Food prices

How should a well-fed American react when some of the world’s poorest citizens in Haiti and Bangladesh riot over the rising price of food?

Street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, April 12, 2008. Source: StarPhoenix.

To be sure, there are many factors influencing food prices. But to me it’s natural to begin with the element that represents a deliberate policy choice on the part of the United States. I refer to America’s decision to divert a significant part of our agricultural production for purposes of creating a fuel additive for motor vehicles. USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber predicts that 4.1 billion bushels, or 31% of the entire U.S. corn crop, will be devoted to ethanol production for the 2008/09 season.

Source: Glauber (2008) from the 2008 Agricultural Outlook Forum.

On one level, the question of whether it is morally acceptable for us to divert the food that might have fed the hungry for purposes of driving our SUVs is no different from similar questions about any of a number of other details of how the well-off dispose of their wealth. But I’m thinking that the profound inefficiencies associated with this particular disposition of resources may also be relevant. As a result of ethanol subsidies and mandates, the dollar value of what we ourselves throw away in order to produce fuel in this fashion could be 50% greater than the value of the fuel itself. In other words, we could have more food for the Haitians, more fuel for us, and still have something left over for your other favorite cause, if we were simply to use our existing resources more wisely.

We have adopted this policy not because we want to drive our cars, but because our elected officials perceive a greater reward from generating a windfall for American farmers.

But the food price increases are now biting ordinary Americans as well. That could make those political calculations change, and may present be an opportunity for a nimble politician to demonstrate a bit of real leadership. I notice, for example, that although Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) was among those who voted in favor of the monstrous 2005 Energy Bill that began these mandates, Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ) were among the 26 senators who bravely voted against it.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one of them actually tried to make this a campaign issue?

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48 thoughts on “Food prices

  1. Charles

    Bangladesh is another problem (the shortages are caused by a rat infestation caused, in turn, by the flowering of bamboo), but Haiti used to be food self-sufficient and was put in this dire state by trade policies that put local producers out of business, impoverished the nation, and promoted deforestation.
    So, yes, it would be nice if we didn’t burn food while people are starving. But we weren’t giving the food to Haitians even before biofuels became important and we certainly haven’t been helping them avoid starvation.
    US policy toward Haiti has been so disastrous that they would probably be better off if we simply departed and promised never to darken their doorstep again.
    Back to Bangladesh… yes, there is a good illustration of why there needs to be a bit more slack in food production, so that natural events like a rat infestation don’t turn deadly.

  2. General Specific

    McCain and Clinton have both criticized Obama’s vote on the energy bill, so the bill itself is a topic of discussion–but given the media’s obsession–on the left and right–with the current topic–elitism–I’m not sure energy issues will get their due. Clinton and McCain have not raised the issue of food prices when attacking Obama’s vote, nor the inefficient nature of ethanol–primarily they attack his vote for corporate welfare. The bill had a lot of lard for Illinois.

    Bringing in the food angle seems pertinent and possible given rising food prices–and it would be nice to see a public discussion of the ethanol program’s inefficiencies. But the “we’re creating energy independence” meme is one politicians love to embrace. McCain’s latest is to lower the gas tax, which seems like pandering and a step in the wrong direction. So I don’t expect a reasoned discussion of this issue.

    Also, the New York Times discusses this issue and the level of obfuscation and doubt created by all the voices representing the different sides of this issue make it seem unlikely that the truth will rise to the surface.

  3. anonymous

    The Haitians and the Bangladeshis can ask the Saudis, the Qataris, the Russians, and the Venezuelans for hand-outs.

  4. CoRev

    The food shortage is being blamed on Global Warming, the energy crisis, local politics, and anything that is a political issue.
    Food prices have gone up due to local weather conditions, a drought in Australia and rising costs for transportation. In the US some supplies of corn and soy beans have been reduced due to creation of bio-fuels.

