A Time To Break Silence

David Freddoso and Deroy Murdock have each won my “Too Stupid To Get Out of Bed” award.

Freddoso sheds crocodile tears over Murdock’s NRO Online article, which credits the federal ethanol program with causing global food riots and massive hunger, starvation, and misery.

Developing-world denizens are taking it to the streets with growling stomachs. In Bob Marley’s words, “A hungry man is an angry man.”

Climbing corn prices have ignited Mexican tortilla riots. Enraged citizens in Egypt and Pakistan — potential Muslim powder kegs — have also violently protested premium prices for basic staples. Similar instability has erupted from the Ivory Coast to Indonesia. Resurrecting the defeated “import substitution” model of yore, India and Vietnam are among the nations that lately have prohibited grain exports and imposed government price controls. Kazakhstan, Earth’s No. 5 wheat source, just halted wheat exports, hoping to hoard local supplies. One third of the global wheat market is now closed.

High oil prices and growing global food demand fan these flames, but government lit the match. Atop the European Union’s biofuels mandate (5.75 percent of gasoline and diesel by 2010; 10 percent expected in 2020), America’s 51-cent-per-gallon ethanol tax subsidy (2007 cost: $8 billion) and Congress’ 7.5-billion-gallon annual production quota (rising to 36 billion in 2022, including 15 billion from corn) have turned corn farms into cash cows. Diverting one quarter of U.S. corn to motors rather than to mouths has boosted prices 74 percent in a year.

Eager to ride the ethanol gravy train, wheat and soybean farmers increasingly switch to corn. Thus, hard wheat is up 86 percent, while soybeans cost 93 percent more. Since April 15, 2007, pricier, grain-based animal feed (which consumed 40 percent of 2007’s 13 billion bushel U.S. corn crop) has helped hike eggs 46 percent. Got milk? You paid 26 percent more. Conversely, meat prices have dropped, as farmers slaughter animals rather than pay so much to feed them. (For details, click here.)

All this has triggered a race to the top of the grain silo. On April 9, “the World Bank estimated global food prices have risen 83 percent over the past three years, threatening recent strides in poverty reduction,” the Wall Street Journal noted the next day. “As crops are sold for alternative-energy production, food prices have soared: The price of rice, the staple for billions of Asians, is up 147 percent over the past year.”

Now, I am not particularly knowledgeable about biofuels and their effect on food availability. It’s certainly possible that production methods used to create ethanol for cars are partially responsible for reducing the supply of grain for human consumption. However, to single out government-mandated ethanol production as the salient factor behind the global food crisis while ignoring skyrocketing oil prices, increasingly meat-centric diets in Asia, and the deleterious effect of global warming on world agricultural production, is quite disingenuous.

Freddoso, declaring this to be “just such a devastating and sad story that it cannot be repeated too often,” darkly predicts:

The way things are going, this could become the worst chapter yet in the sad, ruinous history of our bipartisan agricultural welfare programs. For those who write in and protest that free-market capitalism is an uncompassionate, un-Christian economic system, I submit that you are currently witnessing the alternative.

and then adds (emphasis mine):

A simple repeal of the ethanol mandate would cost nothing, and it would benefit everyone everywhere except for a farm lobby that is currently profiting from the kind of human suffering that most Americans have never experienced.

Such cant, such shameless dishonesty, is hard to bear. Oh, if only David Freddoso and all the other sanctimonious, empty-hearted hypocrites just like him on the right could see the irony in condemning the farm lobby for profiting from human suffering!

A very famous man widely admired for his compassion and his soaring, eloquent use of the English language, gave a speech about war and the profit motive. It’s not as well-known as some of his other speeches, although it should be:

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

11 Responses to “A Time To Break Silence”

  1. Mark Gibson says:

    If Freddoso is so stupid, where is your evidence that he is wrong? You yourself admit you don’t know much about biofuels & thier effect on food availability. The law of supply & demand is fairly simple, and the effects of converting large swatches of land to energy production are both easy to grasp & historically available for analysis.

