Behold the Power of King Corn

by William Yeatman on October 14, 2010

in Blog

Humor me for a moment and imagine that I am a superhero who is part of a Super Friends team at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. We have sworn to use our superpowers only to combat a particular form of evil: rent-seeking. Naturally, we’d need a nemesis. This caricature of evil would represent everything we stand against; it would be the ultimate political panhandler.

Without a doubt, our nemesis would be King Corn.

Fantasies aside, the corn lobby, a.k.a King Corn, is unbeatable inside the beltway. In the 1980s, it secured federal giveaways to NOT grow corn. The lobby has since moved on to the ultimate boondoggle: corn fuels. By playing up jingoistic fears of “energy dependence,” King Corn has convinced the Congress that ethanol, a motor fuel distilled from corn, is a national security imperative, despite the fact that it increases gas prices, it’s awful for the environment, it contributes to asthma, and it makes food costlier.

So, in 2007, the Congress passed a Soviet-style ethanol production quota that forces Americans to use corn-fuel in their gas. Thanks to this mandate, American farmers devoted a third of this year’s corn crop to ethanol. Thus corn, soy, and cotton (the three crops grown on corn-hospitable soil in the U.S.) have become recession-resistant.

You’d think that a production quota, along with generous subsidies (to the tune of 51 cents a gallon), would be enough, but there can never be “enough” for King Corn. Now it has its eyes on an even higher production quota. There was, however, an intermediate step to this higher goal-the EPA had capped the percentage of ethanol that could be included in regular gasoline at 10%, due to concerns about engine harm beyond that point. For years, the corn lobby has been trying to lift that cap to 15%. Yesterday, the EPA relented.

Raising the ethanol cap was opposed by the oil industry, the environmental lobby, and the public health lobby. These are K-street titans, and they were vanquished by King Corn.

Behold, the power of King Corn.

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