TCS Daily


Children of the Corn

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - July 24, 2007 12:00 AM

The historical significance of corn in the Americas is comparable to that of rice in China or wheat in the Middle East. Corn is more than a staple, it is part of the region's DNA -- which explains the hysteria in many Latin American countries over rising prices.
In just four years, leaders and organizations that style themselves as progressive have gone from denouncing the precipitous fall in the price of corn to denouncing its sharp climb -- with many of the same arguments!

Hardly a week goes by in which Cuba's Fidel Castro or Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is not accusing rich imperialists of deliberately pumping up the price of corn in order to impoverish Latin Americans. But in 2003, when corn prices were dropping dramatically, Phil Twyford of Oxfam, a left-oriented humanitarian organization, pontificated, "The Mexican corn crisis is another example of world trade rules that are rigged to help the rich and powerful, while destroying the livelihoods of millions of poor people."

The rise in corn prices since 2006 has much to do with the synthetic fuel ethanol, which is made from a corn base or from sugar cane and is heavily subsidized by the U.S. and Europe. But there are other elements in play. Protectionism, such as Guatemala's 20 percent tariff on corn imports, is one other reason Latin Americans find it harder to buy tortillas. In Mexico, indirect price controls have caused shortages of white corn.

Unquestionably, the ethanol craze will continue to have an impact on Latin America's children of corn. The push for clean energy in the developed world has turned the public's attention to biofuels, signaling to politicians and investors, including conservatives, that ethanol and other such products are the fuels of the future. If anyone is to blame for the doubling of the price of corn that took place in 2006, it is "green" activists -- many of whom admire those Latin American leaders who are now denouncing the imperialist conspiracy against tortillas.

Latin America is discovering a contradiction between promoting alternative energy and keeping food cheap. Some countries such as Brazil have a vested interest in producing ethanol because they grow lots of sugar cane. Mexicans for their part have a vested interest in keeping things as they used to be because they eat tortillas and their country is a major oil producer. And there are those, such as the Central American nations, that have contradictory interests -- they would like to replace carbon fuels with ethanol because they currently depend on crude oil imports, but they want the price of corn to remain low because, as Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan Nobel Prize laureate, is fond of saying, corn "is part of our dignity."

A note of caution: The world has a long way to go before it can replace oil with ethanol. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso recently told me that ethanol will remain "very limited because it is not traded like a fully fledged commodity due to the obstacles that interfere with the development of a real world market for it."

Not to mention that ethanol production involves the use of so much fossil fuel that only one-fifth of each gallon is actually what could be called clean energy. In order to replace oil with ethanol, the amount of corn cultivation would need to grow exponentially in the United States -- an environmental nightmare given how much land would be needed. Even with ethanol in its infancy, it is already clear that it will come at a price. And not just in the price of corn.

We have already seen the environmental impact that the rising demand for ethanol has had in Brazil, where hundreds of thousands of acres of the Amazon-basin rain forest have been cleared in recent years. When we hear environmentalists complain about the loss of the rain forest, we should bear in mind that much of it has to do with a business interest paradoxically generated by "green" activism in rich countries.

The overall lesson is obvious: Be careful what you wish for (ethanol), because there may be unintended consequences. And when these consequences manifest themselves, it makes more sense to deal with them than to conjure up conspiracy theories or pressure the authorities to intervene (price controls) because, given the competing interests (clean energy versus food), you'll likely end up making someone very mad if you do.

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197 Comments

Uhmmmm Could you have found an ACTUAL
Picture of some one looking at Corn?

A blessing for Mexico
So far, everyone seems to be missing the obvious impact rising corn prices will have on our immigration issues. It will re-create jobs in Mexico that were lost when NAFTA was implemented and massive corn subsidies put into place, and alleviate the pressure for unemployed Mexicans (formerly making a living as corn farmers) to migrate the US in search of new jobs. Now, at current prices, they can come back home and grow corn again.

Mexican consumers won when cheap, subsidised US corn flooded their markets, and corn growers who couldn't make their own non-subsidised corn competitive paid the price. Now the tables are turned, with the consumers losing and the corn growers poised to come back into their own.

Finally, this statement is a real clinker: "The world has a long way to go before it can replace oil with ethanol."

Try "never". Fuel programs based on agricultural crops will NEVER replace fossil fuels. If the entire corn crop of the US were converted into fuel it would only satisfy 13% of our existing fuel demand. And worldwide, demand for both food and fuels will be going sharply upward. We just don't have the room to grow both. We're going to have to put our technology to work and get beyond the myth that we can run the world of 2050 on corn squeezin's.

And we should clear up one misconception right now. The author says "The push for clean energy in the developed world has turned the public's attention to biofuels, signaling to politicians and investors, including conservatives, that ethanol and other such products are the fuels of the future. If anyone is to blame for the doubling of the price of corn that took place in 2006, it is "green" activists".

You will not find one single "green activist" in favor of producing corn based ethanol. All realize it is a waste of resource, a misuse of land and an ill-conceived strategy that consumes as much fossil fuel as it replaces. Further, Greens agree with such groups as Cato that we spend far more on ethanol-based subsidies to distillers and growers than we would be spending on any non-subsidised fuel source.