    The so called Food Revolution that made food so cheap this past century owed its provenence to two things: one, increasingly industrialized produciton of food on factory farms (the introduction of mechanical harvesters, modern food preservation, transportation, etc.). The second big impactor was that millions of acres of farmland that had previously been reserved for production of energy (by growing wheat & oats for horses) was suddenly available for the production of food, as a petroleum economy replaced the previous solar economy. Voila – food got very cheap.

    Now we have decided to go back 100 years & start converting food production plots to energy production, all over again. Naturally, food is getting more expensive. One need not have a PhD in economics to see the effects, and all of this was predicted. And it’s only going to get worse.

    The problem I have with most leftists is that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is just evil, and anyone who understands market economies better than they is not only evil but stupid. I submit that you have just embarrassed yourself in front of the world & you’re too blinkered to realize it. You owe Freddoso an apology. A lot of us took math & economics courses in college – and paid attention instead of doing beer bongs on the quad.

    Perhaps you should try it sometime.

  2. MW says:

    Yes, MLK is admired for his soaring rhetoric and compassion, and also for his civil rights protests. MLK is most certainly NOT admired (except perhaps on the left) for anything close to wisdom on economic or foreign policy issues. The vast majority of Americans disagree with his characterization of the American government as terrorist.

    That MLK thought “investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America” had a negative impact on poor people is nothing short of insane. Anyone who thinks economic development is bad for poor people is simply blind.

  3. Chief says:

    This is a case of David Freddoso and Deroy Murdock being a little bit right, but mostly wrong and Mark Gibson not being able to see the forest for the trees. U.S. Rice production is, and has been for at least the last 8 years, right at 3 million acres per year. That certainly is not causing the rice shortage in the Sacramento, CA area.

    Ethanol production in the U.S. certainly is diverting some corn from animal feed into energy. But not nearly enough to cause a “world wide” shortage of human food.

    Explanation: If humans consume it, it is called “food.” If cows, pigs or even dogs consume it, it is called “feed.”

    And the ‘farm lobby’ while not as strong as it used to be certainly is for anything that will increase profits for its members. But American farmers are not profiting from the kind of human suffering that most Americans have never experienced. Because what ever food shortage there may be, and as bad a policy as ethanol production may be, it is not caused by the diverting of American corn to ethanol production. It is just too small an amount of grain to have that large effect on the food supply.

  4. Tom G says:

    This year, thanks to the ethenol mandate, about 30% of the US grain crop will be diverted into ethenol production. By 2012, that figure will climb to about 50% of current production. These figures speak for themselves. The etheol mandate is an unmitigated policy disaster–and another splendid demonstration of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

  5. Rick says:

    Your link for “the deleterious effect of global warming on world agricultural production” is incorrectly formatted. Moreover, once fixed, the article refers to what might happen due to projected global warming in 2080!

    A projection about what may happen in 2080 has nothing to do with the price of rice today.

    And you call Freddoso disingenuous?

  6. Knemon says:

    Any response to his response?

  7. Kathy says:

    This will be my one and only response to the Deep Thinkers on the right who have commented on my post about ethanol production and the food crisis.

    1. Mark Gibson writes, “You yourself admit you don’t know much about biofuels & thier effect on food availability.”

    Yes, and I also said, right after that, “It’s certainly possible that production methods used to create ethanol for cars are partially responsible for reducing the supply of grain for human consumption. However, to single out government-mandated ethanol production as the salient factor behind the global food crisis while ignoring skyrocketing oil prices, increasingly meat-centric diets in Asia, and the deleterious effect of global warming on world agricultural production, is quite disingenuous.”

    Somehow, you forgot to mention or address those additional points. But I understand. We all have imperfect memories.

    Mark Gibson wrote, “The problem I have with most leftists is that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is just evil, and anyone who understands market economies better than they is not only evil but stupid.”

    Okay, but I must point out one tiny detail: You have not demonstrated that you understand market economies better than I do. You have demonstrated only that you are a fervent ideological proponent of free market economies — that is not the same as “understanding it better.” Ideology is not necessarily rooted in genuine understanding, or in truth, or in facts.

