Ethanol: Silly Senator, Corn is for Food!


With the summer drought reaching historic proportions, calls to change US ethanol mandates are growing louder. As ReasonTV's Nick Gillespie explained in a 2008 video, the arguments to end ethanol subsidies are numerous. 

Here is the orginal text from the August 12, 2008 video:

Ethanol advocates claim that ethanol 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.


NEXT: The Tour Rolls On

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  1. CNN made me laugh last week when all of talking heads were going on about how terrible the drought is – and Congress isn’t doing anything about it.

    1. Well, if we had a Ministry of Magic…

      1. Always wondered why Congress just doesn’t pass a law prohibiting cancer. It would save a lot of money spent on all this research and stuff.

    2. Meh. Corn prices will go up, and farmers will make roughtly the same amount of money after crop insurance pays them.

  2. Ugh. The ethanol program is a boondoggle, plain and simple. The economics of it are absurdly inefficient, and anyone who knows anything about it knows that. The whole program was put in place to funnel money to political cronies. No one seriously believed it is a cheap, renewable energy source. Ask Brazil. Ask any chemist.

    1. I don’t believe it was “set up” to funnel money to political cronies, but that is what it quickly became.

      It is just stupid people, doing stupid things, based on stupid logic, to secure the votes of other stupid people.

      1. I don’t believe it was “set up” to funnel money to political cronies,

        Wait for it . . .

        Foreseeable consequences are not unintended.

        You’re welcome.

    2. I interned at an ethanol plant during college. I asked my boss whether we would have made a profit without subsidies; he said some years yes, most years no. With subsidies, it was our biggest money maker.

      1. I have a Brazillian friend who designs ethanol plants. every time I see him I ask him…”hey, why do all of your designs include a fuel oil tank? Why cant the plant run on ethanol?”. All of his other friends do the same.

        I think the joke wore out years ago with him, but I just cant help rubbing it in.

        To Francisco – The ethanol boondoggle has been tried a number of times in a number of places, most notably Brazil. The numbers were already known from these past experiences, not to mention any chemist or physicist with 5 mins worth of kinetics can work them out on paper. The people who set this up already knew it wouldnt work. Maybe the first or second time it was tried it was well intended, but here, this time, it was set up exactly for the reason I mentioned.

  3. Corn was the wrong horse to bet for ethanol. If it was switchgrass or even hemp, we could wonder if things would had been different?

    1. If the government had mandated that gasoline contain ethanol made from hemp or switchgrass, or subsidized production, it would also be gay no matter how “well” it would have worked out.

    2. We dont have to wonder. No matter what you are distilling, you have to put more energy in than you get out.

    3. If we used Hemp or switchgrass then corn and other crops would be taken out to grow hemp and switchgrass.

      You would have the same problem of rising food prices.

      1. The idea of hemp and switchgrass is that they can grow on more marginal land than corn can.

        But because of their lignin content they’re not practical for ethanol production.

  4. Based on my limited (to say the least) knowledge of chemistry, the sugar content of the feedstock determines how efficient the process is. That’s why the Brazilians use sugar cane. How many acres of switchgrass would it take to match corn ethanol production levels?

    Just drive a stake through the heart of this scam.

    I’ll be right here holding my breath.

    1. Yes and no. For switchgrass and other cellulostic methods, what matters is how structured the cellulose is (which determines how much access the enzymes that break cellulose into sugar have to it). Cotton would be ideal, wood and grass has to be pre-treated through one of about half-a-dozen methods.

      The Buckeye pulp plant near me has a pilot project for this, but I’m pretty sure that absent a subsidy/tax-break, their more profitable use is turning pulp into vegan sausage skins (no, really!) and pill coatings.

    2. It’s possible to use plants with high cellulose content like switchgrass, but that requires pretty strong and expensive enzymes to break down to sugar. From my understanding, the selling point of switchgrass is that it doesn’t require the inputs that corn does, so that even if it has lower sugar yield, it still may be more profitable.

  5. I don’t believe it was “set up” to funnel money to political cronies

    I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with RC’s Law, but-

    Foreseeable consequences are unforeseeable

    Nobody with any familiarity with how these things work can credibly claim to be surprised.

  6. Goddammit.

    Foreseeable consequences are NOT unforeseeable

    1. Foreseeable consequences are not unintended.

    2. Thankee, Late.

  7. Sloop/Dunphy Have at it.

    Police shoot knife-wielding man near Times Square

    Don’t NYC cops have Tasers?

    1. Holy shit, I saw that. But the report I saw had some seriously different facts.

      Looks like CNN got the official police report and the NBC News story got theirs from eyewitnesses not affiliated with the Blue Wall. Look at the serious differences. CNN says he went at the cops. Eyewitnesses say he ran from them and they chased him and shot him. That’s a HUGE difference, IMO.

