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Tilting at Windmills

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September 28, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

ETHANOL....Thanks to the ethanol boom, the Washington Post reports that:

most farmers earned between $100 and $400 an acre on their 2006 crop after expenses, depending on whether they owned or rented their land. That translates into profits of $100,000 to $400,000 on a 1,000-acre farm. The USDA predicts that net farm income will be $87.1 billion this year, up nearly 50 percent over 2006.

Iowa farmland values are up 18 percent in the past 12 months, according to Federal Reserve Board surveys, making millionaires on paper out of any farmers owning 200 acres free and clear.

And what's our legislative resonse to this? "A House-passed farm bill would give corn growers $10.5 billion over the next five years, even if prices stay high."

Terrific. Let's see: (a) environmentally speaking, corn ethanol is a pretty dodgy idea in the first place, (b) we're subsidizing it anyway to the tune of $3 billion per year, (c) farmers, as you'd expect, are responding to the subsidies by reducing the amount of farmland used for food production, (d) this is driving up the price of staple food worldwide, and (e) we're going to toss another $10 billion in ag welfare to already-rich corn farmers on top of all that. Jeebus. Can anyone think of any other single policy that has as many simultaneous baneful effects? Are we complete morons?

No, don't answer that.

Kevin Drum 3:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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Comments

To a degree, blame the founding fathers for creating a Senate that exaggerates the influence of rural states. But there's also plenty of blame to put on hypocritical GOP legislators who blather about "small government" while eagerly voting for massive ag spending bills. Dems who vote for this crap deserve blame too, though at least they aren't beating their breasts about cutting taxes while they do it.

Previous generations had a healthy fear of debt, and would not have tolerated a government drunk on the spending of borrowed money. I suspect in the not too distant future we may be relearning the virtues of thrift by means of some unexpectedly swift and harsh lessons.

Posted by: jimBOB on September 28, 2007 at 3:36 AM | PERMALINK

Remember on a return on capital basis farming isn't that great a deal. Particularly considering the volatility of income and risk.

What happens is land prices rise, some more family farmers sell out to their neighbours, farms get bigger in scale and more heavily indebted. This has been going on since the end of WWII. The American farmland is beginning to look remarkably like the Roman Empire's farming pattern (big latifundia, and landlords) or 18th century Britain.

I entirely agree about the issues around ethanol subsidisation. And ethanol in general: the expansion of Brasilian ethanol (which makes sense in energy terms) is also an environmental disaster (ecologically sensitive grasslands). And in the case of American corn ethanol, the fertilizer requirements and pesticide use are horrific.

Without cellulosic ethanol (which we've been working on for 30 years) ethanol is just not a clean fuel.

Posted by: Valuethinker on September 28, 2007 at 3:36 AM | PERMALINK

Can anyone think of any other single policy that has as many simultaneous baneful effects?

The internet is not made for humor this dry.

Posted by: Boronx on September 28, 2007 at 3:38 AM | PERMALINK

It doesn't help that any politician who wants to be president has to either vote for this policy or lose the Iowa Caucus.

Posted by: fostert on September 28, 2007 at 3:59 AM | PERMALINK

Also, the demand for insulated, glycol jacketed, cylindro-conical fermenters for ehtanol production has pushed delivery schedules for the same into the 6 to 9 month range.

My employer (a rapidly expanding micro-brewery) is considering red chinese manufacture tanks as an alternative. In their experience, US based manufacturing is not without its flaws, but the repair people speak english, and their per diem rates are presumed to be effectively less than trans-pacific folks who have to be directed about sanitary tungsten-inert-gas welding of 304 alloy stainless steel via sign language.

Posted by: etc. on September 28, 2007 at 4:09 AM | PERMALINK

>

Invading Iraq.

Posted by: firefalluk on September 28, 2007 at 4:11 AM | PERMALINK

I believe by the magic of the free markets and the trickle down effect the solution to the aforementioned problem whatever it is would be the reduction of taxes for anyone growing corn to nothing so as to increase wheat production worldwide while simultaneously decreasing wheat production in any individual actor in the commodities engine.

Posted by: bryan on September 28, 2007 at 5:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think one key aspect of the problem is that, even amongst us political junkies, few terms make as many eyes glaze over as "farm bill." Consequently, farm-state Senators have a pretty free hand in shoving whatever they want into the farm bill.