If you're looking for the real culprit, try politicians looking for votes. No one can do without Iowa and the corn states, under our presently lopsided set of electoral rules. So corn is triumphant, and the rest of the country pays thrice-- once at the grocery, once at the pump and once at at tax time.

*Yawn*
"Everyone seems to be missing the obvious impact rising corn prices will have on our immigration issues."

And of course, it's Judge Beanie to the rescue, himself being the only living soul who can figure out that in a nation that is in desperate need of economic deregulation, privatization, and a drastic re-valuation of its currency, rising corn prices will make all the difference. You really need to talk to more actual Mexicans, Beanie--and I don't mean the illegal sort. Spare us the snappy solutions to complex problems. Unless the _ejido_ is privatized, the only ones to benefit from rising corn prices in Mexico will be government officials.

"You will not find one single 'green activist' in favor of producing corn based ethanol. All realize it is a waste of resources."

Seek, and ye shall find, oh armchair philosopher.

"...our presently lopsided set of electoral rules."

What Populist dogma! You mean the Electoral College that minimizes cheating and prevents mob rule?

"Fuel programs based on agricultural crops will NEVER replace fossil fuels."

For once, you got something mostly right. While not all biofuels are ethanol, ethanol production specificallt is indeed a stark-raving stupid idea and needs to be ended immediately.

But, the farmers will lobby the politicians to keep it going for a while, so they can enjoy more free, unearned money. These ain't Steinbeck's farmers. The politicians, who can so easily be wooed by any and all junk science (such as man-made climate change), will continue to believe that they are helping the green cause.

When farm subsidizing is ended, the ethanol insanity will quickly dry up.

Exploding various myths
I think you've fired your broadside while your cannons were aimed toward the water. I posed no "solutions" to any "problems". I only described the changing situation and the consequences of those changes.

A. NAFTA implemented. One consequence was that heavily subsidised farm crops, like wheat, corn and chickens, entered Mexican markets. Local Mexican producers could not compete, so they migrated by the millions to American cities, small towns and rural areas, looking for work.

True or false?

B. Pro-ethanol policies raise the price of American corn to such heights that Mexican corn should again be able to compete in the marketplace. Therefore more Mexicans will be able to find profitable work at home. Consequently fewer should be remaining in the US.

True or false? Let's assume they are bright enough to repair the ejido system.

You can't attack my comments. So instead you choose to attack me. It's a poor motivation for putting a comment on the page.

Regarding "mob rule" I think you will find a majority of Americans (a.k.a. "the mob") to be in favor of self government, or government "by the people". It's only a tiny segment who identify with your own fas cist aspirations to control them from above.

Any interpretation you can provide as to how the electoral system minimizes cheating will be contorted indeed. If it were not for easy manipulations of state elections in Florida and Ohio, we would have had Democrats in office these past six years. The cheating methods now in use have been perfected under the current, antidemocratic system.

Re the full array of conceivable crops for biofuels-- biodiesel, ethanol and the like, there is just not enough cropland in the country or on earth for this approach to ever satisfy more than a fraction of projected demand. Everyone knows that who has seriously looked at the issue.

I think we agree that the current craze in the US is politically driven-- although Brazil certainly has practical reasons for going the biofuel route. As long as there is more Amazon forest to be cleared and planted, they have more available land for biofuel than available cash for petroleum imports.

Myth #4, is it? "The politicians, who can so easily be wooed by any and all junk science (such as man-made climate change), will continue to believe that they are helping the green cause."

I don't think you will find a single person in Congress who actually believes corn ethanol is very helpful toward the greening of America. They are not, as a class, very credulous people. Many believe, and quite correctly, that a hefty infusion of federal funds to their district will be good for their careers.

Re your final comments, I don't see that there are very many voters even today who believe the myths about corn ethanol. But they are more or less powerless to address the issue, as the reins of control have been taken from the voters' hands. So this graft--socialised transfers of funds, if you will-- will continue for as long as there are politicans in need of re-election, and lobbyists whose "donations" make them hundreds for every dollar invested in the political system.

So when do you expect farm subsidies to end? These people can buy for themselves far more in the way of government entitlements than can the poor minimum wage workers, who can afford to contribute nothing, and thus get left off the welfare loop.

When responding, you can also describe in a bit of detail how a "drastic revaluation" of the peso can make Mexico any more competitive. Are you sure you don't mean "devaluation"?

Adn I found it for brother Roy, Oh Great One
May 16, 2006

(Vinod) Khosla's East Coast Ethanol Play: Mascoma

http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/dealflow/archives/2006/05/khoslas_east_co.html

What's the yield south of the border?
Can Mexico or any other corn growing country get 200 bu/acre?

If not, why not?

Sounds like a good idea
I've read the blurb. Some venture capitalist is interested in using chaffs and wastes (corn stover) for ethanol production. And is willing to invest $50 million in what can only be a new, untested process. I say this because to date, no one has been able to produce ethanol cost effectively from these kinds of chaffs.