  5. kharris

    On paper, perhaps there is no difference between the rich burning food in their cars and any other choice the rich make about the uses of their vast resources, but there is an obvious difference in reality. In the abstract, every choice regarding resource use in the past has an impact today on resource availability. However, choices in the recent past about food use have a very large impact on food availability right now. It is a truism but a really trivial truism at best, that choices about food use are like all other resource use choices. At worst, it offers yet another of the comfortable dodges that led Joan Robinson say economics is the religion of the rich.
    As to the magnitude of the impact of various factors in boosting food prices, various international organizations with substantial expertise in these matters have pointed to US ethanol policy as a large part of the problem in the fundamentals of food prices. Others may disagree, but it would be useful under the circumstances if those others would back up their view with data, analysis or reference to expert opinion.

  6. JohnD

    We should be drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and ANWR, and should be using nuclear technology – instead of fermenting our food for ethanol. This is one of a number of really bad decisions that will haunt this country and pay negative dividends worldwide. Reflects our overall immorality…thanks for addressing it. Not a peep from McHilarabama.

  7. Buzzcut

    The politics and consequences of ethanol policy are irrelevant to me.
    All I see is E85 selling for $2.94 a gallon when 87 octane gas is $3.44 at the same station.
    I’ve been experimenting with topping off my tank with E85. I’ve found that I can get as much as 30% ethanol in a tank and have the car run with no ill consequences (regular gas is 10% ethanol in Indiana).
    My experiences are documented in a blog.
    The savings is not huge (maybe 10% overall). I think that this is mostly because this station sells E85 for a 50 cent per gallon discount, no matter what the price of 87 octane is. I wonder if the spread between E85 and gas could be more.

  8. Anarchus

    I don’t see how the issue of food riots in Haiti adds much to the analysis of whether or not the ethanol mandates make economic sense or not.
    Of course the ethanol mandates make no economic sense at all – but I’d be hard pressed to think of ANY massive federal subsidies that make economic sense . . . . . . . . if there is good news, it’s very clear that there is a shocking train wreck coming in the next 24 months in the ethanol market – with a drought this summer or next it’ll be bigger and come sooner than otherwise, but the subsidy system will implode long before we get to 5.6 bil. bushels of corn ethanol.

  9. dexmus

    Insightful article, 30% sure appears a lot to be devoted to ethanol production.
    But I do not understand as to how can it contribute in any meaningful way to the global food shortage?
    United States and Canada are the largest and second largest exporters of wheat. Thailand and Vietnam are the largest and second largest exporters of rice.
    How can 30% corn from United States play any hand in global shortages of food grains in general?

  10. JRip

    It would be useful to have a summary of all the various subsidies that state and Federal governments are giving to ethanol and other bio-fuels.

    How much is given:

    To grow corn?
    To build and/or operate an ethanol plant?
    To blend the ethanol with the gasoline?
    To deliver the water used to grow the corn and then the water to make the ethanol.?

    The MN Federal Reserve had an article or two on expensive water projects back in 2005. I recall that water costs less in arid South Dakota than in Duluth on the shores of Lake Superior.

    We should recall that the use of ethanol started as a way to reduce municipal air pollution (SMOG-like stuff) and was added to gasoline seasonally here in Minnesota.

    Ethanol usage grew when MBTE became a health issue when gasoline containing MBTE was found to be leaking from storage tanks and polluting drinking water so ethanol and ether derived from ethanol got more use in fuels as they replaced MBTE.

    [MBTE got into gasoline to replace tetra-ethyl lead which had LEAD in it. Tetra-ethyl LEAD got into gasoline to reduce engine knocking]

  11. Lord

    There are real subsidies for ethanol, but we should avoid making them out to be greater than they really are. Subsidies to grow corn lower food prices, not increase them, so shouldn’t be counted as ethanol subsidies. Requiring usage seems to be the largest. Taxes and tariffs relatively small.
    Since E85 has only 74% of the energy of gas,,
    if gas sells for 3.44, E85 should sell for no more than 2.51. You should be avoiding it.

  12. tinbox

    You can blame ethanol for luring farmers to plant corn over wheat last year. But about half of that acreage will revert to wheat and soybeans this season, while high prices for grains will pull more overall acreage into production. Ethanol has an impact, yes, but it is not the driver of food riots.
    Ethanol is not a great long-term energy solution. But it can be a part of a transition to alternative enregy fueled transport. It works in the cars we have now. Anything else is just hot air.