But it'll keep on happening, because it's pushing up a steep hill to get people to care about the farm bill for five minutes.

I honestly have no idea what one can do about that.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on September 28, 2007 at 5:53 AM | PERMALINK

Too late, you asked. Yes.

Posted by: steve duncan on September 28, 2007 at 6:26 AM | PERMALINK

Ethanol was found, in the mid 70's, to cost up to 1.3 petro-gallons to make 1.0 gallon, depending on the process used.

If anything, the process is now even more petro intensive.

Posted by: Skyho on September 28, 2007 at 6:59 AM | PERMALINK

As the now accessible Krugman puts it today:

"Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work."

How's that for dry humor?

Posted by: OmniDane on September 28, 2007 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

true, the answer to your question is the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It wins for more baneful effects AND at much greater cost.

Posted by: tubino on September 28, 2007 at 7:16 AM | PERMALINK

I have spent a fair amount of time in Iowa and I can tell you that many Iowa farmers are the prototypical modern conservative - bitching about big government in one breath and complaining that their government subsidies are not big enough in the next. They hate government while suckling at the government teat at the same time.

Kind of like their views on patriotism and taxes, too - they crow about how much they love their country, but goddamn it, they aren't willing to pay a nickel in taxes for the privilege of living here....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on September 28, 2007 at 7:18 AM | PERMALINK

It's also a net GHG contributor, because 3% - 5% of the NO2 in the fertilizer sprayed on the crops evaporates/volatilizes. And NO2 is SUBSTANTIALLY more powerful than CO2.

Expensive, wasteful, regressive, distorting, unhealthy, unnecessary, counterproductive.

Worst. Policy. Ever.

Posted by: EthanS on September 28, 2007 at 7:31 AM | PERMALINK

firefalluk -

Oops - my mistake. That's the obvious winner.

Posted by: EthanS on September 28, 2007 at 7:33 AM | PERMALINK

To liberals another disadvantage of ethanol is that it benefits the hard-working farmers of red states. Liberals would like nothing better than to see the extinction of the family farm through death taxes and low grain prices.

Posted by: Al on September 28, 2007 at 7:38 AM | PERMALINK

Al is showing his ignorance and stupidity as usual. Maybe we can settle our differences as gentlemen; giving him the benefit of the doubt.

I still will use ethanol when ever possible.

Also doubt that Al knows how to define a liberal! I do not support his right to say or print drivel.

Posted by: don quixote on September 28, 2007 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK

Al, sweetie, it's not the hard-working small farmers ethanol benefits -- it's ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), the giant agribusiness that's a huge donor to the Republicans. Subsidies that might have gone to small farmers go to them instead, in exchange for campaign contributions (ie. kickbacks) to the Bushies. Get it now?

Posted by: dalloway on September 28, 2007 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are incrementally moving the country to a single payer corn market. Socialized corn.

It's the only way the GOP can keep those farm states voting red. The farmers know what side their popcorn is buttered on.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on September 28, 2007 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Al is a comic troll. Repudiated by the "real" Al who hasn't posted @ Kevin Drum's site for years.

Yes. There's another mordantly funny boondoggle. Kentucky is going to subsidize (wait for it ... wait for it) COAL!!!

Bwahahahahahaha!!!!

If challenged, could you prove that we aren't all in Hell?

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on September 28, 2007 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/23/AR2005072300741.html

This assertion, though, is more convenient myth than fact -- something that senators might consider when they're called on, perhaps as soon as this week, to vote on abolishing the tax. A new study by the Congressional Budget Office examined estate tax returns filed by farmers and owners of small businesses in 1999 and 2000. The numbers that owed estate tax, the CBO found, were paltry, and the number without enough cash on hand to pay the bill even punier: In 2000, for example, just 1,659 farm estates had taxes due, of which 138 didn't report enough liquid assets to cover their tax liability.