      Not sure what happened here, as the fact patterns as presented by two different parties, one with a strong interest in the outcome of the investigation and one from an impartial bystander with no reason to lie or embellish, are veeeeeery different.

      1. The eyewitnesses also identified the knife as a “machete type knife” (NBC) when the picture of the actual knife recovered is pretty much a simple kitchen knife (CNN).

        I tend not to trust eyewitnesses in general anymore. You don’t need an incentive to lie when a human tendency to screw up the facts gets the same result. At any rate, it doesn’t seem unreasonable in general to shoot a guy who is running away brandishing a knife. The fact of ten shots being fired in a crowded area raises some major questions of judgement, though.

        1. In a sane and just world, the man would not have been accosted by police for smoking a harmless weed in an open-air venue. And carrying a knife is a smart way to defend oneself in a city where they make people sitting ducks for gun-toting criminals with their overly restrictive (read: unconstitutional) gun regulations/ban.

          Fuck the NYPD for even approaching this man and putting him and all of the pedestrians in the area at risk.

          1. I don’t disagree with you there, but we have to evaluate everything that happened, not just the very beginning of the incident. We had a person running around a crowded place brandishing a knife. He had shown himself to be stupid enough to smoke weed in public and then pull a knife on the police who hassled him for it. That he should be free to smoke weed or carry a knife doesn’t really enter into it for me.

            There are better examples of brutal police ineptitude out there, including the wrong-door raid in St. Paul last month featured in these very pages two days ago. At least this guy was armed, threatening the police, and actually breaking the law. Pick your battles, I say.

            1. Agreed: once he brandished the knife, if he did, then he put himself in a position for the cops to use force to subdue him.

              I’d say having “a dozen officers surrounding him” pretty well takes his danger to passers-by away, rendering the shooting totally unnecessary.

              They shot and killed him not because of their written motto To Protect and Serve but because of their unwritten one Officer Safety Is Paramount.

              1. “I’d say having “a dozen officers surrounding him” pretty well takes his danger to passers-by away, rendering the shooting totally unnecessary.”

                Possibly, but not necessarily so. If I have a gun and my opponent has a knife, I am not obliged to let him close to striking distance just because he isn’t dangerous to me until he gets close. My gun is only as effective as my ability and willingness to use it. Likewise, the police surrounding him are effective only if they can apply force to subdue him if necessary. If they failed to contain him they no longer seem relevant to the moral question of use of force.

        2. The eyewitnesses also identified the knife as a “machete type knife” (NBC) when the picture of the actual knife recovered is pretty much a simple kitchen knife (CNN).

          To a New Yorker, and knife that doesn’t fold in on itself is a “machete-type knife just as anything that goes “pop” is a “military-style assault weapon.” This happened in the police state of New York City, where any violence in the name of public safety is met with a nod and a sigh. Expect the narrative (based solely on police accounts) on this guy to become even worse as the day and week progresses.

          1. That’s my point. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable whether regarding cops or convicts. I wouldn’t convict a defendant on the basis of an eyewitness alone, so I feel I have to afford the police the same intellectual protection.

            1. Except that the police report which contradicts the eyewitness reports is nothing more than an eyewitness report itself.

              I don’t trust eyewitnesses either. They’re far too unreliable. But to pretend that a police report is anything other than an eyewitness report with full protection of the Blue Wall is folly.

              So if confronted with having to believe your average eyewitness, or a cop who has every incentive to color his/her police report a certain shade of blue, I’m very likely to give the benefit of the doubt to your average eyewitness.

              1. Did I say I believed the cops more by default? No.

      2. Not sure what happened here, as the fact patterns as presented by two different parties, one with a strong interest in the outcome of the investigation and one from an impartial bystander with no reason to lie or embellish, are veeeeeery different.

        Non cop eyewitnesses are notoriously inaccurate, as are cameras.


        1. It really is pretty sad. Troll, troll, troll

          For example, ihace said more thank dozen times that videoing cops is a great benefit because it helps punish bad cops and protect good cops. What benefit does blatantly misrepresenting my position bring? are you interested in real discourse or just erecting strawman.

          I’ve been happy to see there many people here actually interested in honest discussion. Clearly, you are not one of them

    2. “Three officers were treated for ringing in the ears, presumably from the sound of the gunshots.”

      I missed out on some serious sick call time in the army.

      1. I predict weeks of disability leave, and likely at least one on permanent disability.

  8. Some guy possibly smoking marijuana presents an unacceptable danger.
    Summary execution is justified.


  9. From the NYT version (link on “Wherein” thread):

    Mr. Nogver watched as about a dozen police officers finally surrounded the man and shots were fired. “I can’t tell you how many shots,” he said. “It was a lot.”

