Bowyer: Ethanolics Anonymous

"We came to believe that we were powerless over ethanol, and that our food prices have become unmanageable." That's step 1 in my proposed new 12 step program. Let's face it, America has an ethanol problem, and much of the world, which is (co)dependent on our food production is suffering the consequences. Of course the first step in recovery is admitting we have a problem.

Here's our problem: We're hurting people. That's one of the signs that a behavior pattern is unhealthy, it harms the people who depend on us. Earlier today the Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General on the United Nations, announced that roughly 100 million people might move into the category of chronically deprived of food because of rising food prices. Moon, and others at the UN have particularly pointed at the foolish food policies of the developed world. We pay farmers to turn food into fuel. This means that we have adopted an official policy of burning food in massive quantities in our internal combustion engines. No wonder a loaf of bread costs so much.

How did we get here? By two roads, one Republican and the other Democratic.

The Republican road runs through farm country. God and guns politics have become a key part of the GOP political plan, and that means dependence on farm country. The problem is a lot of those good old fashioned conservative Republicans are basically corporate welfare queens. They extract the ethanol pledge out of every sycophantic office seeker who blows through town and pretends he knows which side of a cow the milk comes out of. With Iowa the first primary in the nation, ethanol lines up first at the pork trough.

Then there's the Dem road. Global warming has become the central apocalyptic tale of the secular left, and minimizing your carbon footprint is its moral imperative. So long as nobody asks any hard questions about how much carbon you have to burn in order to transform grain into ethanol, or land use impact of incentivizing farmers to tear down forests in order to create farms, then the subsidies can flow, and everyone can feel good about themselves and get rich at the same time.

Well, not everyone. Sure the alternative energy venture capitalists on the coasts are doing great, and so is agribusiness. But what about that 100 million that Ki Moon told us about? Well, they're going to starve. That why we have food riots in Malaysia and Mexico. That's why roving bands of thugs are mutilating and murdering their way through the refugee shantytowns of South Africa. That's why fragile governments in places like Ivory Coast fear that their democracies, which are barely holding on as it is, are in danger of collapse.

Our policy is madness. It is a humanitarian disaster worse than all of the floods, tsunamis and cyclones of recent years combined, and worse still is the fact that nature didn't do it we did.

Maybe it's time to move on to Step Two of Ethanolics Anonymous. I believe that we need a higher power to restore us to sanity.



Jerry Bowyer is chief economist at Benchmark Financial Network and makes regular appearances on CNBC. He also writes extensively on finance and history for the National Review, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette,, and The New York Sun. He can be emailed at