But at that time the amount of money that could be passed on to heirs free of taxes was just half what it is now. With the current exemption level of $1.5 million, the CBO analysis found, only 300 farm estates in 2000 would have owed any tax at all -- and of those, just 27 would have a tax bill in excess of their liquid assets. At the even more generous exemption scheduled to take effect in 2009, $3.5 million, the ranks of those potentially hit hard by the tax would have dwindled even further; 65 farm estates would owe taxes and 13 would not have enough cash to cover the bill.
>>>>>
That's 13 farmers each year who are forced to choose between taking out a loan or pocketing over $3.5 million. What was your point, Al?

Posted by: reino on September 28, 2007 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

The last time I looked the Republicans and Democrats on the Ag committees in both the House and Senate were remarkably unified behind the Ag industry. Ag bills routinely pass out of committee with very few negative votes. It doesn't matter if the chair is Republican or Democrat, the party of an Agriculture Committee member is the Ag party and they are going to cut up the pie for their constituents. The Committees don't have adult supervision.

Posted by: corpus juris on September 28, 2007 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

TCD,

Kansas wheat farmers are no different - Meet for coffee in the morning, bitch about welfare mommas in Whicita and Kansas City, and head off to pick up their government checks - Repugs all the way.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 28, 2007 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Also, the demand for insulated, glycol jacketed, cylindro-conical fermenters for ehtanol production has pushed delivery schedules for the same into the 6 to 9 month range.
Posted by: etc. on September 28, 2007 at 4:09 AM
----

Thanks for that tidbit. I wondered what the big deal was with the stainless steel tank industry booming so much, now I know. I hope they can all use the same tanks to process other biomass that actually puts out significantly more energy than we put in. Otherwise, the Bush administration has created yet another investment bubble.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 28, 2007 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

Doc at the Radar Station,

Thanks for the Del Rio, Texas XERA reminder on another thread.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 28, 2007 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK


Yes.

This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

Posted by: Peter VE on September 28, 2007 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

I totally agree with Kevin on the bad effects of farm payments. I suspect I agree with most of the panel as well. This issue shows two implications

-- Kevin and those who post here have little influence in the real world

-- Liberals and conservatives ought to be more cooperative, because there are lots of issues where we agree.

Posted by: ex-liberal on September 28, 2007 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Yup, we're morons.

Corn is a horrible feedstock for ethanol. It's also a craptastic feedstock for biodiesel if anyone starts yammering up that angle in order to drive the lefties into the corn silo with everyone else.

Corn is also Monsanto's foot in the door on continued screwing with of small farms, when the GMO pollen blows into neighboring fields.

There's no end to the dumbassitude of this policy.

Oh yeah, make yet another thing outta corn, and you add to its questionable value as a multi-tasking crop where sweeteners, animal feed, and oil products are concerned.

If they could make ethanol out of soybeans, they'd be on that like white on rice, too. We have a buttload of food additives, all derived from soy, because of pressure to make an already non-panacaea foodstuff more valuable than it actually is.

Posted by: sara on September 28, 2007 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't the case that most "farm" subsidies don't actually go to farmers but rather to huge agribusiness conglomerates?

Posted by: lyofbrooklyn on September 28, 2007 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Are we complete morons?

I assume that the use of "we" here is just a blogging courtesy, because the correct answer is "no, a few of us are not complete morons." Unfortunately however, morons seem to outnumber the not-morons, however, because the not-morons have not been winning elections.

Krugman, this morning: "Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work."

Bush adminstration, AKA complete morons.

Posted by: PTate (back in MN, sigh) on September 28, 2007 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK


Sugar prices are kept artificially low by a complex system of tariffs and subsidies that primarily benefit a very few large producers. These policies are environmentally damaging, fiscally regressive, and damage our international relationships. Worse, in my eyes, is the net effect of making a half-liter soft drink the most profitable part of the supersized unHappy Meal, so that food processors continually push high-sugar-content foods in their advertising. When we're paying for universal health care, we'll surely regret the number of diabetics.

Posted by: joel hanes on September 28, 2007 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

FAUXLib says that liberals and conservatives should be more cooperative.

Yes, indeedee do, another reprise of Oklahoma's "Oh, the farmers and the cowboys should be friends" - All we need is a modern Agnes DeMille - See ya at practice, FAUX, anda five, six, seven, eight.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 28, 2007 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, ttP, and isn't it cute how "ex-liberal" is pretending to be a reasonable commenter again? You aren't fooling anyone, "ex-liberal."