    The police did not say on Saturday how many shots officers had fired.

    The confrontation began shortly after 3 p.m. on the pedestrian plaza near the Hard Rock Cafe on 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue, in the heart of Times Square.

    Lincoln Rocha, 28, and his wife, Priscilla Rocha, 28, visiting from Brazil, were walking toward Toys “R” Us when they saw three uniformed police officers talking to a man on the sidewalk. Mr. Browne said that two officers initially approached the man because he appeared to be smoking marijuana. When the officers tried to arrest the man, he stuck a marijuana cigarette in his pocket, raised the knife over his head and started to put on a blue bandanna.

    Nice photo of cops waving their guns around with crowded streets/sidewalks as backstop.

    1. We’re they indexing?

  10. Foreseeable consequences are not unintended.

    Right; my quibble is they may not necessarily be “intended” but they were unquestionably not unforeseeable.

    The idiots who wrote the ethanol mandate may not have specifically said, “We should do this so ADM and Cargill make out like bandits!” but they cannot pretend they couldn’t easily anticipate exactly that result.

    1. But the bigger issue here is not ADM and Cargill. It’s the small farmer that relies on the subsidies to get by every year because:
      1: The subsidies increased his property value, thus increasing his tax burden.
      2: He likely purchased new equipment and/or retooled his existing gear to plant the corn he is incentivized to plant.
      3: He likely would lose a year if he left corn and went to another crop. And that would make it tough to keep the farm.

      The big players would scale operations back or move to different crops and get by just fine without the subsidies. The small to midsized farmer, on the other hand is now forced (somewhat self-inflicted) to perpetuate the subsidies or he will lose his farm.

      I know. I deal with people in this position all the time. Not making it easier is the easy grant money the California regional air quality boards are giving people to get rid of older but perfectly usable and paid-for equipment and replace it with newer, unpaid-for equipment that is only marginally more productive but much more expensive to maintain.

      Farmers saw the $$$ and they went for it, not realizing the strings that were attached to it were really a leash.

      1. I agree that the small guy is the one who will bear the brunt of the hurt, but they deserve everything they get for getting in to bed with government in the first place.

        They could have chosen to farm peas or food corn or whatever the fuck, but they chose ethanol corn strictly because of the subsidies. Now they have to live with those choices.

        Fuck ’em.

        1. Just another example of: If you get into bed with government, expect to get fucked.

          1. It’s all very well to say this, but the government seldom gives you a lot of choice.

    2. It’s just that “Foreseeable consequences are not unforeseeable” is a meaningless tautology.

    3. my quibble is they may not necessarily be “intended” but they were unquestionably not unforeseeable.

      You intend that all the foreseeable results of your action come to pass. Ergo, for purposes of assigning responsibility, “foreseeable” and “intended” are synonymous.

  11. If corn ethanol was a economical energy source then why don’t the farmers, truckers/railroads and distillers use it for powering their operations? From what I have read they use either diesel or natural gas. If corn ethanol was cost effective they would be first in line to shift their energy use to it since they would save on the cost of transporting the fuel since they make it locally.

    1. A lot of gasoline fueled farm equipment in use was manufactured before ethanol containing gasoline came into use. Using it can damage older equipment.

      Precautions/Tips For Use of E10 Gas

  12. Two Border Patrol agents accused of making out at a Cirque de Soleil concert, assaulting a woman who complained:

    1. Concert, or whatever they call what the Cirque de Soleil does.

      1. The woman witness (who later got a protective order against the agents) claims “Torello *gave a nearby child a high-five* as he continued his sexual intimacy with Helwig.” [emphasis added]

      2. I was once voted the worst audience participant Cirque de Sole ever had. I did not find their buffonery amusing.

        1. You went to the wrong Cirque de Soleil.

          Zoomanity is what you want.

  13. “Foreseeable consequences are not unforeseeable” is a meaningless tautology.

    Except when some Congressman claims those easily foreseeable consequences took him completely by surprise.

  14. Welcome to the future. Courtesy of Wikileaks:

    Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence. It’s part of a program called TrapWire and it’s the brainchild of the Abraxas, a Northern Virginia company staffed with elite from America’s intelligence community.

    The employee roster at Arbaxas reads like a who’s who of agents once with the Pentagon, CIA and other government entities according to their public LinkedIn profiles, and the corporation’s ties are assumed to go deeper than even documented. The details on Abraxas and, to an even greater extent TrapWire, are scarce, however, and not without reason. For a program touted as a tool to thwart terrorism and monitor activity meant to be under wraps, its understandable that Abraxas would want the program’s public presence to be relatively limited. But thanks to last year’s hack of the Strategic Forecasting intelligence agency, or Stratfor, all of that is quickly changing.”

