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Now Playing at Reason.tv: Ethanol—Silly Senator, Corn Is For Food!


Ethanol advocates claim that the biofuel is a cheap, renewable energy source that reduces pollution and our dependence on foreign oil. It sounds too good to be true—and it is.

Ethanol, especially the corn-based variety, is bad for taxpayers, bad for consumers, bad for the environment, and horrible for the world's poor. In fact, even environmentalists are critical of ethanol subsidies these days. The ethanol craze has distorted markets and increased the price of food worldwide. The only people who still support ethanol subsidies are the ethanol producers—and politicians from both sides of the aisle. Together, they make sure the subsidies keep coming.

In a recent interview about the current food crisis, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "If part of our problem is that the Chinese are going to eat meat and you've got to have corn and soybeans to feed the Chinese their meat, then why isn't it just as legitimate for the Chinese to go back and eat rice as it is for us to change our policy on corn to ethanol?"

Let them eat rice? So that American taxpayers can continue to pay people to turn corn into fuel?

Silly senator, corn is for food.

This seven-and-a-half-minute video explores the case against ethanol subsidies. Hosted by reason's Nick Gillespie and featuring Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, it was produced by Paul Feine and PF Bentley.

Click below to view.

For HD and iPod-friendly versions, or to embed this video on your website, go here.

For an audio podcast version, go here.

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  1. The only thing ethanol does efficiently is give you a hangover. 🙂

  2. It's embarrassing enough that Charles Grassley is an American. The fact that he's an actual senator boggles the mind. It wouldn't be so bad if the Senate was the American equivalent of the House of Lords. In that chamber, the residents are expected to be senile fops.

  3. Sorry to be a copy Nazi, but Em Dashes are for parenthetical thoughts, not pauses.

    Em Dash Rules Here.

  4. LOL, I agree, corn is for FOOD. I am getting sick of the skyrocketing prices of food in the grocery store. Enough is enough.


  5. I must agree with Taktix?. I am grammatically jarred.

    I always wondered why Trix was advertised as "Trix are for kids!" In one sentence, Trix willingly surrendered the coveted adult population and the less coveted rabbit demographic.

  6. Em Dashes are for parenthetical thoughts, not pauses.

    Blogs have rules? When did this happen?

  7. ed,

    Senator Grassley also owns a farm & has collected farm subsidies while being in the Senate. He also helps write the farm bills that he financially benefits from.

  8. You grammar Nazis will love this:


  9. I'm all for hemp-based ethanol. And free kitties for everyone!

    (Sadly, I think the kitties idea is less-fantasy based.)

  10. Senator Grassley has said in the past he wants to stay in the Senate till he dies. He's extremely popular in Iowa so he probably will.

  11. Herb,

    That sounds like my wife's plan to end terrorism. Just give all the terrorists a golden retriever puppy and they'll all be a lot less angry. Problem solved for a fraction of the cost of invading Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Silly senator, corn is for food.

    Corn is a commodity. It is only a lack of imagination that relegates it to food. And with oil prices at $113/bbl, it might even make sense to turn it into fuel. Of course, given my heating bill last year and the waste of turning corn into EtOH (40% energy wasted in fermentation! (applies to any fermentation, really, even sugar cane)), I think it would make more sense to pour it into corn stoves.

  12. Yeah, but if you read it as a hyphen instead of an em-dash, it becomes "Ethanol-Silly Senator".

    Which is eminently reasonable.

  13. New World Dan: If there was an innovative, efficient, and low-cost way to use it as energy I'd be all for private entrepeneurship and investments in corn fuel too. But yeah - right now the downsides to ethanol fuel outweigh the positives.

  14. New World Dan,

    Most Muslims consider dogs to be unspeakably filthy creatures, so kittens might be a better idea.

  15. By the way, this Iowa Senator has crossed over party lines to support Obama.

    Wonder if it has anything to do with Obama's huge support of government-coerced ethanol usage in cars and subsidies to automakers to put ethanol tanks in all models?

  16. I think I read a quote some here on H&R from Sen. Dole about how there are a lot of farmers out there, so forget getting rid of the ethanol subsidy. Super. This is why I put forth the idea that if you take my money you don't get to vote. Maybe that way we can stop the beast. It's a dream anyway.

    Anyway, the price of x going up isn't the point. It's my money and you can't have it to put corn in my gas.

  17. Just give all the terrorists a golden retriever puppy and they'll all be a lot less angry.

    You know the old saying - give a man a hunting dog, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to hunt, and you feed him for a lifetime.

  18. Most Muslims consider dogs to be unspeakably filthy creatures, so kittens might be a better idea.

    Indeed. Muhammad had a cat named Muezza. He loved it so much that if it fell asleep on his lap while he was teaching, he wouldn't get up after the lesson was over until it woke on its own.

    Or so the story goes.

  19. That explains everything. Jews and Christians are fundamentally dog people; Muslims are cat people. Like Nastassja Kinski, only not always as attractive.

  20. Jews and Christians are fundamentally dog people

    Most Jews I've know have been cat people. I find that southerners are fundamentally dog people by a strong margin. I'm also not aware of anything in the Koran that explicitly condems dogs. In much the same way, I suppose, that it doesn't mandate women wear a burqa. Just that they dress in a modest fashion.

    Back to topic here, does anyone have any data on how much energy it takes to distill ethanol? Preferable in the context of BTU/gallon (or Joules/liter), and what the starting concentration is (ie, 8%). I've searched all over and can't find any meaningful info on what it really costs to purify ethanol on an industrial scale.

  21. New World Dan,

    Clearly, you are mistaken. Those "Jews" were actually Muslims. A common mistake.

  22. A different and interesting view on ethanol:

    Allegedly, corn ethanol and food supply can coexist or something.

  23. also allegedly, we have bumper crops in the US of corn we cant sell; and the high prices are due to market manipulations.

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