As fuel prices rise, there will certainly come a day when such materials can be refined and sold effectively. The more promising ones are weeds like switchgrass. But there are a couple of problems here.

First, you need immense quantities. Caloric yield per acre is far lower than with corn, which in turn is far lower than with oil-rich sources like palm oil.

Second, you can't rob the soil indefinitely. What you are describing is a system for converting carbon in the soil to carbon in the skies. Eventually you run out of complex carbon chains in the field if you don't keep tilling the corn stover back under. There's nothing left for the new crop to grow in. All you have is loose sand.

These are all great sounding ideas to people who don't farm. Like Vinod Khosla.

The Mexican approach
Yields in that range (200 bu/acre) are dependent on capital intensive agricultural methods. That means big expenditures up front for mechanical equipment, soil amendments, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, etc. Mexican agriculture doesn't work like that. In fact, many people feel that in time US agriculture won't work that way either. For one thing, it requires a lot of fossil fuels to maintain that paradigm. It doesn't really work well when asked to stand on its own, unsubsidised, feet.

But there's an easy answer. To get good yields you need more employees and more acres. Mexico has an abundance of both. You also need water distribution systems, like pivot sprayers in locations over aquifers. This approach is less dependent on capital and on fossil fuels.

an interesting contradiction
According to the unions, NAFTA destroyed jobs north of the border as jobs fled to Mexico. Yet according to roy, jobs were destroyed south of the border as cheap goods from the US flooded the market.

They can't both be right.

However, they can be both wrong. And they are.

As to roy's claim that not a single green activists backs ethanol. Well you can put that in same trash can as the rest of his pronouncements.

roy's beliefs
this is the same roy who told us how much happier and better off Mexicans were back in the days of subsitance farming.

Or how much better off the Iraqi's were under Saddam.

Yes, captital is required
When ONE man can farm over 1000 acres using tractors and implements vs 100 men with hoes, costs per bushel drop.

If you want to keep the farmers poor, force them to do the work by hand.

It's not quite that black and white
The Greens have some share of responsibility for this mess. Their position on biofuels was much more broadly supportive than it is today. Here's a 2004 statement from FOE. A few caveats but none that relate directly to ethanol from corn, mostly just related to import/export.
http://www.foei.org/en/campaigns/climate/energy/biomass.html

There are many villains in this piece, Roy. Yes, scheming politicians looking for rural votes are part of it. But one cannot ignore the role played by many ENGOs, a role they (or some of them) have subsequently renounced. At least they had the decency to change their minds when the facts about corn ethanol started to come out.

Now, if only they could be as willing to focus on facts with their antinuclear ideology...

Ironic, isn't it?
"They can't both be right."

Following NAFTA implementation a huge number of manufacturing jobs were lost in the US, and a relatively smaller number of manufacturing jobs were added in Mexico. Most went to women. The remainder of these jobs went to every other country on earth.

Also following implementation, a huge number of agricultural sector jobs were lost in Mexico, while only a negligible numer were added in the US. The remainder disappeared through automation of the process.

All this information can be supported by the numbers, which are readily available.

So in fact both nations experienced a net loss in jobs in those two sectors. You can look it up. It's one of the main reasons we have so many Mexicans up here now, trying to get their old jobs back.

Is there not a single green activist who backs corn based ethanol? I don't know, perhaps you can find one. But this is a community I'm in close touch with. And I know of no one who believes the corn ethanol myths. So I'm thinking these widely promulgated myths put out by the corn growers' associations are reaching maybe one or two percent of the target audience.

Blame isn't the most productive approach
You're right, of course. Nothing is all black and white, and particularly not this mess.

But there is little to be gained in looking for villains. More productive uses for our time would be looking for failed policies, and brain storming suggestions as to how they could be corrected.

No blame should attach, for instance, to the Green community for pointing out that sustainable approaches to fuelling our vehicle fleet must be sought. That was obviously the correct long term approach to take. What we are now seeing is the implications of such an approach. We've had to initiate pilot programs and run them for a few years so we can quantify the results, before knowing where we are likely to stand re sustainable fuels. And the early results are coming in.

What we are finding is that competing purposes for the land have overstretched its capacity. We can't build new mega-cities and sprawling suburbs, huge farns for all the food we'll need and more huge farms for our energy needs, and save some tiny bit of the original for posterity, with the planet we've got. Informed assessments indicate that fulfilling all these goals would require the arable land of four and one-half Earths.

A start might be to explore the possibility of birth control. Nine billion people are more than the place can carry (in fact the current 6.6 billion people are unsustainable), and we will all end up very poor and at war with one another if we proceed along the course currently being pursued.

That's my opinion, based on everything I've seen, and please feel free to disagree.

Maybe
"When ONE man can farm over 1000 acres using tractors and implements vs 100 men with hoes, costs per bushel drop."

The problem with that approach, of course, is that it leaves you with 99 unemployed men, and 99 hungry families. Hard to sell your corn that way. In that lovely turn of phrase economists employ, there is no demand.

In a robust economy, where many jobs were being created in other sectors, your approach might well have merit.

interesting, when pushed, roy admits that he was wrong
If the jobs went to every other country on earth, then NAFTA had nothing to do with it.
As you admit, many jobs were lost to automation, once again, NAFTA had nothing to do with it.