    1. So: those spooky new “circular” dark globe cameras installed in your neighborhood park, town, or city?they aren’t just passively monitoring. They’re plugged into Trapwire and they are potentially monitoring every single person via facial recognition.

      In related news, the Obama administration is fighting in federal court this week for the ability to imprison American citizens under NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions?and anyone else?without charge or trial, on suspicion alone.

      So we have a widespread network of surveillance cameras across America monitoring us and reporting suspicious activity back to a centralized analysis center, mixed in with the ability to imprison people via military force on the basis of suspicious activity alone. I don’t see how that could possibly go wrong. Nope, not at all. We all know the government, and algorithmic computer programs, never make mistakes.

      I love that a few guys who live in a fucking mud hut in some shit hole valley in a shit hole 3rd world country has spawned the likes of TrapWire. The total surveillance and security state is an abomination on freedom.

      I’m not sure how our experiment in “Government Over All” ends, but I can be reasonably it ain’t pretty. I don’t know when, but we cannot keep going in this direction without some becoming violent. And yet there are those who feel that the actions of the government will bear no blame.

      1. And if the frequency of missing police dash cam footage is any indicator, the only thing they won’t monitor is the actions of their own armed agents.

      2. If shit like TrapWire exists, then shit like this will eventually lead to exactly the conclusion it deserves. The sooner the better.

  15. I demand MORE ethanol. Gaia requires Her libations.

    1. Does dumping my used motor oil into the ground count?

      1. Dude, don’t do that. Yeah, some of the things environmentalists bitch about are good for Gaia but not much else, like “saving” water from the indignity of being used to wash my car, but polluting groundwater is, in some cases at least, directly harmful to us humans.

      2. My dad used to have me dump oil on the ground to kill weeds.

  16. Just for the sake of argument… Given that the passage of laws subsidizing and mandating the use of ethanol resulted in (easily foreseeable) higher food prices and therefore third-world starvation, to what extent are the legislators who passed those laws morally responsible for the deaths?

    1. They meant well, so… it’s Bush’s fault.

  17. “Corn is for food!”

    As if!


    1. /Paleo

      Pretty sure the native Americans who developed used stone age technology.

    2. Plus the meat you eat is all corn feed.

      So it is food for the food you eat.

      Corn is food squared.

      1. Not the meat I eat – not the mammals, anyway.

      2. As someone who does not have “corn” in my last name, I defer to you.

  18. to what extent are the legislators who passed those laws morally responsible for the deaths?

    Let them eat cake.

  19. Meanwhile, down at the Church of the Neverending Handouts

    The burden placed on American athletes, whose families must foot the bill themselves for more than a decade of expensive training, is in stark contrast to that of the world’s other Olympic powerhouse. China, the only country topping the U.S. in the medal count, boasts a government-backed national sports program, churning out gold medalists with dizzying success over the past two decades?all on the government’s dime.

    As the financial struggles of the Lochte and Douglas clans make headlines, one can’t help but wonder if the U.S. should follow suit and pony up the cash for the training of its own Olympic stars.

    Because girls who jump around waving streamers should be on the government payroll.

    1. And they even got the basic facts wrong. The US CREAMED China (and everyone else) in both the total medal count and the gold medal count.

      What the fuck is it with leftists making claims that are easily refuted by a simple fucking google search?

  20. I moved to northern Virginia a few weeks ago, and I’ve seen two gas stations with signs advertising “100% gasoline; No ethanol.” So I’m curious: is that gas station breaking the law and hasn’t been caught, or is Virginia somehow exempt from ethanol requirements, or what?

    1. Forget the legalities. That’s for the stations to worry about (though I think they’re just fine as there are thousands of gas stations nationwide that sell real gas – just go to and see for yourself).

      Do yourself a favor and buy the fuck out of it. Your gas mileage will improve dramatically. The thing about ethanol is that not only is it financially not feasible, but it fucking sucks as a fuel. Your average gas will have ~10% ethanol in it, yet, for one fucking reason or another, you lose more than ~10% in gas mileage when using it in comparison to 100% gas. Buy real gas, and enjoy the savings at the pump. Your engine will like it better too, especially if you have an older car.

  21. Actually, it’s a beverage. Bourbon ftw!

  22. Corn is for whatever the market decides it is for.

  23. Corn futures are very fun to trade.

  24. assume the guy ran for. The cops a d not at them. Could they still justifiably shoot him? Assuming they had reason to believe he presented a danger to bystanders, no problem

    One thing is clear. Cops were patient as fuck. All reports show he was followed by them for blocks, he had ample opportunity to drop it, and IMO its far more likely than not it was justified.

    And it’s also likely considering where it happened, that one or more people will have it on video, which would be optimal.

    Start with Tennessee versus garner

  25. Dude seems to know exactly what he is talking about. Wow.

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