November 24, 2010

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According to Jonathan Adler at Volokh Conspiracy, there’s a chance we might get to kill the ethanol mandates.

Maybe it’s the new mood in Congress.  Maybe the stars are aligned.  Whatever the cause, opposition to ethanol subsidies is cropping up in some unusual places — and just in time, as ethanol tax credits are set to expire in a few weeks.

Back in 2000, then-Vice President Al Gore touted ethanol subsidies as good for farmers and the environment.  This was no surprise, as the Clinton-Gore Administration worked to expand ethanol mandates under the Clean Air Act.  However much ethanol programs helped corn farmers, they were never much good for the environment, something Gore now admits.  Reuters reports:

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol,” said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank.

“First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.

“It’s hard once such a programme is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the political spectrum, Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) are taking aim at ethanol subsidies as yet another special-interest energy policy boondoggle that should be opposed by free-marketeers and environmental activists alike.  Greg Sargent reports: …


More on Gore’s ethanol volte-face from Ed Morrissey.

… Why, then, did Gore spend most of the last two decades pushing for ethanol subsidies?  It wasn’t because he was trying to help humanity:

“One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

In other words, Gore wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about ethanol; he was just particularly enthusiastic about Gore.  Thanks to pressure from Gore and others with “a certain fondness” for playing prairie politics over common sense, the US spent almost $8 billion subsidizing ethanol in just the last year.  Slate reported in 2005 that between 1995 and 2003, ethanol subsidies went over $37 billion in the US, most of which took place in the Clinton/Gore administration. …


And a Union-Leader editor from New Hampshire has more on the impact of Gore’s truth telling.

… The point is not that Gore is entirely wrong. It’s that he is wrong enough (remember the errors in An Inconvenient Truth) to merit skepticism. But law doesn’t take skeptics’ views into account. Environmental regulations compel compliance. Only in the market does the skepticism of the minority become an important player. If Al Gore bases his personal financial investments on faulty science, it matters to no one but Al Gore, and perhaps his wife. But if states base environmental regulations on faulty science he pushed, we are all harmed.

The great ethanol error would’ve been corrected quickly had the market been left in control. It was only the misguided hand of government that grew this problem to global proportions, and perpetuates it still.

This fall the EPA approved a waiver allowing gasoline to contain up to 15 percent ethanol for cars made since 2007. Congress has mandated that 13.95 billion gallons of renewable fuels (mostly ethanol) be produced in 2011, up from 12.95 billion gallons this year. (Can you imagine how much worse it would be had Gore been president?)

The bottom line is this: If we cannot base our environmental policies on the pronouncements of Al Gore, should we really be passing costly, far-reaching mandates that force people to behave as Al Gore would want them to?Wouldn’t it be better to let the market decide, and leave Al Gore to investing heavily in biofuel companies?


Nicole Gelinas is not about to be fooled, so her City Journal report on success in New Orleans is important.

Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, even optimistic observers had good reason to doubt that New Orleans would recover. It wasn’t just that the storm had destroyed much of the city, leaving parts of it under 20 feet of water for weeks. New Orleans had long suffered from terrible violence, a poisonous political culture, and a fleeing population. Its public services were iffy on a good day, making it especially unprepared for the storm. What chance did it stand of returning to life—even with the $71.5 billion that the Bush White House and Congress sent to Louisiana for hurricane recovery?

Yet the city has come back more vigorously than most imagined possible, even fumbling its way toward becoming, maybe, an urban success story. With about 365,000 residents, the City That Care Forgot has recovered more than 80 percent of its pre-Katrina population, and its post-storm economy has done well, too: in July, unemployment in the city and surrounding suburbs was 7.5 percent, two points below the recession-battered national figure, while per-capita income is up more than 20 percent since 2004, even as traditional government-aid payments, such as welfare and Medicaid, remain lower. Visit New Orleans today, and you’ll see a busy construction site, not a city laid waste by flooding.

The shock of Katrina, it turns out, produced a surprising renaissance in citizen initiative, one result of which was widespread recognition among New Orleanians that all that federal cash wasn’t going to solve the city’s long-standing problems on its own. Instead, engaged residents have kept local politicians on their toes, making sure that they use the recovery funds to transform and rejuvenate the city. They have taught the rest of the country, still reeling from the financial and economic crisis, a lesson: how to do recovery right. …


Foreign Policy has an interesting article on the aging of the world’s population. It has the added benefit of making fun on Paul Ehrlich at the onset. Don’t forget Obama’s science advisor is a Ehrlich groupie.

Not so long ago, we were warned that rising global population would inevitably bring world famine. As Paul Ehrlich wrote apocalyptically in his 1968 worldwide bestseller, The Population Bomb, “In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date, nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” Obviously, Ehrlich’s predicted holocaust, which assumed that the 1960s global baby boom would continue until the world faced mass famine, didn’t happen. Instead, the global growth rate dropped from 2 percent in the mid-1960s to roughly half that today, with many countries no longer producing enough babies to avoid falling populations. Having too many people on the planet is no longer demographers’ chief worry; now, having too few is.

It’s true that the world’s population overall will increase by roughly one-third over the next 40 years, from 6.9 to 9.1 billion, according to the U.N. Population Division. But this will be a very different kind of population growth than ever before — driven not by birth rates, which have plummeted around the world, but primarily by an increase in the number of elderly people. Indeed, the global population of children under 5 is expected to fall by 49 million as of midcentury, while the number of people over 60 will grow by 1.2 billion. How did the world grow so gray, so quickly?

One reason is that more people are living to advanced old age. But just as significant is the enormous bulge of people born in the first few decades after World War II. Both the United States and Western Europe saw particularly dramatic increases in birth rates during the late 1940s and 1950s, as returning veterans made up for lost time. In the 1960s and 1970s, much of the developing world also experienced a baby boom, but for a different reason: striking declines in infant and child mortality. As these global baby boomers age, they will create a population explosion of seniors. Today in the West, we are seeing a sharp uptick in people turning 60; in another 20 years, we’ll see an explosion in the numbers turning 80. Most of the rest of the world will follow the same course in the next few decades. …

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