Newt Gingrich, currently campaigning for the GOP Presidential nomination, rightfully regrets appearing in a 2008 advertisement with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in which they both exhort political leaders to fight global warming (presumably by enacting a cap-and-trade policy that would ration energy use). The ad, which is available here, was produced by a global warming agitprop non-profit founded by former Vice President Al Gore.
According to the Daily Caller’s Jeff Poor, Gingrich last week told a panel on Fox’s “Special Report,” that the ad “is probably the dumbest single thing I’ve done in years.” I agree with him that the ad was a bad idea, but I don’t think it’s the dumbest thing he’s done in years. The dumbest—and also the greediest and most inhumane—of Gingrich’s recent actions is his having shilled for ethanol.
This year, U.S. farmers will divert about 35% of the American corn crop into ethanol production. This boost in demand is great for corn farmers. I should know, as my family has almost 700 acres of excellent farm land in northeastern Arkansas, on which we grow corn and soy. It’s been boom times ever since the Congress enacted Soviet-style ethanol production quota in 2007. Corn prices have remained high, despite a faltering global economy, and the reason is ethanol. While this is great for my father, it stinks for the world’s poor. The American corn crop is the largest in the world, and it sets the global price. Expensive corn here, therefore, means expensive corn everywhere.
It gets worse. By propping up the price of corn, Congressional ethanol policy also pushes up the price of other foodstuffs. Farmers respond to higher corn prices by growing more corn, and less of other crops, which means their price increases, too. The deleterious impact of expensive food on the international market is felt most acutely by the world’s poorest citizens. A recent peer-reviewed study in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons by Dr. Indur Goklany calculates that global ethanol production resulted in 192,000 excess deaths in developing countries in 2010.
Ethanol kills, and Gingrich supports subsidies for the industry. In addition to being unethical, ethanol subsidies are also nonsensical. Demand for ethanol is established by law: This year, American consumers must purchase 13 billion gallons or corn-ahol. Why does ethanol merit subsidies, in addition to a mandate that forces people to buy it? Gingrich has a reputation of being a policy wonk, so he must know this. Yet he supports the subsidies. Why? The likely answer was provided by an analysis of Gingrich’s tax returns by the Center for Public Integrity, which showed that his consulting firm received $300,000 from Growth Energy, an ethanol business. The global warming ad was dumb, but shilling for ethanol is dumber.