Yes, the raw numbers are available, however the interpretation of those raw numbers requires thought. A little more thought than your usual NAFTA/US is always at fault rhetoric is usually capable of.

capital
The reason it doesn't work that way is the govt keeps the farms small and the farmers poor. By law.

roy can't get past first level analysis
So roy, in your mind, automation always leaves unemployment and poverty in it's wake.

Funny thing, the world has automated, and wealth has gone up. By HUGE amounts.

Now the question you should be asking yourself is, if my theories don't match reality, which should be adjusted, theory, or reality?

-----------

Here's the way the world really works.
When automation drives down the cost of food, there are now millions of families who now have a little more money to spend.
When they spend that money, they create demand in other areas of the economy.
When demand goes up in those other areas, the owners of the factories that make those other things go out and hire more people.

-------------

The only reason why Mexico does not have a robust economy is because they follow the socialist policies that you usually espouse.

Need a lesson in free market economics, not socialist economics
Imagine US agriculture without the John Deere plow or the McCormick reaper or all the tractors and other labor saving tools that made US agriculture so productive.


Also, don't forget the seed companies that created the wide variety of hybrid crops.

The problem with Mexico's economy is that it is 1) socialist, and 2) corrupt (oh, that's redundent, is it not?)

Aiding and abetting socialist economies only benefits the political leaders.

Where are the Windfall Profit Taxes ??
Where are Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and every other democrat that was screaming about the 'unreasonable and unfair' profits that Big Oil was making.

Where are the demands for a new Ethanol Windfall Tax against the 'unreasonable and unfair' prices that corn producers are making on every bushel of corn sold today.

Corn farmers are making more than twice what they were making just three short years ago. To me that screams of highway robbery. They don't need to make that much profit, the price should be controlled to let them make just enough money to stay in business. After all, what's good for Big Oil is good for Big Agriculture isn't it?

So where are all the protests from the usual suspects (see above) about the high price of corn, and the strain it is putting on the pocket books of millions of families with kids to feed with the increased prices in everything that uses corn in one form or another?


/sarcasm mode off


Zimbabwe
How could a handful of farmers feed the entire country and export food, when now, with hand labor the country is starving?

Find the villians and crush them
Nuclear power has been pushing submarines and aircraft carriers around the world for decades. Their crews have been LIVING and working next to nuclear reactors with no harm.

Why doesn't the USA use more nuclear reactors?

Fear, perpetuated by the greenies and luddites.

The most effective form
of birth control is urbanization. The trend of falling birth rates and increasing urbanization is universal. It's interesting that as urbanization and population have risen in the US and in Europe starting in the 19th century that land under cultivation has declined even as agricultural productivity has risen. You and I have both discussed and agreed on the reasons for this. The necessary condition for this is rising affluence and living conditions to decrease the proportion of the population growing food and increase the agricultural surplus beyond subsistence.

So to an extent I disagree with you, not on the facts of where we have been but on the more likely direction that the future holds. I remain committed to the notion that prosperity and reduction of environmental impact comes through more technology and economic growth, not less. You note the prospect of at war with one another over resource. This is not because there are not enough resources to go around, if anything it will be because of distribution problems, in many cases self inflicted, i.e. Zimbabwe. A second example, the nations of Yugoslavia turned themselves into an economic slagheap from what was the most prosperous nation by far in the Balkans. Resource had nothing to do with it. It was purely self inflicted because of ethnic and theological divisions.

As to the Greens, there is indeed little to be gained from casting aspersions. However, I just note in passing that the Greens have an aversion to acknowledging when they've been wrong, and badly so. A defining moment for me in this was the fiasco over the Brent Spar. Greenpeace was wrong, knew they were wrong and still persisted. You observe that the Greens may be due some recognition for claiming a need for a sustainable vehicle fleet. That's true only in part; some of the Greens, the Deep Ones, say there shouldn't be any vehicles, and that in fact we'd be better off with fewer or no people. This is a repugnant notion at best, and at worst has historical parallels too disgusting to mention. However, the real point is, any idiot can clamor for the need for a sustainable vehicle. But it's the very institutions they criticize which will have to come up with the solutions. Demonizing the source of solutions as the Greens have done is thoroughly counterproductive. So what's good for the goose is good for the gander, no?

How odd
Marjon offers this wisdom: "Why doesn't the USA use more nuclear reactors?

"Fear, perpetuated by the greenies and luddites."

That's funny. That's not what the energy producers are telling us. Locally both Progress Energy and Duke Power are in the permitting process for building new capacity. Duke is choosing to go with coal, while Progress is considering expanding its existing nuclear plant.

What's the thinking? Coal is cheaper. A LOT cheaper. Nuclear plants are horrendously capital intensive.

No one in this state is particularly alarmed that the forces of marching kids with signs will overcome the forces of Big Money. Not at all.

