Month: November 2006

Gas Guzzling Grapes?

It may look like we are eating Chilean grapes, he [Pollan] argues, but in fact, once we
consider transportation costs, we are guzzling petroleum. Economics offers a
clearer view of what is going on. We do need to save energy, but it is difficult
for a central planner (or for that matter a food commentator) to identify what
is waste, relative to the costs of eliminating it….If fuel becomes more expensive, we’ll likely adopt peak-load
energy pricing, and drivers may scrap their SUVs for hybrids. But we probably
won’t plant grapes in our backyards. While we must conserve energy, we cut back
where it makes the most sense; grape-shipping is not the place to start. Global
trade does involve transportation costs, but it also puts food production where
it is cheapest, again saving energy by economizing on costs of labor,
irrigation, and fertilization, relative to the alternatives.

That’s the ever-wise Tyler reviewing the Omnivore’s Dilemma in Slate.

Should hedge funds be regulated?

This paper is non-committal but essentially skeptical.  The authors make a few points:

1. Hedge fund customers are wealthy and sophisticated; there is no customer protection motive for regulating hedge funds.

2. Hedge funds serve some useful purposes, including private research, price discovery, and provision of liquidity.

3. Secrecy is the essence of hedge fund activity.  For that reason, the standard regulatory recipe of disclosure has limited applicability in this context.

4. There is not much evidence that hedge funds are destabilizing at the macro level, or involve significant levels of systematic financial risk.

I believe these views are likely correct.  The more important question is what is the best course of action — in terms of expected value – if they might be wrong.  Systematic risk is the real issue.

Christmas gifts

This is not quite a year-end "best of" list, but if you are looking for gifts, here are my off-the-cuff picks in some select areas. 

1. TV show: Season one of Veronica Mars.  Matt Yglesias and Dan Drezner are fans as well.

2. Classical music: Maurizio Pollini, Chopin’s Nocturnes.
This recording has none of the flaws that Pollini would have shown in
these pieces 20 years ago; they are lyrical and beautiful.  For something
new try Golijov’s Ayre song cycle, and don’t neglect the accompanying Berio pieces.  Richard Egarr’s Goldberg Variations is the only harpischord recording which stands up to Glenn Gould.  Finally, Paul McCartney’s Ecce Cor Meum was better than most other new releases, and yes I hated Liverpool Oratorio but he finally figured out how to do it.

3. Non-fiction: Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling Upon Happiness, or for the economist David Warsh’s Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations.  Google back to my reviews if you don’t remember them.

4. Fiction: A slow year for this category, maybe I will pick Suite Francaise.  I’ll bet against the new Thomas Pynchon being any good but if I am wrong I will let you know.

5. DVDs: You might try Solo con Tu Pareja, the new Criterion release of the 1991 Mexican film by the guy who did Y Tu Mama Tambien.  After that, stick with TV, at least for the time being.

6. Popular music: You could try the new Dylan, or the new Beck, but so far I think the new Justin Timberlake is — against my will I might add — more interesting than either.  My real pick here is the Argentine sensation Juana Molina.  Buy Son
Acoustic guitar, clear voice, light percussive rhythms, ringing bells,
sheer magic.  This is that "isn’t it amazing I never heard of her
before" CD you were looking for…

7. Jazz CD: The new Monk/Coltrane find is the obvious pick, but the new Ornette Coleman release is one of his best.