Posted by: Gregory on September 28, 2007 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

dalloway wrote:

Al, sweetie, it's not the hard-working small farmers ethanol benefits -- it's ADM

Yes, mostly, and I agree that corn-ethanol subsidies are bad public policy... but, I have to say, in Michigan, those subsidies *are* keeping a lot of small, mid-Michigan farmers from going broke. Up around my dad's place, they call it "yellow gold". My dad's too old to work his fields anymore, so he rents them out to a small farmer. This year the renter planted soybeans, though, because he'd put in corn for the last three years, and "you gotta rotate to keep the land sound, that's all there is to it" (my dad's imitation of the guy's explanation).

So, I confess to having mixed feelings. Yes, it's bad public policy... but it's keeping the small farming community where my folks live solvent. Mostly. And I'm glad to see that, because they've had some hard times in recent years.

Posted by: KarenJG on September 28, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Of course the problem is that nobody knows what they are talking about. Direct farm payments account for about 1/3 of farm bill cost. You also have nutrition programs and environmental programs(you know the ones Ted Turner takes advantage of). Because of high grain prices the last farm bill came in under budget around $20 billion. This is because payments are counter-cyclical. Price high: no payment; price low: payment.
Those profit numbers are just not right no way no how does a 1000 acre farm net profit $400,000 growing corn. It aint happening.
As to the ethanol numbers, while I'm not a big fan of ethanol....the folks who oppose just pull numbers out of their ass. Anything based on numbers that come from Pimental of Cornell are pure b.s.
This attitude about farmers is why they don't support D's....they think all D's think like this....of course farm bureau pushes that line. Cause i know conservative "thinkers" like doughy pant load Jonas Goldberg trash farmers as well. Then farm bureau calls him a liberal.
I am just saying Kevin you are wrong. whenever you agree with Jonas you are wrong, simple equation.
I am a proud subscriber of the monthly and a liberal farmer.

Posted by: Duane on September 28, 2007 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Heh... just wait till you see the effects of the ethanol boom on your grocery bill this fall... feedstock prices have skyrocketed as the corn crop is increasingly converted to fuel.

We may starve, but our cars will still be running!

Posted by: Buford on September 28, 2007 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "Can anyone think of any other single policy that has as many simultaneous baneful effects?"

And corn-derived ethanol will do essentially nothing to reduce the GHG emissions causing anthropogenic global warming, which will soon bring on decade-long continent-wide megadroughts and the collapse of agriculture in North America. Food shortages and mass starvation in the not too distant future are, at this point, probably inevitable.

Most of the human population of the Earth will die off by the end of the 21st century. Only the ultra-rich (the top one percent of the top five percent, a.k.a. "Bush's Base") will have access to the resources needed to (maybe, at least for a while) survive the coming climate cataclysm and global ecological collapse of the biosphere. They are well aware of this. It's one reason why they are more obsessed than ever with getting control of as much of the world's wealth as possible -- they will need it to establish their nuclear-powered, climate-controlled, domed enclaves protected by private mercenary armies.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on September 28, 2007 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

For years farmers have been producing corn at or below the cost of production and now you're griping because they're making a profit because of the demand for ethanol. Yes, if you own 400 acres, which is probably the minimum size for a working Iowa farm nowadays, you're a millionaire *on paper* but unless the farm has been in the family for generations you probably rent the land from the bank and are clearing less than $50,000 a year.

Yes, too many farmers vote Republican and yes, ADM profits from ethanol production, but increasing demand for corn increases the market price of corn, which is good for Midwestern family farmers -- and, if anything, is beneficial to Third-World farmers, because it means less US corn will be competing with their production.

A report by the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, [“Food vs. Fuel in the United States,” http://www.iatp.org/iatp/publications.cfm?accountID=258&refID=100001] finds, among other things, that expanded U.S. biofuel production will not likely result in more global hunger. First of all, a negligible volume of U.S. corn is exported to undernourished populations. Second, while a rise in the price of corn and other agricultural commodities can adversely impact food prices, it also provides more opportunity for subsistence farmers around the world that have been devastated by depressed global commodity prices. Third, many of the issues of hunger and poverty that are attributed to biofuels are more appropriately linked to structural problems of corporate concentration and inequalities in agricultural trading systems.

