserts like pudding and ice milk.

Crystalline. A sweetener that is made from cornstarch and comes in granules fructose like table sugar. It is used in dry mix beverages, low-calorie products, enhanced or flavored water, still and carbonated beverages, sports and energy drinks, chocolate milk, breakfast cereals, baked goods, yogurt, fruit packs, and confections.

Dextrose. Another name for glucose. A simple sugar that is less sweet than fructose or sucrose. It is used in many baking products like cake mixes and frostings, snack foods like cookies, crackers, and pretzels, and desserts like custards and sherbets.

Fructose. A sugar found naturally in fruit; also a simple sugar refined from fruit.

High fructose. A highly concentrated syrup of mostly fructose and some corn syrup glucose that is prevalent in soft drinks and other processed foods.

Honey. A concentrated solution of fructose and glucose, plus some sucrose. It is produced by bees from the nectar of flowers.

Invert sugar. A sugar created by heating sugar syrup with a small amount of acid such as cream of tartar or lemon juice in order to reduce the size of the sugar crystals. The resulting product is smoother and suitable for use in candies and some syrups.

Lactose. A simple sugar in milk.

Maltodextrin. A sugar made from maltose and dextrose in corn. It is used in a wide array of foods, from canned fruits to snacks.

Maltose. A simple sugar made from starch.

Mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol. Sugar alcohols derived from fruit or produced from dextrose. These sweeteners are used in many dietetic products. Sugar alcohols do not promote tooth decay, unlike sugar.

Maple syrup. A concentrated sap from maple trees, predominantly fructose. Molasses The thick syrup by-product from the processing of sugarcane or sugar beet into sugar. Blackstrap molasses, a popular health food, is a good source of calcium, iron, and potassium.

Muscovado or Barbados sugar. A British specialty brown sugar that is very dark brown and has a particularly strong molasses flavor. The crystals are slightly coarser and stickier in texture than “regular” brown sugar.

Sucanat. Nonrefined cane sugar that retains all of its molasses content.

Sucrose. Refined, crystallized sap of the sugarcane or sugar beet; a combination of glucose and fructose.

Turbinado. A less refined sugar that still has some natural molasses coating.

White grape juice. A highly purified fructose solution. Virtually no other nutrients are present. It is often used in juice concentrate blends.

Other Sugar posts:
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part I
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part II
Caramel Apples
Sugar and the Environment
A Look at Agave


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Francisco's Money Speech

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Anconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

(Link to complete passage from

Excerpt from Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand


Friday, June 5, 2009

Mortgage Meltdown Overview

Here's a powerpoint presentation showing some interesting data on the housing market. It is produced by Whitney Tilson and Glenn Tongue, managing partners of T2 Partners and the authors of More Mortgage Meltdown. I haven't had a chance to check out the book, but the charts are quite foreboding. As I've examined before, the subprime mess is not the end of the mortgage/bank problems. There are many Alt-A and Option ARM mortgages still poised to deliver massive defaults, as well as commercial real estate and consumer debt.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why Ethanol - Not Electric Cars and Hybrids - Is the Answer

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures explains why biofuels are the answer for fossil fuel replacement for personal transportation in the near term. As I have said before, liquid fuels are key to providing economical transportation. He also brings up the point that first generation biofuels (corn ethanol) are only stepping stones to more viable and efficient future fuels.

Also important to remember is the busted link between corn ethanol and American food prices. This "fact" was thrown around in the media last year as food and fuel prices soared. In hindsight, the sharp increase in corn prices had a much stronger correlation to the commodities bubble than an increase in ethanol production, which is conveniently overlooked.