  13. Barkley Rosser

    I am with you on this one, Jim. This is a very bad boondoggle, and the lower prices for ethanol at the gas pump reflect a subsidy from US taxpayers (or some eventually, perhaps paying off our Chinese creditors in the future). It is probably a stretch to directly blame our political system for food riots in Haiti or Bangladesh, but they are certainly a factor in the high price of tortillas in Mexico.
    Corn/maize is the third major grain of the world, about as great in production as wheat and rice globally, with soybeans a distant fourth. Like soybeans it is more a feed grain than a food grain, thus more directly relevant for meat prices, although it can affect wheat to the extent land used for it displaces that used for wheat (not so likely for rice). The US produces about half the world’s corn, so what we do is a big deal, a very big deal.
    BTW, while McCain and Hillary can be applauded for voting against the 2005 energy bill, if I remember correctly when they were both campaigning in Iowa they were somehow finding themselves to some degree on the other side, at least downplaying their votes on that one. This pernicious ethanol subsidy may well be a scourge that the primacy in the presidential races of Iowa bequeaths to us, sort of like what the importance of Florida does with regard to our idiotically never-ending embargo against Cuba.

  14. Lord

    The farce here is trying to blame ethanol subsidies for the problem that is oil prices. Ending them overnight would not cause food prices to fall. It would make ethanol slightly less attractive, but they still would be at these levels of oil prices. Those subsidy estimates are a bunch of bullsh*t.

  15. Loyal Democrat

    I don’t see how blaming the United States government’s policies is helpful. Sure, unintended consequences arise from regulation but, it is simply a matter of then correcting the problem with new regulations. Simply pass a law mandating the price of corn. I know economists would probably say that would cause a whole host of other problems but, eventually all the problems will come out in the open and our wonderful benevolent government will figure out all the ins and outs and we will have a wonderfully planned economy where everyone is equally miserable. After all, that is the purpose of having a goverment is it not?
    A bunch of old European white males used to think that a government was best when it protected the rights of the individual. Today, we know better. Individuals would never burn their food to propel an automobile. It is best, therefore, that they not be allowed to make such choices.
    Corn is renewable. renewable is good. nonrenewable is bad. It is really very simple. If poor people starve to death, it is not really a bad thing. There are too many people here now despoiling our planet, a few less is a good thing, no?

  16. Walt

    Too many people, not enough resources. Duh. Get used to this kind of thing. Leveraging all our resources to support continued population growth is a dumb idea, just like turning corn into ethanol for fuel.

  17. GK

    The simple sacrifice that Americans (and others) can make in order to ease these problems is :
    Reduce meat consumption by 50%
    This will :
    1) Reduce grain shortages
    2) Reduce GH gas emissions
    3) Reduce obesity, cancer, and a whole host of other diseases.
    A very small and simple sacrifice, really. But Americans don’t actually want to make any sacrifices, even easy ones. Trade down from an SUV to a compact, reduce meat consumption by 50%, etc. are really very minor sacrifices to make.

  18. GK

    Listen to yourselves and your self-loathing ‘blame America first’ nonsense.
    Haiti will ALWAYS be poor. It is not America’s fault. It is no one’s fault but their own. Haiti is the ONLY country in the Western Hemisphere with Human Development indicators at African levels. Haiti is, for all intents and purposes, an African nation.
    Bangladesh – so this is America’s fault now? How about Pakistan, which conducted a genocide in Bangladesh in 1971, killing 2 million people? How about Saudi Arabia, which diverts money towards Madrassas in Bangladesh, but not towards food. How about China, which is supporting Maoists in Bangladesh, but not giving them food. Or how about the Bangladeshis themselves, who live on the most fertile soil in the world, but still can’t feed themselves, because they have reproduced to an extent that 150 million people live on an area the size of Ohio?
    It is not America’s fault, nor is it America’s responsibility, to save even the most inadequate cultures from their own vices.