Acreage
The trends you describe are to some extent real. But the overall direction of human civilization is inexorable, over the next several decades. We will continue to add population until we reach about nine billion. And I see ample evdence that that is considerably in excess of the planet's carrying capacity. In fact the metrics show we are currently already beyond the sustainable maximum for Earth.

For one thing, we will all aspire to some degree of affluence-- a job, a home, a car, a washer, a computer. And a third of us now are living in a state of absolute poverty. So let's say those nine billion will consume more than twice what our fortunate four billion are consuming today. And if they don't? Then war will consume an even greater share.

Next, it is the case that when the cities spread, they do so overwhelmingly at the expense of surrounding farmland. Older cities are sited in the midst of supporting farms in nearly all instances. This means urban expansion will come in direct proportion to farmland retirement. Usable water is another very serious limitation to future agriculture.

In other words I don't see the numbers supporting all these trends adding up to a sustainable culture. Environmental impacts will have no option but to increase, to serve increasing demand. If you find something that does illustrate how we can have it all, indefinitely and forever, please point it out to me.

Re "the Greens", let me suggest that you haven't been following the rapidly changing discussion in these quarters. In terms of looking for technologic fixes required to produce anything like universal affluence in the coming decades, I think you'll find in fact they are quite progressive in their outlook. If you're looking for abject apologies and groveling abasement though, maybe you're not finding much of that.

It's probable, in fact, that your exposure to green thinking is restricted to either the advocacy websites like NRDC, or to the adversaries of those sites with their lurid depictions of evil green behaviors. You should look instead into the permaculture sites, the bioenergy sites and the sustainable agriculture sites. These are more works in progress, and are really where the rubber grips the road.

You also make a mistake in thinking the green portion of the spectrum is monolithic. In fact opinion is all over the map, and the individuals involved tend to do nothing whatsoever in lock step.

Finally "deep greens", aka "Luddites", represent a vanishingly small segment of the public-- although the fear of their influence occupies a large portion of the libertarian mindset. Their impact on society is negligible, so your appreciation of the dangers attendant to their influence should probably be negligible as well.

Extremism and lunacy are present in every quarter of American political thought. I have even found a bit of it in these very pages. :)

Limits to Growth
The Club of Rome was proven wrong 30 years ago.

What has changed?

What metrics are you referring to?

Beg to differ
"However, the real point is, any idiot can clamor for the need for a sustainable vehicle. But it's the very institutions they criticize which will have to come up with the solutions. Demonizing the source of solutions as the Greens have done is thoroughly counterproductive. So what's good for the goose is good for the gander, no?"

On the contrary, the activities of permaculturalists and small green technology firms are leading to many of the core breakthroughs in ideas. They are currently running farms on ideas that the people you describe are running around looking for funding to initiate.

Forage to fuel has been going on for a long time now. It's these greens working beneath your radar who are making most of the breakthroughs in cattail harvesting, terra preta, gasification cookers and a dozen other technologies suitable for someone with a garage full of tools and a farm that needs to be cheaply and sistainablyrun.

Why do Libs think the whole world is equal?
Assuming Roy is referring to the whole world (present and future global population levels) with this statement:

What we are finding is that competing purposes for the land have overstretched its capacity. We can't build new mega-cities and sprawling suburbs, huge farns for all the food we'll need and more huge farms for our energy needs, and save some tiny bit of the original for posterity, with the planet we've got. Informed assessments indicate that fulfilling all these goals would require the arable land of four and one-half Earths.

It's a fallacy. The whole world just won't achieve those aspirations, is all. Or rather, they will have to find new ways of doing so or learn to live with the disappointment. The rich nations will do some adaptation, but mostly set things up so their lifestyle will go along as it has or even improve. The rest...will get the scraps and have to fight over them.

The real question is of degrees: How much will the First World have to adapt vs. how much the developing world (and worse) will have not have to suffer? Americans export a lot of food the world is increasingly becoming dependent upon -- especially grain & meat exports, which are really water exports (See Lester Brown's analysis at the Earth Watch Institute to understand what that means) -- and is rich enough to afford increases in oil prices or to develop alternative fuels/more efficient vehicles if they get too high. Worse comes to worse (a shooting war over oil), the US Navy controls the world's seas. A nasty state of affairs, yes. Chinese military planners lose sleep over that, too. But the point is: the US (and most of the rest of the First World) will be the most predisposed to come out AOK from it.


Oh...and if you think we won't start interfering in the global distribution of oil with our navy when push comes to shove, read up on Japan & Pearl Harbor, circa 1941. The Chinese sure have.

So when the crunch starts, the folks in Bangladesh or Guatamala or even in some of the oil rich nations will be the ones who will suffer. The rest of us, sitting on our couches while being even MORE overfed, will be more absorbed with what happens to the Britney Spears Of The Day as Oprah tells it on our 95" flat screen HD TVs. Almost like we have it now, just with the 95" TV being more affordable and the average body mass of ourselves even more overweight. Fat & Happy. Meanwhile, much to the consternation of car-and-meat hating liberals, the suburbs and exurbs will continue to be built. More useless crap will be sold at Wal-Mart and online. Business as usual, only more.
Ergo, the hell with the rest of the world and your 'arable land of four and one-half Earths' concern. The entire world will not be impacted equally, no matter how many Sally Struthers commercials of starving kids in Africa we see on our 95" TVs. That's what TiVO was invented for, after all.

