Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Georgie Cracks Corn

I don't know how many State of the Union Addresses since 1973 have pledged commitment to energy independence, but to quote Jim Ignatowski when he was asked how many different illicit drugs he had ingested in his lifetime, it's "exactly a lot."

It was still a surprise, however, when our current President touted ethanol last week citing the sustainability myth as just one of its many indisputable virtues. Science aside, the numbers on ethanol are staggering. Today, the federal subsidy stands at 51 cents per gallon. The most optimistic projections regarding the effects on greenhouse gases are estimated at 5%, but, like nearly all environmental statistics, they're based on static models that do not factor the ancillary costs of growing, processing and transporting ethanol. For example, since ethanol destroys the rubber seals used in conventional pipelines, every drop, at every stage of its refinement, must be trucked in vehicles burning, what?

Candidate Clinton, campaigning in Iowa last week, touted ethanol mandates as an excellent method for promoting sustainable alternatives to foreign oil. But there’s a reason why so few U.S. Senators have been elected President, and this is the perfect example. During this little chat, Her Heinous neglected to mention that she consistently voted "Nay" on ethanol legislation and even signed a letter stating that: “There is no public policy reason to support an ethanol mandate.”

Senator Clinton opposing a government mandate?

Now there’s news.

Last year, federal and state subsidies for ethanol total $6 billion. In addition to the 51-cent a gallon domestic subsidy there's a 54 cent a gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Would anyone make the stuff without these government bribes? Would anyone buy it without government coercion?

But there’s an even darker side to this charade. Artificially high corn prices are reflected in everything from breakfast cereal to Coca-Cola, taco shells to pork chops. America’s meat industry, a major exporter, is becoming much less competitive because of a distorted market for feed corn.

The price of tortillas, an important dietary staple among the world's poorest, has risen sharply. In Mexico this price rise has caused widespread protests and price controls. China has abandoned ethanol-plant construction declaring ethanol a dangerous threat to food security. In Brazil, long touted by environmentalists as a beacon of enlightened ethanol policy, ethanol production has displaced small indigenous farmers. For their own survival, many of them have fled to the Amazon rain forest where they clear the forest for their small subsistence farms.

Once again, an elitist Western fad is causing widespread Third World misery. Once again we have proof that when the government, rather than the free market, selects the economic winners and losers, eventually everybody loses. For someone born, raised and educated in New York City this simple fact has been evident to me since Vincent Impelleteri was mayor.

In spite of the multiple attempts at indoctrination by The New York City Board of Education, The City University of New York, and conversations with nine out of ten people I meet in my peregrinations around the town, I hold these truths to be self evident:

Freedom is better than tyranny.

Free markets distribute economic benefits more equitably than centrally planned, subsidized and distorted economies.

Free people pursuing their enlightened self interests have created ALL of the technological advances, material wealth and public good in world history.

But all philosophical matters aside, the ethanol debate represents a much larger issue that no one on the Left, Right or Center seems willing to face: The morality (yes, morality) of using food to fill the fuel thanks of America's SUVs when there are still people in this world who are slowly, but surely, starving to death.