  19. coo

    The unintended consequences of ethanol include significant environmental degradation and clean up costs that will impact Midwesterner’s pocketbooks. Nutrient loads (nitrogen and phosphorus) from fertilizer run-off into the Mississippi eventually feed the algal blooms (dynoflagellates) that cause the massive Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. There is a movement to increase regulations at wastewater treatment plants, which also discharge nitrogen (ammonia/urea). But the few studies available on this indicate that WWTPs only contribute a small percent of the load. Additional treatment is likely to be expensive and energy intensive (with an associated increase in carbon footprint, hmmm). Ethanol is just a part of the problem, but it’s thought to be a significant part (science is still young, though).
    Another environmental issue is much greater amount of land being farmed for ethanol; here in Ohio, that includes land that was returning to its original forested state. So much for carbon sinks.
    Now if only we included resource inputs in the national accounts.

  20. Barkley Rosser

    Loyal Democrat,
    I hope that in that last paragraph you were being sarcastic or iromic, but offhand it did not look like it. Seemed to be a coda on an otherwise serious argument, if one I found somewhat flawed. You really want to deal with population problems by having people “starve to death”?
    Eating meat that is grass fed on land not usable for grain crops will not cause the problems you cite, so it is not just a matter of cutting meat consumption. Depends on how the meat was produced, more specifically, how the animal was fed.
    Also, Saudi Arabia has spent millions on agriculture. At one point they were actually a major wheat exporter. They were drilling down as far as two miles below the surface to find groundwater to irrigate those farms. Why were they doing such an inane and wasteful thing? To tie down bedouins to the land as peaceful farmers they can keep an eye on rather than as nomadic wanderers who can foment rebellions against the government while wandering around in the desert unaccounted for.

  21. Barkley Rosser

    BTW, it is not just Haiti and Bangladesh. I have read that as many as 33 countries have now had food price riots. The “bottom billion” are all threatened by the now much higher prices of food. Are they to be held responsible for this and dismissed as people who just suck it up and starve to death while we guzzle that subsidized ethanol at the pump that is so much cheaper?

  22. M1EK

    Corn ethanol is not a step in the right direction – it’s a step in the wrong direction. More pollution than straight petroleum, including CO2; and precious little EROEI. Even cellulosic ethanol isn’t good enough to be worth the trouble.
    The only real solution is to drive a hell of a lot less in far more efficient vehicles and start to work on electrified inter-city rail transport. That’s not going to work with the suburban Suburban driver/voter, of course, so expect more stupid detours into stuff which won’t work but delays the day of reckoning.

  23. GWG

    Can one not make an argument for ethanol production in that while it is more expensive it is a way to diversify our sources of energy? In my view the current energy situation is a serious national security issue. If you accept that premise, then we should do something to reduce our depenedence on energy imports from a volatile region of the world, even at a cost.
    While I’m not in favor of governmental mandates of this sort in general, the government rarely implements a first-best solution. Perhaps this is the best a democratic government can do.

  24. DickF

    Professor Hamilton,
    Sometime you thrill my heart with how brave you are. Don’t you know that you are attacking a religion when you attack ethanol use in automobiles? I am surprised you haven’t been attacked for your blasphemy.
    In case you didn’t notice I am with you 100% on this one. Of course this is not the only problem with the high cost of food, a crashing dollar certianly doesn’t help but the ethanol issue reminds me of FDR burning potatoes and paying framers not to grow food, while there were food lines of starving people during the Depression. Is there a reason the Democrats are so intent on creating starvation?

  25. GK

    “Are they to be held responsible for this and dismissed as people who just suck it up and starve to death while we guzzle that subsidized ethanol at the pump that is so much cheaper? ”
    In a word, yes. Nature is capitalistic. Species have gone extinct throughout human history. Cultures have had to adapt. Those that do, survive. Those that don’t, do not.
    Not all cultures are equal. They are VERY unequal, despite what pampered multi-cultis like to think.
    BTW, there is still less poverty and starvation in the world than at any other time in human history since 2006. Unless you think world history began in 2006, this is a time of historical abundance.

  26. GK

    “Species have gone extinct throughout human history. “**
    **Correction : Species have gone extinct throughout the history of life on Earth.

  27. Barkley Rosser

    Amartya Sen has made it clear that the only reason for famines to occur is a lack of political will and organization to get people fed. There is enough food in the world to feed everybody, the drought in Australia and the ethanol subsidies in the US aside. It is inequality and local political disorganization that leads to people not being fed.
    Personally, I find it immoral to stand by while people to death, if it can be avoided. What makes the wealthy so morally superior? Have we not progressed beyond this sort of crude Social Darwninism?

