U.S. Nuclear Power to China?

In our "Weird Recycling" podcast, Nathan Myhrvold talks about TerraPower, the nuclear-power firm that he and Bill Gates are promoting, which would use depleted uranium (castoff waste from traditional nuclear plants) as fuel. TerraPower has impressive plans but has yet to build its first plant.

It was a long interview, only a sliver of which made it into the podcast. One leftover part concerned the U.S.'s skittishness about nuclear power:

Worldwide Carbon Emissions No Longer Dropping — Is Anyone Surprised?

In our SuperFreakonomics chapter about global warming, a central argument was that greenhouse-gas emissions (and pollution in general) are an externality, and it is inherently difficult to control and/or price externalities. So, while it might seem sensible to encourage fewer emissions by taxation or price controls -- or international agreements -- the reality is complicated:

Besides the obvious obstacles — like determining the right size of the tax and getting someone to collect it — there’s the fact that greenhouse gases do not adhere to national boundaries. The earth’s atmosphere is in constant, complex motion, which means that your emissions become mine and mine yours. Thus, global warming.

If, say, Australia decided overnight to eliminate its carbon emissions, that fine nation wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of its costly and painful behavior unless everyone else joined in. Nor does one nation have the right to tell another what to do. The United States has in recent years sporadically attempted to lower its emissions. But when it leans on China or India to do the same, those countries can hardly be blamed for saying, Hey, you got to free-ride your way to industrial superpowerdom, so why shouldn’t we?

Here's What a Lunch of Chicken Feet Looks Like

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Weird Recycling," included a field trip to Golden Unicorn in New York's Chinatown to eat some chicken feet. Our guest was Carlos Ayala of Perdue Farms. Ayala told us that the export of chicken feet, primarily to China and Hong Kong, is such a big part of Perdue's business that the firm might be in trouble if that export market didn't exist. Here are some snaps from Ayala and Stephen Dubner's chicken-feet lunch at Golden Unicorn.

The Academic Origins of China's One Child Policy

In our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Misadventures in Baby-Making,” we describe an academic paper by a Dutch mathematics professor that might have been one of the inspirations of the controversial One Child Policy in China.

Here's the story: in the early 1970s, Geert Jan Olsder co-authored the paper “Population Planning; a Distributed Time Optimal Control Problem.” He saw population as a mathematical constraint problem, where an optimal birth rate could be found:

“Given a certain initial age profile the population must be "steered" as quickly as possible to another, prescribed, final age profile by means of a suitable chosen birth rate.”

The model considered the natural birth rate and mortality rate, an economic constraint, and time. And like any good empirical scientist, Olsder makes this warning in his paper:

“This paper is not concerned with the social and political problems involved in establishing the best mechanism for a program of population management....The optimal birth rate may unbalance the age distribution during the time interval concerned, which could give rise to economic and social problems.”

FoxConn Is Building an "Empire of Robots"

Chances are, if you've heard of the Chinese technology giant FoxConn, it's because it manufactures the iPhone and iPad. Last year, at an iPhone manufacturing complex in South China, there were a number of worker suicides that made news.

In apparent attempt to fix some of its labor issues, Foxconn's parent company, Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry, is now making a big push into robots.

From the AFP:

The project, which is initially forecast to cost the Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Tw$6.7 billion ($223 million), was unveiled Saturday when Terry Gou, chairman of the conglomerate, broke ground for the construction of a research and development unit in Taichung, central Taiwan.

"The investment marks the beginning of Hon Hai's bid to build an empire of robots," the Central Taiwan Science Park authorities said in a statement.

The World's Fastest-Growing Cities: Kabul is No. Five

In honor of the world's estimated population hitting seven billion next week, Foreign Policy has compiled a list (with beautiful photographs) of the world's seven fastest-growing cities. China and India dominate the list, but a few of the entries may surprise you. For example, number five is Kabul, Afghanistan.

"One of the oldest cities in the world, it is growing rapidly despite -- or perhaps because of -- the security concerns that plague Afghanistan," writes Kedar Pavgi. "The city has 6 million inhabitants, and continues to expand at 4.74 percent a year. But the city faces serious resource shortages. By 2050, the city will need six times the amount of water it currently uses in order to quench the thirst of its inhabitants.

How I Know I Love My Wife

A year ago, my wife said to me, “I need you to do me a favor.” I knew that was bad news. A charity she is heavily involved with, Half the Sky, was planning an event in Chicago and she had volunteered me to be the speaker.

In principle, this was no big deal. I speak in front of groups all the time. I can talk about Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, and my academic research in my sleep.

I knew immediately, however, that this speech would be completely different. Although I often tell stories about myself and my life, they are never stories about emotions. I am one of the most closed off people you’ll ever find when it comes to emotional topics. I have never learned, or really even tried to learn how to express emotions. I’m not proud of this, it just is the truth.

There was no way, however, that I could speak at a Half the Sky event without opening up my emotions. Half the Sky is an amazing charity – perhaps one of the world’s best – doing incredible work with Chinese orphanages. The only events that ever fully penetrated my emotional wall were the death of my son Andrew and the subsequent, deeply moving process of adopting a daughter (eventually two daughters) from China. More than a decade later, the emotions associated with these two events remain shockingly raw, hiding just below the surface.

Tiger vs. Dragon: A Demographic Comparison of India and China

One of the biggest story lines of the 21st century is going to be the continued economic rise of China and India. According to the World Bank, both countries grew at a rate of 9.1% in 2009. Here's a chart of their growth since the 1960s:

While their recent growth has been roughly similar, China and India also boast the two largest populations on the planet. But a new study by RAND shows the giants heading down different demographic paths. From the abstract:

Demographic contrasts between China and India will become more pronounced in the coming decades, and these differences hold implications for the countries’ relative economic prospects. China’s population is larger than India’s, but India’s population is expected to surpass China’s by 2025. China’s population is older than India’s and beginning to age rapidly, which may constrain economic growth, whereas an increasing percentage of India’s population will consist of working-age people through 2030, giving India an important demographic advantage. How much these demographic changes affect economic growth will depend on several other factors, including the infrastructure, education system, and health care systems in each country and how well each country integrates women into its workforce.

China's Suicide Rate Among the Highest in the World

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Timely, since our latest podcast is "The Paradox of Suicide." It focuses on the specter of suicide and how, strangely, it tends to be more prevalent in rich societies than in poor ones.

One country not mentioned in the podcast is China, where suicide is definitely a cultural problem. Yesterday, China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that China's official suicide rate is among the highest in the world. It's so high, that someone tries to kill themselves every two minutes. Roughly 287,000 people commit suicide each year, out of a population of 1.3 billion. From the AFP:

Another U.S. Solar Firm Goes Bust

Two weeks ago, Steve Sexton wrote about the bankruptcy of Evergreen Solar in Massachusetts. Today it's California's Solyndra that's shutting down.

From the Washington Post:

The unexpected announcement raised questions about whether taxpayers would be responsible for the entire $535 million in loans that the company used to build a Silicon Valley factory. The wisdom of loan guarantees granted to the company by the Obama administration had already been questioned by government auditors and been the target of a subpoena from House Republicans.

The start-up venture has long been an administration favorite, and its Fremont, Calif., factory received visits from both the president and Energy Secretary Steve Chu. Both used their visits to praise the company for creating jobs and leading the way into a new economy fueled by green energy businesses.