    I understand free market economies quite well, mostly because I live in one and am quite knowledgeable about how it functions, and who does or does not thrive in an unregulated, unfettered, uncontrolled free market economy. If you need further proof, ask any of the Katrina survivors who lost their housing when it was torn down to allow wealthy real-estate developers and building contractors to build, shall we say, housing intended for a more *profit-yielding* demographic. Any economic system, carried to an extreme, is harmful — just as most things, when carried to an extreme, are harmful. That’s why, as much as capitalistic free-market economies have many advantages, you need government intervention to ameliorate the injustices and even evils that unfettered, unregulated, uncontrolled capitalism can lead to.

    So, sorry, no apologies here.

    Oh, and btw, since I don’t drink beer, never have, I have no idea what “beer bongs” are. You obviously do, which means you must have spent at least *some* of your time doing them on the quad instead of sitting in math and economics classes.

    2. Rick writes, “Your link for “the deleterious effect of global warming on world agricultural production” is incorrectly formatted. Moreover, once fixed, the article refers to what might happen due to projected global warming in 2080!

    A projection about what may happen in 2080 has nothing to do with the price of rice today.”

    I have fixed the link, and I thank you for pointing it out.

    As for your statement that possible consequences of global warming in 2080 have nothing to do with food shortages now, you are wrong. Experts would not be predicting declines in agricultural productivity of up to 40% within this century if the conditions that could lead to that result were not starting to happen now. These things don’t happen overnight, you know. If you don’t want serious declines in food supply 70 years from now, the causes of that possible future have to be addressed NOW.

    The second paragraph of the article states that average temperatures in some developing countries are already at or above crop tolerance levels — right NOW. Those rising temperatures are caused by global warming, and if the causes of that climate change continue to go unaddressed, then one can logically conclude that 70 years from now (much less than the average lifespan for babies being born today) widespread crop failures will be the order of the day.

    “And you call Freddoso disingenuous?”

    Yes, I do — and now I am also calling YOU disingenuous.

  8. Tom G says:

    Straw men chasing red herrings all over the place. Typical.

    Freddoso didn’t single out the ethenol mandate as the single cause of skyrocketing food prices. He did say that it’s a strong contributing factor and one that, unlike the weather, is the direct result of bone-headed policy choices. Yet here we have a good little progressive who, faced with the horrific real-world consequences of activist, problem-solving government, takes refuge in the global warming myth! And even if the worst prediction of the climit crisis cultists were correct, they would not explain why food prices have tripled over the past three years. Far from declining, agricultural production continues to rise, but with a large and growing fraction of it being diverted for biofuel production. In Brazil, the rainforest is being cleared at a prodigious rate, so as to provide more land for crops. Why? because of Brazil’s own biofuels mandate.

    It seems never to have occured to biofuels fans that their pet project would have major environmental consequences. Agricultural production on the scale necessary to produce crops for biofuels requires lots and lots of land, lots and lots of water, lots and lots of chemical fertilizer and above all, lots and lots of energy. Yet when someone who happens to be a conservative points out the obvious–that biofuels take food out of peoples’ mouths and burn it up–progressives like Kathy attack the messenger. This would be very funny indeed if people weren’t going hungry right now because of it.

  9. Bunny Boy says:

    So, you hand out the prestigious “Too Stupid to Get Out of Bed” award, only to follow up with, “Now, I am not particularly knowledgeable about biofuels and their effect on food availability.” Not exactly the kind of start that screams “keep writing,” though in fairness, the rest of the piece made your declaration absolutely unnecessary.

    As was stated in an earlier comment, Freddoso and Murdock never said biofuels were the sole cause for food shortages. Only that it is a foolish policy that could end quickly if DC wanted it to. Sorta like the ban on ANWAR/offshore drilling which prevents the development of needed production capacity to mitigate the fuel crunch that is also contributing to higher food prices. Seems like bad things tend to happen when you merge the energy and food markets. But of course, why discuss that when there are so many other items more applicable to food prices, such a MLK’s tragic ignorance of foreign investment or a link to “warisaracket.com”?