The paper concludes "that to assure U.S.-based biofuels do
not aggravate hunger, they should first be produced in a sus-
tainable manner that enhances the health of soil and water
resources that future agricultural production will depend
on; and, second, ensure this huge market force is man-
aged to provide farmers with fair prices for their crops and
the emerging global trading system for biofuels supports
local economies and local food sovereignty—the ability of
countries and communities to feed themselves. While this
paper concludes that well managed U.S. biofuels production
could potentially improve international food security, the
same conclusion cannot be extrapolated to biofuels produc-
tion in other parts of the world. There are serious concerns
about the impacts of biofuels production in countries that
are facing high levels of food insecurity, and the demand for
biofuels from wealthy countries could impair food produc-
tion in these countries."

Posted by: Leo on September 28, 2007 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Duane wrote: "Anything based on numbers that come from Pimental of Cornell are pure b.s."

No, David Pimentel's numbers are not "pure b.s." even though the corn ethanol industry constantly asserts that.

If you research the argument between the corn ethanol industry and their allies in the USDA on one side, and Pimentel on the other, what you will find is that while Pimentel's studies found a negative net energy yield for corn ethanol, the industry puts forth its preferred studies which show a very slight positive net energy yield -- around 1.25 or 1.5 to 1.0 -- using the most modern and efficient technologies and consistently optimistic assumptions.

The bottom line is that the net energy yield from corn ethanol is at best very small, and at worst negative.

The notion that corn ethanol will either significantly reduce dependence on fossil fuels (ie. address the peak oil and/or dependence on foreign oil problems) or significantly reduce GHG emissions from the burning of liquid fossil fuels (ie. address the global warming problem) is what can appropriately be described as "pure BS".

Like the nuclear power industry, the corn ethanol industry is dishonestly manipulating public concern about energy supplies and global warming in order to obtain massive federal subsidies. Neither one actually offers much benefit in terms of providing secure and sustainable energy supplies, or in terms of mitigating global warming. If we are going to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on these problems, there are much more effective and efficient solutions to spend it on -- primarily efficiency, and secondarily genuine clean renewable energy sources such as wind and solar electrical generation, and yes, biofuels -- but biofuels that are produced in a sustainable and ecologically sound manner, which corn ethanol is most definitely not.

The problem with those investments is that they don't enrich and empower the already rich and powerful. So they get short shrift while the government lavishes billions of dollars of subsidies on dead-end technologies like nuclear power, corn ethanol and "clean coal".

Posted by: SecularAnimist on September 28, 2007 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Duane: To set the record straight--there's multiple programs--the direct payments program (started with the Reps "Freedom to Farm" in 1996 as a transition payment, converted to permanent in the 2002 farm bill) pays regardless of price, the "counter-cyclical" program (aka "deficiency payments" from the 1980's) was ended in 1996, but revived in the 2002 bill. It considers market price. So this year, direct payments are made, counter cyclical aren't.

Posted by: Bill Harshaw on September 28, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Leo wrote: "The paper concludes 'that to assure U.S.-based biofuels do not aggravate hunger, they should first be produced in a sustainable manner that enhances the health of soil and water resources that future agricultural production will depend on'" ...

The problem is that corn ethanol is not produced "in a sustainable manner that enhances the health of soil and water resources that future agricultural production will depend on". It is produced in the same way that corn for other uses, as well as the other major grain crops in North America, are produced -- with industrial factory farming technologies that are heavily dependent on cheap fossil fuel inputs both for energy and fertilizer, in an unsustainable manner that degrades the health of the soil and depletes water resources.

The paper you quote supports the argument that not only biofuels but all North American agriculture should be converted to sustainable organic techniques that enhance rather than degrade the soil and make sustainable use of water supplies, rather than depleting nonrenewable "fossil" water supplies (underground aquifers).

Posted by: SecularAnimist on September 28, 2007 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Can anyone think of any other single policy that has as many simultaneous baneful effects?

Pretty much any major industry where the government has decided to put its huge, ham-like hand into the middle of the market process.

Sorry, but this particular policy is a hallmark of Democratic economic principles and "New Deal" philosophies from the 30s and 40s. While Republicans (with damn few exceptions) have also gone along cheerfully, this just one example of your economic ideas at work.

