The Corner

Sugar and Ethanol

From a reader:

I thought it was interesting to see both the Roger Cohen article and the NRO article published on the same day. I am surprised that there has not been more talk about the differences and the similarities of the article. Is there an argument for sugar based ethanol?

Cohen argues that even if corn ethanol is bad, not all biofuels are bad.

The real scam lies in developed world protectionism and skewed subsidies, not the biofuel idea.

He’s probably right, but we’ll never find out. By all accounts, sugar-based ethanol makes much more sense. The problem is that our sugar industry has even better lobbyists than big ethanol. They enjoy price supports, which we pay for both through the Treasury and in the supermarket. The price of our sugar is usually twice that of the world market. The sugar growers love it — even if they cannot sell all of their sugar, they have a guaranteed government buyer at an inflated price. The corn growers love it too, because high U.S. sugar prices push our food industries to use high-fructose corn syrup (ever seen that on a product label?) as an alternative sweetener — yet another artificial support for the world price of corn.

Even if we want ethanol, we can’t solve the problem by importing sugar, because there are tariffs in place. We can’t import the ethanol itself because there’s a high tariff against that, too. Wherever you turn, there’s no way out — Americans don’t enjoy economic freedom, we live in a managed economy.

It makes me especially proud of my country when I see Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) call foreign delegates’ concerns over a potential doubling of world hunger “a joke” and then add a non-sequitur like this one:

“You make ethanol out of corn,” he said. “I bet if I set a bushel of corn in front of any of those delegates, not one of them would eat it.”

It probably depends on how he prepares the corn. I bet they’d like corn-on-the-cob with lots of butter on it. Mmmm…that sounds really good right now.

I should add that even though there are obviously many things driving the high price of food, our ethanol policy is a huge part of it, and it’s the one thing we can actually do something about (it is also driving a lot of the hoarding and export bans that make the problem even worse).

Where liberals look at a problem and say, “What can government do about this?”, conservatives serve society by asking an even more fundamental question: “What is government already doing to create this problem or to make it worse?”