    In your response you wrote, “Experts would not be predicting declines in agricultural productivity of up to 40% within this century if the conditions that could lead to that result were not starting to happen now.”

    Could lead to that result, and even if you accept this particular study’s findings as a certainty, you failed to show causation between climate change, man made or otherwise, and declines in agricultural productivity today.

    You continued, “The second paragraph of the article states that average temperatures in some developing countries are already at or above crop tolerance levels — right NOW. Those rising temperatures are caused by global warming…”

    First of all, it didn’t say “at or above.” It said “near or above.” Second, which countries are we talking about? I mean, it’s bad enough you misquote the article and have no data relevant to current agricultural production, but you don’t even have a good anecdote. Personally, I don’t tend to think of developing countries as the breadbasket of the world anyhow. The main weather event impacting food prices is the Australian drought. And while we may look down our noses at those humble hayseeds down under, I would hardly call Australia part of the developing world. I think the appropriate thing to do in this situation is admit you linked that article in haste, not really knowing that it isn’t applicable to the current crisis.

    Earlier in your response you wrote, “I understand free market economies quite well, mostly because I live in one and am quite knowledgeable about how it functions, and who does or does not thrive in an unregulated, unfettered, uncontrolled free market economy. If you need further proof…”

    Hold on. Unregulated, unfettered, and uncontrolled? Where the hell is this place you speak of and how do I get there? I mean, for Christ’s sake, the reason Freddoso and Murdoch wrote what they did is specifically because we do not have anything resembling a free market when it comes to food, and because government intervention is what has given us this food-to-fuel disaster. We even have a whole cabinet level department dedicated to agriculture. What do you think those people do all day? Between countless ag subsidies, tariffs on imported sugar, federal and state restrictions on corporate farming, the Vermont dairy racket, and biofuels, how could a reasonable person imply we have anything resembling an unregulated atmosphere? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg on the domestic side. The rest of the world is worse (see Europe and GMO). Bottom line: If not for subsidies, we are not growing corn for fuel.

    There is probably more regulation on the energy side of things. Cabinet level department, ethanol mandates, drilling bans, keeping Grand Staircase-Escalante and its billions of tons of coal off limits, tax breaks for worthless wind and solar projects, an effective ban on nuclear plant construction, gasoline formulation requirements, clean diesel mandates, and now talks of windfall profits taxes and carbon cap-and-trade (by all 3 presidential candidates). I’m sorry but the energy market is probably among the least free, domestically and worldwide.

    Next time you feel the need to mock some daft right-wingers despite your own admitted lack of knowledge on the subject, it would be wise to step back from the keyboard and keep your arguments to yourself.

  10. Chief says:

    Part of the idea is that we need to leave Mother Earth in as good a shape as possible when we hand it off to the next generation. Gas-guzzling SUVs need to be outlawed, with no compensation for anyone stupid enough to buy one. My Ford Focus isn’t perfect, but it is getting right at 30 mpg.

    And as far as ANWAR is concerned, The environment in Alaska is far to precious to screw it up just for a little oil. Ride a bike. Live closer to work and walk to work every day.

    And while the author of the post, Kathy, admits she doesn’t know much about the subject, I do know a fair amount about it. From an ‘energy’ standpoint, ethanol is a horrible idea. Depending on what so called expert you read, the energy gain is very small, if at all. But ethanol has nothing to do with some sort of government regulation in order to level the playing field. In the last 7 plus years the so-called middle class has been taking it on the chin while the super rich get tax-cuts.

    Kathy said it far better than I. So well that it is worth repeating, “That’s why, as much as capitalistic free-market economies have many advantages, you need government intervention to ameliorate the injustices and even evils that unfettered, unregulated, uncontrolled capitalism can lead to.”

  11. Dynamic says:

    I’ll agree that last line is over the top, but I’m inclined to agree that using food to power our cars is hardly sound policy for the future – and the damage all hangs together.

    You’re absolutely right that it’s not the single salient factor — but it cannot be overlooked for the damage it’s doing, both in real terms and in terms of our image to the world (already damaged from Bushco, and now we’re burning their food to power our cars, hardly good marketing if nothing else).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook