Showing posts from May, 2010

The fascinating early history of corn

Genetic modification of corn goes back a very long time... From the New York Times:

Ooops: A big down side to GM crops

It take ingenuity to manufacture a prisoner's dilemma for profit. I don't think this problem with Roundup-Ready GM crops constitutes a tragic blow to continued growth and development of genetically modified crops.  But this particular variety if GM crops seems to have enriched Monsanto while causing long-term social losses to farmers and everyone else.  For GM crops to have real potential going forward they are going to need more than herbicide resistance.

Declining demand for high fructose corn syrup?

Michael Pollan and his followers seem to be having a powerful influence on the market for high fructose corn syrup . I think the negative sentiment is somewhat misdirected. Here's the money quote: “I’m no fan of the Corn Refiners Association, but in this case they have biochemistry on their side,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University who has campaigned against unhealthy foods marketed to children. The problem isn't that we eat too much corn syrup; the problem is too much fructose and glucose consumption in all its forms. Put another way, if it weren't for high tariffs on cane sugar imports that exceed imposed quotas, we'd probably eat a lot less corn syrup, but more than make up the difference with consumption of cane sugar.  Sugar would be generally be cheaper overall, so we'd consume more, and be even fatter and more diabetic than we currently are. There are lot of reasons to push against the corn refiners association. 

The Gulf oil spill: a salient example of a small probability catastrophic event

Many big issues in environmental policy and economics surround potentially catastrophic events that have small probability of occurring.  The Gulf oil spill provides a salient example.  What did we perceive the odds of such an event to be before it occurred?  How large a risk was acceptable? Now that it's happened, presumably more safeguards will be put in place ( like remotely controlled shutoff valves ) and the odds of reoccurance will go down.  But by how much?  It is, of course, possible to make the risk too low, if the costs are high enough. The difficulty with rationalizing optimal safety in situations like this one is that quantifying the sizes of small probabilities and huge potential damages is simply impossible to do in an objective way. This the dirty secret underlying any rational economic analysis: uncertainty about the risk-damage tradeoff can far exceed actual tradeoffs, and often (usually?) no amount of analysis can reconcile the problem objectively. In techni