What planet does Roy live on?
Hullo McFly! Hullo!

The problem with that approach, of course, is that it leaves you with 99 unemployed men, and 99 hungry families. Hard to sell your corn that way. In that lovely turn of phrase economists employ, there is no demand.

And what does Roy think happened to the everyone who used to work on farms that comprised about over 50% of the US population around 1900 but only 2% today? Did they conveniently die off in some plague? Even more time-compressed real world example: US manufacturing from 1973 - current? US-based manufacturing output is actually up, but employment a fraction of what it once was. That's what happens when a society becomes more productive and industries mature.

Answer: They would rather make child molestation legal than tick off Iowa
And that wasn't with sarcasm mode off, either.

Our carrying capacity
"The Club of Rome was proven wrong 30 years ago."

I don't think so. The Club of Rome was active thirty years ago, and was writing about the future. So they could not have been "proven wrong" at the time of their writing.

You should go back and read them today. See what they were predicting for 2010, and see how far off they were. Paul Ehrlich, writing in his "Population Bomb" back in 1968, seems to have been right on the mark.

There are as many Indians today-- two billion-- as there were humans on earth back in 1930. But back then the two billion had the entire earth to exploit. The Indians only have one worn out subcontinent. Coincidentally, there are more than two billion among us currently living in absolute poverty, on less than two dollars a day.

What you are describing are articles of belief, not actual observations. Go back and read the orignal material and see what it was telling us.

Oh roy!!!!
"Regarding "mob rule" I think you will find a majority of Americans (a.k.a. "the mob") to be in favor of self government, or government "by the people". It's only a tiny segment who identify with your own fas cist aspirations to control them from above.
Any interpretation you can provide as to how the electoral system minimizes cheating will be contorted indeed. If it were not for easy manipulations of state elections in Florida and Ohio, we would have had Democrats in office these past six years. The cheating methods now in use have been perfected under the current, antidemocratic system."

WRONGGGGGGG!!! Bush won the popular vote, and by a pretty solid margin, this last time up. The vote count was so close nation-wide in 2000 that we my still be holding re-counts if there had been a popular election. The whole idea of a nation-wide popular vote is ludicris if for not other reason that the fact that the popular vote is often so close even in an electorial "landslide". Generally speaking the system works, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!!

A lot of the rest of this is kinda goofy. The "Green" (mostly wacko -liberal) political and economic movement is, indeed, behind bio-fuels all the way. Hell roy, just switch on your T.V. once in a while!! The message is coal and oil are bad, natural gas is marginal and bio-fuels are great!!

Mainly, your claim that illegals are going to go back to Mexico in droves because of the new found corn farming profit is idiotic. Your way better than to spout this stuff. It may reduce some of the present and future immigration a very small ammount, it will not send Mexicans packing for the homeland. That is about the most unrealistic thing I've ever read.

Almost this enitre post is beneath you, really. You are for smarter than this. Also, your numbers are wrong on bio-fuels. If all open lands were converted to agriculture in the U.S. and all were put into Bio-fuel production (especially not ethanol) we could supply a very large percentage of our motor fuel needs. Since most of the rest of our energy needs cam be met with electrical generation, build more nuke power plants! The U.S. has just under 2 billion acres that could be made available for some type of agricultural output and easily a billion acres is presently very available for use. Each acre can produce enough oil seed, on average, to produce between 200-400 gallons of bio-diesel. Even at the low end, we could produce enough bio-diesel to easily meet our present 170 billion gallon consumption of motor fuels.

Of course that would leave nothing for food production of any kind. A realistic number would be more like 10% to 20% in total bio-fuels, and even that relies on future technologies to help out. Still, saying "There is not enough crop land in the world" is a rediculous statement. With nearly 37 billion acres of land mass and over 10 billion producable acres, you could probably crop over 4 trillion gallons of bio-fuels, just with present production land. Present world use of oil is only about 1.2 trillion gallons, pre-refinement. Something less than 900 billion gallons of fuels.

Of course, we would all starve to death before the first crop was refined; but, again, you are wrong to over-blow the problem. And a whole lot more than a "small percentage" could be made both nationally and worldwide.

You are right, bio-fuel is not the savior and do all say all. also, ethanol is about the dumbest type of bio-fuel to produce.

I'm anti-alternative energy in general, but I do think a real energy strategy is needed. Combining a comprehensive energy policy that allows for more development of domestic reserves, new technologies, bio-fuels and green energy we can avert an energy crisis until technology finds the perfect energy sources or blends of energy production types.

I simply do not believe we can put all our energy eggs in one basket these days. But I may be wrong on this one; time will tell.

Stop feeding my cynicism, rb
When I was in 7th grade, my earnest civics teacher assured her class that there was an "energy crisis" because we'd run out of fossil fuels in 30 years, so we spent six months studying not a lick of civics, instead fixating on the plusses and minusses of windmills, nukes, and solar panels. Twenty-some years later, people like her are saying the same thing: There is an "energy crisis" because we'll run out of fossil fuels in 30 years. Who to believe - the gas stations fully stocked with all manner of cheap and plentiful fossil fuels or the fools who make stupid predictions based on their technical and epistemic ignorance?