Posted by: harry on September 28, 2007 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

A large part of the problem is the disconnect between public opinion and reality. Ask the random person on the street and they will think Ethanol is a fantastic way to help the farmer and reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Our elected officials and media constantly are telling this story.

Occassionally, there is the wonkished detailed article about how ethanol doesn't make sense. But the ethanol advocates/industry quickly hit back and make the issue so complicated that the average person tunes out or goes back to believing ethanol is good.

A deeper level of the problem is there is a lot of money at stake in promoting Ethanol but limited in dismissing it.

Posted by: objective dem on September 28, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

"already-rich corn farmers" con agra maybe. some schmoe with 200 acres. you have never been in the agriculture business

Posted by: chuck on September 28, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

The bigger concern is that if the "corn-belt" starts making significant contributions to energy production, the neocons and the military-industrial complex with ATTACK AND OCCUPY most of the midwest, creating the same type of quagmire we see in Iraq.

Of course, they are not going to be trying to steal the energy resources - the real goal is to JUST KEEP IT OFF THE MARKET to inflate big oil's profits and allow the military-industrial complex (of which big oil is a major component) to loot the federal treasury.

Mark my words - we will be "fighting them in the cornfields over there so we don't have to fight them over here."

Posted by: littlebear on September 28, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Remember “the Freedom to Farm” act. Didn’t last long, farmers (or perhaps more accurately, agribusiness) discovered the last thing they wanted was the freedom to farm. The ultimate absurdity was Terry Nichols, Timothy McVeigh’s partner(and his source for amonium nitrate). He was collecting his farm subsidy checks from the federal government at the same time he was plotting blow it up.

I grew up in a small town where they grow a variety of unsubsidized crops. These people are really struggling to deal with the affects of globalization. Meanwhile farmers who grow subsidized crops (corn, wheat, tobacco until a few years ago) piss and moan and cash their government checks.

Posted by: fafner1 on September 28, 2007 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

(d) this is driving up the price of staple food worldwide,

Kev, I think we could avoid these bad effects if the Dems could be persuaded to pass a bill that would provide free vouchers to farmers that could be spent on campaign contributions to Republicans instead. It's possible they have (little) enough spine and (little) enough brains to do so.

Posted by: Swan on September 28, 2007 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

George Carlin got it right:

Can someone please tell me why farmers are always whining and looking for a handout? If it isn’t a drought or a flood, it’s their bad loans. I was always told farmers were strong, independent people who were too proud to accept help. But sure enough as soon as something goes wrong, they’re looking for the government to bail them out. And they’re the forst ones to complain about city people who live on welfare. F#ck the farmers. They’re worrying about losing their land? It wasn’t their land to begin with, they stole it from the Indians. Let ‘em find out what it geels like to have your land taken away by some square-headed (explitive deleted) who just came over on a boat. They wiped out the bears, the wolves, and the mountain lions; they spoiled the land, poisoned the water table, and they produce tasteless food. Why is it in this capitalistic society all businesses are expected to succeed or fail on their own except farming? Why is that?

Posted by: littlebear on September 28, 2007 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Pimentel has been criticized, appropriately, for using out of date data and unrealistically pessimistic assumptions. Processes are more efficient now than at the time the base data he uses was collected. Pimentel is in error.

Best research shows ethanol comes in with a modestly positive energy balance.

Posted by: x on September 28, 2007 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Of course food prices are up.

Ethanol from corn is a process by which to BURN FOOD in cars:

100 hp car for an hour = 75 kwh = 750 human being's food energy for an hour.

Rough numbers, but still - it's an idiotic idea, with its only merit being it lays bare how excessive and unsustainable our energy consumption is. The biological world cannot support it.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on September 28, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Al sez:

To liberals another disadvantage of ethanol is that it benefits the hard-working farmers of red states. Liberals would like nothing better than to see the extinction of the family farm through death taxes and low grain prices.

No Al, that's not it.
It's a resentment, of blue state farmers, such as orcharders and organic farmers in my home of Massachusetts. They see red state farmers driving John Deere tractors, paid for by subsidies that come out of blue state taxes, while they are forced to drive Kubotas.
And they think "Why are my hard-earned dollars paying for those lazy corn-growers to drive a nice big shiny green tractor, while I work my fingers to the bone and have to drive this little orange foreign thing. It's just not fair."

