~ Archive for August 25, 2003 ~

Pearls, technology, and petroleum


We like to think that ours is a world where, for the first time, technological innovation in one corner of the globe can have repercussions many thousands of miles away.  Historians would beg to differ.  From The Prize:

“The local pearling trade had been Kuwait’s number-one industry and principal source of foreign earnings.  Whether or not he knew the name, Sheikh Ahmad [the owner of Kuwait at the time] had good reason to be intensely annoyed with a Japanese noodle vendor from Miye prefecture, one Kokichi Mikimoto, who had become obsessed with oysters and pearls and had devoted many difficult years to developing the technique for cultivating pearls artificially.  Eventually, Mikimoto’s efforts paid off, and by 1930 large volumes of Japanese cultured pearls were beginning to appear on the world’s jewelry markets, practically destroying the demand for the natural pearls that divers brought up from the waters off Kuwait. Kuwait’s economy was devastated; export earnings plummeted, merchants went bankrupt, boats were laid up onshore, and divers returned to the desert. … The little country faced a number of other economic dificulties [in the early 1930s].  The Great Depression had more generally crippled the economies of Kuwait and the other sheikhdoms. So bad had conditions become that slaveowners along the Arab coast were selling off their African slaves at a loss, to avoid the maintenance costs.”

Why aren’t there more single fathers?


Adults have a tough time getting along with each other, especially when they are of opposite sexes and sharing a domicile. Most adults, however, are very happy to live with their children. High-income women in their 30s often put these two facts together and come up with intentional single motherhood. They find a sperm donor, spend nine months producing the baby “in-house”, then hire a nanny or two once the baby arrives.

Why can’t a man be more like a woman? What stops a high-income older man from hiring surrogate mothers to produce kids and an au pair or two to take care of them when he is at work or otherwise unavailable?

In the old days, of course, a mature man was not necessarily precluded from the standard marriage route. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the man behind the Suez Canal, got married at the age of 64. To a woman of 20. They had 12 children. Today, however, except in some Third World countries, a woman of 20 is likely to prefer a young good-looking mate.

One potential obstacle to this approach to single fatherhood is that apparently American courts are not anxious to enforce surrogate motherhood contracts. For example, a woman could decide that she has grown attached to the baby that she has carried to term and elect to keep the baby. That isn’t so bad necessarily. A man could hire 3 surrogate mothers, expecting a yield of 2.2 delivered children. What if one surrogate repudiates the contract to hand over the baby. Can she then sue the father for paternity? Could that mournful situation be prevented if the man purchased donated eggs from one woman and hired an unrelated woman to handle the pregnancy?

And in an age of outsourcing Java coding, something for which many months of training are required, to the Third World, why not outsource surrogate motherhood? Suppose that a man has a budget of $50,000 per child. A smart healthy college-bound woman in the U.S. would probably reject that amount, only slightly more than the cost of one year at a top university. Consider, however, a woman with a good genetic patrimony in a country where the average income was $5,000 per year. Ten years of salary for 9 months of work! A bit of labor (literally) today and enough capital to buy a house and perhaps start a business. Perhaps that $50,000 is beginning to sound attractive. Not to mention all the other advantages of production in a foreign country. Obstetrical care and hospital fees are vastly cheaper in any country other than in the U.S.

Lose weight by eating every meal at McDonald’s


After a month traveling, I’ve concluded that the best way to lose weight is by eating every meal at McDonald’s.

Suppose that you go to a Whole Foods-style supermarket, at which all manner of incredibly delicious gourmet items are for sale. You spend $200 to stock the fridge. But really you ought to eat all the fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods while they are fresh. The result: massive gluttony and weight gain.

Suppose that you go to a reasonably nice restaurant, costing $20-30 per person. The menu will list an incredibly tempting array of food. It all sounds so great that you order an appetizer and a main dish. You have a tough time deciding among the main dishes and you’re sad that you can’t order two. The appetizer is actually big enough that you are beginning to feel full when the main dish comes. The main dish is heroic in size, the kind of feast that Homer describes the heroes at Troy as having consumed. You’re not really all that hungry but you ordered it so you feel like you should eat at least half. The result: massive gluttony and weight gain.

Eat at home or eat at a restaurant. Either way you get fat.

The solution is McDonald’s. If you can remember one piece of medical advice from my brother (“Don’t eat anything a caveman wouldn’t have eaten”), you skip the fries. For a beverage it is unsweetened iced tea or Diet Coke. So far, zero calories. All you need now is a sandwich. The bread isn’t really on the Atkins diet but otherwise a McDonald’s sandwich is vastly smaller and lower in calories than anything you’d get in an upscale restaurant. Best of all, the menu at McDonald’s won’t tempt you into excess. The sandwiches aren’t all that delicious. If you’re really hungry they can taste pretty good but have you ever been sad that you couldn’t order both the Big Mac and the Quarter Pound with Cheese?

Market opportunity: write a book entitled “The McDonald’s Diet” that explains how to lose 5 lbs/week eating only in McDonald’s.

[This is not a completely original idea, of course.  Don Gorske has been at it for 30 years, coincidentally only a few miles from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the site of the big airplane convention where this idea began to take shape.]

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