Add to the above the predators and fools who earnestly assure us that in 50 years the oceans will cover the planet's coastlines in 20 feet of water if man doesn't start sticking it to Big Oil, and you've got a serving of stupid-soup large enough for everyone to get a steaming ladle full.

Both points lead me to this conclusion: Greens create the fear that gives the fools and the predators their chance to prey on the ignorant and unwitting, that is, the folks. Your honest, earnest activists stake out a carnival ground into which the special interests, politicians and demagogues herd the folks to shake them down. Worse, your activists believe so firmly in "good government" that they can't see any of this coming.

This is why we're safer at markets than at the shakedown fests organized by activists, special interests and politicians known as "government".

A dysfunctional world
"It's a fallacy. The whole world just won't achieve those aspirations, is all. Or rather, they will have to find new ways of doing so or learn to live with the disappointment. The rich nations will do some adaptation, but mostly set things up so their lifestyle will go along as it has or even improve. The rest...will get the scraps and have to fight over them."

And you think the world's people will just be quietly content with this? The eighty percent who don't get enough to eat will just watch and be philosophic, while the twenty percent who own everything take up all the cropland to provide fuel for their speedboats?

I think that's naive. When the resource wars start, everyone is going to be involved.

But I do enjoy your thought that we, the rich, can just switch the channel and tune the starving billions out. It sums you up nicely.

Head in the sand
You were in the seventh grade in the 1970s? I had assumed you were much older. You write like an 80 year old.

Back then, what they said was that there would be a fuel crisis in another thirty years. Maybe you forget that part. And here we are, thirty years down the road, with a fuel crisis. or maybe you haven't noticed the difference in the last couple of years, where gas no longer costs $1.21.

Pick up a copy of Paul Ehrlich at the library and check it out. We're not far from where they thought we'd be in the new century's first decade.

The problems with the oceans are nowhere near so silly as you would make them out to be. They are acidifying, with the task of scrubbing all that excess carbon, and turning into carbonated water. The coral reefs are disappearing, and by the time it gets to the coccoliths and radiolarians at the base of the food chain, the oceans will mostly die. Just because you choose to remain ignorant of the process doesn't mean it isn't happening.

You have misnamed the people you distrust so heartily. They are not "the greens" but rather the scientific community.

The science is very simple
CaCO3-- limestone-- dissolves when immersed in water above a certain level of acidity. And our oceans are now a dilute sea of carbonic acid. Already, about a third of our corals worldwide have either bleached or are not growing because they can't fabricate new shell.

This is not some diabolical green plot but simple high school chemistry.

Now for some biology. The base of the oceanic food chain is made up of phytoplankton-- tiny sunlight synthesizers with calcium carbonate shells. If they go, nothing in the ocean eats. The last to go will be the large predators-- the sharks, tuna and whales.

Ceaseless bickering
"So roy, in your mind, automation always leaves unemployment and poverty in it's wake."

No. You have a limited number of tricks in your toolbox, and so must make your points by a ridiculous exaggeration. I never said that.

In fact, I said the opposite: "In a robust economy, where many jobs were being created in other sectors, your approach might well have merit."

But Mexico doesn't have that kind of economy. They can't just send their excess corn farmers to aerospace school and get them retrained.

So in fact I agree that in a modern economy, the problem disappears with a more highly educated population. And this is exactly what we see now with the Mexicans.

Just the way it has happened with every other immigrant population, they come fresh off the boat, knowing no English. And fifteen years later they're raising college bound kids.

They do have difficulties to surmount. A hundred years ago it was ignorant crowds with bricks telling the sheenies and polacks to go home. Now it's voters who want armies at the borders, with orders to shoot to kill.

You know the answer to that
Imagine an absolute dictatorship, with the absolute dictator suffering from senile dementia, and the goon squads that support his regime in charge of everything. There you have Zimbabwe.

This picture does not reflect the reality in Mexico.

We don't disagree
Which planet do I live on? One that's much like your own home planet of Zoldar.

If you go back to read what I've written, I'm in agreement with you. A more advanced economy can handle major dislocations to the work force. But Mexico is not there yet, and will take another generation to get there.

That's a generation they haven't got. So the safety valve is emigration.

My state is full of Mexicans at entry level and every other level. Even before they learn English they are competent enough at the manual trades to displace native born workers. And it usually takes them about fifteen years to adapt and become ordinary Americans, doing jobs that can't yet be found in Mexico.

The libertarian approach
Wouldn't it be much simpler and make a whole lot more sense if they just eliminated all the subsidies?

Then all the food sources and energy sources could compete on a level playing field. Isn't that what everyone here says they want?

Corn prices, for instance, would go back down immediately-- because ethanol can't make it on its own in the marketplace. And if we gave away less money on government giveaway programs we wouldn't have to raise so much in taxes. Or am I making sense?

Actually no
My comments on Greens are based on direct contact, both one on one in formal situations and in groups. Generally, with few exceptions, my experience has been one of encountering moral hubris and staggering intellectual arrogance about topics of which they have no understanding. These are not deep Greens, these are reps of supposedly respectable organizations. My experiences given the individuals with whom I have encountered, and they are many and significant in their organizations has led me to the conclusion that the extremism and lunacy to which you refer is in fact a component of mainstream environmentalism. And no I'm not talking about terrorist fanatics like Sea Shepherd, though do you not find it more than a little suspicious that supposedly respectable groups like Sierra Club directly fund a pirate organization?

You are evading my point
which about the deliberate lies and misinformation propagated by mainstream Green organizations. Greenpeace is a prime example, but any of them will serve. They lie about crop sciences, they lie about EMF effects, they lie about nuclear power and radiation effects. The simple fact is that their propaganda is dressed up as science despite the fact that that it generally fails any scientific criteria.

And when they are nailed on their policies and priorities? Their response is simple character assassination as happened to Lomborg.

Indeed, NeaRNoaD,
and I bet you it wasn't even difficult for you!

Hey, He's Got It!
"Wouldn't it be much simpler and make a whole lot more sense if they just eliminated all the subsidies?"

Absolutely!

"Ethanol can't make it on its own in the marketplace."

No it can't--because it's one of the stupidest ideas ever come up with. Biofuels are an excellent idea (as long as we don't come to think they can totally meet all our energy needs and don't prioritize them above cheap food), but ethanol is a DUMBASS idea.

The Market would quickly obliterate the stupid idea (as it has once before) to the benefit of everyone except the tiny percentage of our population that is now receiving the federal subsidies for earmarking the corn (no pun intended) to be used to make that rubbish (and they don't deserve their artificial benefit anyway).

But notice how our pseudo-socialist government props up the stupid idea, to the detriment of just about everyone. That's Socialism in action.

Couldn't agree more Roy
Roy,

Elimination of all entitlement and subsidy programs would be like a dream come true for me.

It would be like a nightmare come to life for the politicians however.

Without the lure of government money they would no longer have the ability to social engineer the country into doing exactly what they want us to to, all the while telling us we are 'free'.

When it comes right down to it, the tax code and giveaway programs of the federal governemt are set up the way they are for one reason. Power.

Power to control what you do, how you spend your money, where and how you live and what and how much of something you can buy.

By elimination of federal subsidies it would allow Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" to work naturally without government interference always getting in the way and mucking up the works.


Socialism is socialism
Whether it is Stalin, Mugabe or the Mexican government.

When the government controls the means of production, people starve.

Why won't you support that position?
You and many like you believe you can use the power of government to control the evil corporations.

The evil corporations just co-op the politicians.

The ONLY effective way to 'control' corporations is with competition.

And it is SO easy, the government need only get out of the way. But then they couldn't buy your vote with your money.

The Mexican solution is free markets.
They will never get 'there' until they eliminate corruption and open their markets.

Removing the pressure by letting their illegal aliens send money home perpetuates the status quo.

Good question
"Why won't you support that position?"

But that's the position I've been supporting all along.

You have never seen me advocate for price supports for "green" technologies. Not once. Whereas every time I turn around I'm writing some new comment about how all subsidies should be removed.

How come you don't remember any of that? Are you so dead set against everything I say that you've neglected to read a word I've written? What you have been doing is making blanket accusations of charges to which I plead no guilt.

I do not believe, and never have believed, that government should be in the business of paying stipends to tilt the playing field in favor of certain favored businesses. Ethanol is but one of them. Oil is another, but really all refinery operations share this trait.

How free can you get?
"They will never get 'there' until they eliminate corruption and open their markets.

I think you're a little out of date. First, wasn't the PRI voted out of office enthusiastically some years back, in response to their long-standing stance of institutionalised corruption?

And wasn't it under Vicente Fox that earnest inroads were made into the problem of cleaning out stables that had not been cleaned in SEVENTY YEARS? I think it's a bit much to expect that the culture of the mordida can be eliminated in any one term of office, but Mexico is not doing badly in that regard.

Re this and current efforts toward the encouragement of investment capital, see this timely article:

http://utopia.utexas.edu/articles/tbr/mexico.html?sec=business&sub=banking

Now let's take a look at the new President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon. He's not for free trade? Really? Did you even know who he was, before I mentioned his name?

Mexico is moving rapidly toward becoming competitive in the world market. But they're not there yet. They still have a legacy of some millions of poor peasants whose lot was only made worse by the flaws of NAFTA. They are therefore here, seeking replacements for the jobs they lost.

"Removing the pressure by letting their illegal aliens send money home perpetuates the status quo."

The real crux of the matter is this: how can you enact true globalization of the marketplace if you allow the free movement of capital across borders (a good thing), and the free movement of finished goods across borders (another good thing), but you don't allow the free movement of labor across borders? Those are the three elements of free trade.

I'd really like an answer to this one. Not your usual answer, a REAL answer. Why is it okay, for instance, for a billion dollars to cross a border in search of investment opportunities, but not a thousand dollars in savings from wages?

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