Free Markets, Free People
And if you need an example of why you should always rely on government to get it right, well, just consider the latest concerning the mandated use of
food ethanol for fuel:
The AAA says the Environmental Protection Agency and gasoline retailers should halt the sale of E15, a new ethanol blend that could damage millions of vehicles and void car warranties.
AAA, which issued its warning today, says just 12 million of more than 240 million cars, trucks and SUVs now in use have manufacturers’ approval for E15. Flex-fuel vehicles, 2012 and newer General Motors vehicles, 2013 Fords and 2001 and later model Porsches are the exceptions, according to AAA, the nation’s largest motorist group, with 53.5 million members.
“It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle,” AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet tells USA TODAY. “Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers.”
Hey look buddy, the ideological agenda waits on no one and if you’re among those driving the 228 million “other” vehicles, tough nuts.
The government has said 15%. Nuff said.
BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and VW said their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by E15. Ford, Honda, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo said E15 use will void warranties, says Darbelnet, citing potential corrosive damage to fuel lines, gaskets and other engine components.
Gee, I wonder if anyone will question the “fairness” of this.
Anyone doubt who will pick up the tab for this, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer?
The fixation of government on “alternate fuels” and its use of taxpayer money to subsidize some of them is, at least in one case, having a very negative effect on markets. Again we have government market intrusion to hold responsible for rising food prices in an era of high unemployment and economic turmoil.
Again, this is Econ 101 stuff. For a government so full of experts who feel they have the right (based one assumes, in their superior intellect … or something) to decide what we should be using for fuel rather than letting markets decide, they sure have screwed this one up.
Corn is a major food crop. And, for the most part, markets have kept corn relatively cheap and plentiful. Enter government and the mandate that ethanol be produced and mixed with gasoline in an effort, one supposes, to reduce the amount of oil consumed.
The result, however, has been to drive up the price of corn and the price of other commodity foods instead.
Here’s how it works. The set up:
Powerful agribusiness interests collect a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit to convert this food crop into ethanol, an unnecessary and sometimes harmful additive to gasoline. Another 54-cent-per-gallon tariff is imposed to keep Brazil’s sugar-cane-based ethanol from entering our shores. Nor does the folly end there. The Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 mandates a massive increase in the production of ethanol by 2022 even though there is no demand.
While there’s no demand, there’s plenty of your money to be had. And what do producers react too? Incentive. So what provides the best return on investment right now? Corn. Not for the consumer, but for the producer. So what do producers of other commodity foods do? They switch from growing wheat and soybeans to corn. The result is inevitable:
The lure of free government money reduces the amount of corn available for other uses, primarily as feed for animals. This has a cascade effect, increasing prices down the food chain and for crops unrelated to corn. Farmers might switch from growing, say, soybeans, to corn to get hold of the extra subsidy. That makes soybeans scarcer and drives up their cost. This year, the price of wheat has increased as farmers have switched to corn to take advantage of high corn prices. In either scenario, the price of food increases, and that’s the last thing we need right now.
When the price of feed grain increases, what do you suppose happens to the price of meat?
Want ethanol? Feel it is a necessary and good thing? Drop the mandate, drop the subsidy and drop the tariff. Let the market decide. If it actually does what its champions claim and actually provide an additive to gasoline that increases performance (a dubious claim at best) and lessens our dependence on oil, that ought to be an easy idea to sell.
The fact is, without the subsidy and the mandate, the market would most likely reject ethanol completely. And that would conflict with the ideologically driven agenda that our government has put in place – namely it has the responsibility to decide what we should or shouldn’t use to power our vehicles. Each administration has its own take on how this should be done but make no mistake, this has been something which has survived both Republican and Democratic administrations.
It is another, in a long line of examples, of government intrusion, market distortion and wasting taxpayer money for a product with no demand. It also has the effect of driving up prices in food in an era of high unemployment. It is a disastrous policy and the proof is in the distorted markets.
Time to end the whole program and rescind the foolish government mandate. The effect? Food prices would again react to market pressures instead of government mandates. And taxpayer money wouldn’t be used to distort those markets any longer.
Win win as I see it.
Or an alternate title: “A good start”.
The Senate voted 73-27 Thursday to kill a major tax break that benefits the ethanol industry, handing a political win to a bipartisan group of lawmakers that call the incentive needless and expensive.
The vote also could have ramifications on future votes to reduce the deficit. Much of the GOP conference supported Feinstein’s bill even though it does not include another tax break to offset the elimination of the ethanol tax credit.
Feinstein’s amendment to an economic development bill would quickly end the credit of 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol that fuel blenders mix into gasoline. The credit led to $5.4 billion in foregone revenue last year, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The amendment also ends the 54-cent per gallon import tariff that protects the domestic ethanol industry.
So we have actual bi-partisan agreement to end a subsidy and cut spending. Good. I’m also pleased with the fact that the tariff would be lifted. This means less market distortion and real signals sent by that market as to whether or not ethanol is a viable product in the energy sector. My guess is it is, however, not to the extent the subsidy made it. It may also have an effect of lowering food prices as less corn production will probably go to ethanol than is now.
As the article points out, the issue is “more regional than partisan”. That’s probably the case with many subsidies. Let’s carry this on by hunting down a few more of those types of subsidies and immediately end them. A few billion here, a few billion there and pretty soon you’re talking big money.