Posted by: kenga on September 28, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Blame the political inertia required to get things done in this country. It has its positives, and its negatives, but this is certainly a negative. If you want a great alternative energy source, there are several promising alternatives.

Whereas the ratio of the energy output over energy input for corn is a ridiculous 1.3/1, other sources can provide much more than that (sugar-based ethanol can give you eight times the amount of energy put into it). But, you had the political momentum in favor of corn-based ethanol (even when Brazilian methanol was a better alternative), and the solution had to be made market favorable to farm-interests, and we are where we are today.

What will most likely happen is that other sources of energy will be more attractive to buyers on the free market, but with the subsidies granted to farmers, they have no incentive to cut back in a normal market-based environment. Unless the subsidy is repealed, food-inflation will stay or increase at its current pace.

National Geographic compares alternative energy sources

Posted by: Boorring on September 28, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent points, but I am not sure that the US government by subsidizing food crops of US farmers is doing all that much for the third world. Third world farmers have a very difficult time competing against the artificially low prices of subsidized agricultural products from the US. Of course, that farming be a viable livelihood is extremely important for the third world.

Posted by: zed on September 28, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

A useful piece of reference information for this general topic is Dan Morgan's Merchants of Grain. It is by no means an exhaustive look at the grain industry, but it's a good place to start and looks at some corporate practices, and the big players circa 1979. Some things have, of course, changed, but more have stayed the same.

If you want to understand ethanol production (particularly in the USA) and farm bills, you need to understand the game and the players. It's a good book to get started with.

Posted by: kenga on September 28, 2007 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Kev, I think we could avoid these bad effects if the Dems could be persuaded to pass a bill that would provide free vouchers to farmers that could be spent on campaign contributions to Republicans instead. It's possible they have (little) enough spine and (little) enough brains to do so.

Of course, they'd have to repeal the ethanol legislation first, but...

Posted by: Swan, being very tongue in cheek on September 28, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Can anyone think of any other single policy that has as many simultaneous baneful effects? Are we complete morons?

Israel, obviously.

Posted by: lMcBug on September 28, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's incredible how irresponsible the Republicans are. It's like watching something priceless, the existence of which will be key to your continued survival, be destroyed right before your very eyes, and refusing to do anything to save it just so you can preserve credibility that you won't be able to gain through the lack of action you want to undertake-- credibilit you won't really ever be able to use for what you want to use it for anyway.

Posted by: Swan on September 28, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Como brasileiro percebo que esta é uma questão muito importante no mundo aula.

Att,
Marcelo

Posted by: Prof. Barcia on September 28, 2007 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Good post. In regards to your question:

Can anyone think of any other single policy that has as many simultaneous baneful effects?

The answer is simple: Drug Prohibition.

Posted by: thoreau on September 29, 2007 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

Conservative deflator wrote:
"Kind of like their views on patriotism and taxes, too - they crow about how much they love their country, but goddamn it, they aren't willing to pay a nickel in taxes for the privilege of living here...."

Doesn't the fact that those taxes are used to invade Iraq and ruin the environment with ethanol subsidies give you even a moment's pause in boosting the virtue of tax-paying?

Posted by: Nick Danger on September 29, 2007 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

"It's incredible how irresponsible the Republicans are."

That's right. But just you wait! Once the Democrats take over Congress, all this irresponsible business will stop! The day they gain a majority, the Iraq War will cease and ethanol subidies will dry up.

Posted by: Nick Danger on September 29, 2007 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'd rather have our corn going into our gas tanks than in our obese kids...

Posted by: ELMO on September 29, 2007 at 6:12 AM | PERMALINK

“Many people consider the things which government does for them to be social progress, but they consider the things government does for others as socialism” - Earl Warren

“The business of government is to keep the government out of business - that is, unless business needs government aid” - Will Rogers

Posted by: MsNThrope on September 29, 2007 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

The day they gain a majority, the Iraq War will cease and ethanol subidies will dry up.

Republicans have taken to filibustering calls to order.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on September 30, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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