Thrive - hydroponics alone will not work because the energy requirements of replacing the sun with artificial light are too high; the cost to fuel the setup makes it impossible to compete with normal agriculture except for luxury items. However, if combined with efficiently produced algae biofuels, organic permaculture could easily provide more than enough food for everyone in the world to have plenty at reasonable prices. In this context, urban hydroponics systems might have a place for providing local natural food supplies to huge city populations, but there is so much land available and it is so productive that hydroponics would not actually be needed. The only thing that's causing the food crisis to continually deepen is our unsustainable industrialized agricultural practices.
"Why was there no "Malthus effect" from 1990 to 2002?"
The Malthus effect he's talking about, if I understand it right, is more about the third world than the first. The Green Revolution introduced industrialized annual monoculture agricultural techniques into the third world for the first time. These kinds of practices produce enormous yields for a few decades, until they deplete the soil and cause an ecological collapse. This is what happened in the Oklahoma dust bowl during the US's last crisis period, and it is happening in India and elsewhere today. The crash in Indian agriculture started around 2005-2007 and is ongoing.
Societies that try to use these kinds of agricultural practices often find a kind of demographic scissor effect - the boom in production leads to a huge baby boom, the results of which now make up much of the population in the third world. But when industrial multiculture inevitably destroys the ability of the soil to support life, yields crash, and suddenly there's a lot of excess population. Cue war, famine, and disease. This is the Malthus effect.
So it was definitely 'there' from 1990 to 2002. It was just offstage, lurking.
"The birth rate in 2009 was the lowest since the Great Depression. Why would the Malthus effect be more pronounced now?"
In the US, it was. But not in the third world, which is where the Malthus effect is really gaining steam. The third world just recovered from a huge baby boom.
I do think you're right about commodity and equity prices in general, though, Vincecate. Those are going up because of Bernanke, not Malthus.