Politics & Policy

Uncle Stupid’s Sugar Buzz

Big Sugar’s legal thievery

Twenty-three years ago, Pepe Fanjul went to the Dominican Republic on business and stayed for love. “I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a house in the Caribbean, a very airy, outdoor atmosphere — not busy — with ocean views from every window and lots of grass and greens, since my wife is an expert gardener. We didn’t want a marble palace; nothing formal like our New York apartment or even my ranch, just something that fit the area, a Caribbean feel — Bali Caribbean, if you will.” . . . Today, while the family shows up for Christmas, New Year’s, and a couple of weeks in February and April, the Fanjul boys land on the property’s heliport for board meetings, though “working in paradise,” laughs Pepe Fanjul, “is harder than working in your office.”

— Architectural Digest, December 2007

If ever Providence and the book-buying public should see fit to give me an absurd amount of money, I would no doubt present both a moral and a physical danger to myself and others, becoming exactly the kind of unthinking jerk who worries that the Caribbean mansion he helicopters into for New Year’s might be as distressingly stuffy as his heavily marbled Manhattan home or his ranch. Bugatti would have a banner year, to be sure. But even I would be embarrassed to be an American sugar mogul on the Pepe Fanjul model. It’s not the ostentation; it’s the welfare.

The Fanjul family is a major player in the U.S. sugar industry, which is poised to hand taxpayers a bill for $80 million this year, on top of the $3.5 billion a year they skim from consumers in the form of artificially higher prices.

Agricultural output is very high just at the moment (two cheers for global warming!) with a record corn crop on the way and an abundant harvest of sugar cane and sugar beets coming down the pike. Throughout most of human civilization, an unusually strong harvest was a cause of celebration, an occasion for sacrificing a goat or a virgin or a mortal enemy to whatever rustic deity was believed to be in charge of such matters. For us, it means making a sacrifice, too: to a bunch of gazillionaires who own sugar companies.

It works like this: As I have argued here before, the United States does not have a government — it has a bank, and a very poorly run bank at that. The Bank of Uncle Stupid last year lent the nation’s poor, struggling sugar barons $862 million in order to improve their positively Dickensian conditions. With the fat harvest coming in, sugar prices are going down — and the public must, at all costs, be protected from low prices. If sugar prices take just another tiny little tick in a southerly direction, then an unusual provision built into the sugar barons’ loan agreements with the federal government kicks in: They don’t have to repay their loans in cash — they can repay them in raw sugar.

Try that with MasterCard one of these days and see where it gets you.

So the Bank of Uncle Stupid ends up having to take in a few hundred thousand tons of sugar in lieu of cash payment of those loans, which presents a unique set of problems, such as the need to acquire the world’s largest Wedgwood sugar bowl or to brew the world’s largest pot of coffee. Cue Darth Vader music and enter the ethanol bastards, the worst and most rapacious gang of perfectly legal thieves roaming the land. There is no government activity that the ethanol lobby is not scheming to get a piece of. National security? We need ethanol for “energy independence.” Economic stimulus? Nothing stimulates like ethanol. Literal B.S.? Ethanol has you covered when it comes to actual bovine by-product. So, instead of all that sugar being piled up in the Treasury or piled up to form an artificial ski slope on the National Mall, these ethanol creeps get to buy it at a steep discount, imposing a loss of $80 million to $160 million on the taxpayers in order to help keep billionaire corn-juice peddlers practicing their back-strokes in gigantic vats of Champagne while Pepe Fanjul shows off his helipad to Architectural Digest and builds himself a private island made entirely of hundred-dollar bills looted from suckers like us.

Bonus: This is a “temporary” program from the Great Depression.

Needless to say, your traditional brain-dead Chamber of Commerce–type useless Republican clock-puncher loves this stuff. So does Marco Rubio. If the so-called party of free enterprise cannot figure out a way to run against this kind of pillaging, then they do not deserve to win.

 Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.

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