On frankenfoods and international trade

The European Union's in trouble! And with the World Trade Organization, no less. A deadline is looming for the EU to lift its ban on genetically modified foods (GMOs), affectionately called "frankenfoods." The EU says that the foods are dangerous. The United States, among others, thinks that the ban is just convenient way to protect EU farmers from competition. Thus, as any good American would do, the US government sued, via the WTO.

Europeans are deeply skeptical of GMOs, claiming that there are adverse health effects and the risk of contaminating other crops. Many people beg to differ, claiming that there is no evidence that GMOs are unhealthy. Ultimately, then, the debate boils down to whether, in a world where free trade among countries is the norm, an individual country has the right to block genetically modified foods from their markets.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways of dealing with GMOs than outright bans. Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, for instance, thinks producers should say whether a food GMO ingredients. But the question is, what do you think? Should the EU be able to ban genetically-modified foods? Should the US do the same? Should we label foods, as Kucinich suggests? Other thoughts?

So much for cheap oil

Those of us hoping for lower gas prices (read: pretty much everybody) had our hopes dashed this week as oil hit $90/barrel. And alas, with oil prices also come the gasoline prices.

So does there appear to be any relief in sight? Well, unfortunately oil has an, shall we say, unpredictable economic history. There is much talk about just how random these fluctuations are, though, and more specifically, just how much influence the petroleum industry has over them. OPEC often finds itself chief whipping boy when oil prices are on the rise.

On the up side, the seemingly inexorable rise in prices has created a perfect storm, causing many to call for laying off the black gold. Some consider our reliance on those shady folks in OPEC a huge national security issue. Environmentalists, like award winner extraordinaire Al Gore, increasingly push for reducing our demand for oil, too. And perhaps, just perhaps, as prices continue skyrocketing, more will join those diverse voices calling for change.

So you think you can vote?

Well, if you're a citizen, you probably can vote. The question posed by Bryan Caplan in The Myth of the Rational Voter is whether you're good at it. Specifically, he questions voters' intelligence in making decisions about the economy. The American voting public routinely advocates policies, Caplan says, that make them worse off.

Why, you might ask? I'm a smart person, I know what I'm doing when I vote. But according to Caplan, many voters have four biases that screw up the economy: voters tend to be anti-market, anti-foreigner, think more jobs solve everything, and are overly pessimistic. And Caplan demonstrates graphically, as economist are wont to do, that as stupid policies less directly affect voters, they become more irrational. Think global warming.

Whether people think it's genius or elitist, the book is bound to be influential. Check out the intro here. Does it pique your interest? Then why not check it out from your friendly public library?

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