The Shine Is Off Corn Ethanol

Our economy is so intertwined and interdependent that it is impossible for the government to guide it in any direction without setting off a long chain of consequences. This is another example of the folly of centralized economic planning.

As I’ve written in the past, to determine the true value of ethanol, remove all subsidies for producing it and the corn used to make it, and end the tariff on imported ethanol. Very rapidly the market will tell us just how much a gallon of ethanol is worth.

Dan Mitchell summarizes The Wall Street Journal:

The shine is off corn ethanol, and oh, what a comedown it has been. It was only in January that President Bush was calling for a yet a bijillion more gallons of the wonder-stuff in his State of the Union address, and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley was practically doing the Macarena in his seat. And why shouldn’t Mr. Grassley and fellow ethanol handmaidens have boogied? They’d forced their first mandate through Congress, corn farmers were rolling in dough, billions in taxpayer dollars were spurring dozens of new ethanol plants–and here was the commander-in-chief calling for yet more yellow dollars. All in the name of national security, too! Corn ethanol seemed unstoppable, but a remarkable thing happened on the road from Des Moines. Just as the smart people warned, the government’s decision to play energy market God and forcibly divert huge amounts of corn stocks into ethanol has played havoc with key sectors of the economy. Corn prices have nearly doubled, which means livestock owners can’t afford to feed their animals, and food and drink manufacturers are struggling to buy corn and corn syrup. Environmentalists are sour over new stresses on farmland; international aid groups are moaning that the U.S. is cutting back its charitable food giving, and many of these folks are taking out their anger on Congress. …The hugely influential National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has gone so far as to outline a series of public demands, including an end to any government tax credits (subsidies) for ethanol and an axe to the import tariff on foreign ethanol. Put another way, the cattlemen are so angry that they are demanding free markets and free trade–a first. …The National Turkey Federation estimates its feed costs have gone up nearly $600 million annually and is surely letting loose on members from turkey states such as Minnesota and Missouri. The National Chicken Council, which represents companies that produce, process and market chickens, has been hitting the southern political caucus, putting pressure on senators from big poultry states such as Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama. Chicken giant Tyson’s, the second largest employer in Arkansas (after Wal-Mart), even felt the need to warn about the effect of rising corn prices on its business in its first quarter earnings statement. Food and drink manufacturers, which rely heavily on corn and corn syrup for their products, are also making the Washington rounds. The Grocery Manufacturers Association this week called for Congress to undertake a study before it imposed a bigger ethanol mandate. Soft-drink companies such as Coca-Cola (of Mr. Chambliss’s Georgia) are also up in arms.
http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/kstrasselpw/?id=110010094

And summarizing John Stossel:

When everyone in politics jumps on a bandwagon like ethanol, I start to wonder if there’s something wrong with it. And there is. Except for that fact that ethanol comes from corn, nothing you’re told about it is true. …If ethanol’s so good, why does it need government subsidies? Shouldn’t producers be eager to make it, knowing that thrilled consumers will reward them with profits? But consumers won’t reward them, because without subsidies, ethanol would cost much more than gasoline. The claim that using ethanol will save energy is another myth. Studies show that the amount of energy ethanol produces and the amount needed to make it are roughly the same. …even turning all of America’s corn into ethanol would meet only 12 percent of our gasoline demand. …the standard mixture of 90 percent ethanol and 10 percent gasoline pollutes worse than gasoline. …Surely, ethanol must be good for something. And here we finally have a fact. It is good for something — or at least someone: corn farmers and processors of ethanol, such as Archer Daniels Midland, the big food processor known for its savvy at getting subsidies out of the taxpayers. And it’s good for vote-hungry presidential hopefuls. Iowa is a key state in the presidential-nomination sweepstakes.
http://www.townhall.com/columnists/JohnStossel/2007/05/23/the_many_myths_of_ethanol

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