  28. GK

    “Amartya Sen has made it clear that the only reason for famines to occur is a lack of political will and organization to get people fed. ”
    Exactly. Thus, it is their own doing, rather than America’s fault.
    Bangladesh has some of the most fertile soil in the world, and a tropical climate.
    Haiti could be earning billions a year in tourism alone.
    Hong Kong and Singapore are rich, with no natural resources, while many countries rich in resources are poor.
    Read PJ O’Rourke’s ‘Eat the Rich’. There are many examples of countries that make everything from nothing, and those that make nothing from everything.
    “Personally, I find it immoral to stand by while people to death, if it can be avoided. ”
    What are you doing about it? Are you donating money anywhere? I doubt it….
    “makes the wealthy so morally superior? ”
    Americans donate more than any other nation – far more than Western Europeans. Furthermore, even poor countries have rich people, who do nothing for their own countrymen. Wealth concentration in poor nations is far more than in the US.
    “Have we not progressed beyond this sort of crude Social Darwninism?”
    No, we have not, and never will.
    Unless you accept that all cultures are NOT equal (far from it), you will continue to be baffled by such ‘injustice’, which leads to self-loathing.

  29. Charles

    GK, I suggest you read the history of Haiti before absolving the United States of having a role in its poverty.
    Having some historical knowledge is not equal to “blaming America first.” It does help one to not seem ignorant. You might start with a report from 1920 that George Mason University has placed on the Web at This hits at the roots of the current problem, namely the numerous occupations of and interventions in Haiti by the US government.
    Overall, the United States has been no better and no worse than any other hegemon, but its role in Haiti has been particularly malign. Haitian leaders bear responsibility too, of course. But many of them– including some of the worst people presently in power now– were supported by the United States. Americans need not take responsibility for all the world’s evils. But when we refuse to take responsibility for those for which we are demonstrably responsible, we come across looking either like fools or tyrants.

  30. GK

    It is clear that I know more about Haiti (and America) than you do.
    Haiti is far poorer than Dominca, Jamaica, and even Cuba. It is absurd to blame the US’s actions from 1915 to 1934 as a reason for Haiti’s poverty in 2008. By that measure, Japan should be the poorest country in the world today, as it was the country most heavily destroyed by America (more recently, too, I might add). Germany should be the second poorest.
    “Overall, the United States has been no better and no worse than any other hegemon, but its role in Haiti has been particularly malign. ”
    This is where you lose all credibility and are exposed as a self-loathing pseudointellectual.
    No great power has trod upon the world as gently as the US has. No country has devoted more of its own resources and lives for the freedom of others. The US keeps no colonies, and imposes no taxes on nations it has conquered (Germany, Japan, Bosnia, South Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq), or nations it defends (Israel, Taiwan, the NATO countries). In fact, it has elevated the economies of all of them.
    The US, along with a few allies like the UK and Australia, are alone in bringing democracy and freedom to the long-oppressed people of Iraq. Even though the likes of you root for failure, bloodshed, and the murder of innocent Iraqis by Islamic extremists, the US continues to conduct the noblest of sacrifices.
    Michael Yon’s book is up to #8 on Amazon. You may want to purchase it in order to take the first steps on the long road to educating yourself about the world.

  31. Anonymous

    The British did it to the Scotish, the Swedes did it to the Danes, the Germans did it to the Poles, the Russians did it to Estonians, the Japanese did it to the Koreans…
    If Haiti is not the way it is because of the people and culture of Haiti, then America is not the way it is because of its own people and culture either. Its Chinas fault because their government subsidizes our sweatsock consumption.
    On topic, wouldn’t an economist expect the market to adjust to higher agricultural demand with higher agricultural output? And if there is evidence that agriculture has economy of scale, then then in the long term our ethanol policy WILL REDUCE THE PRICE OF GRAINS!
    Refute this economics 101 argument please.

  32. Name

    The British did it to the Scotish, the Swedes did it to the Danes, the Germans did it to the Poles, the Russians did it to Estonians, the Japanese did it to the Koreans…
    If Haiti is not the way it is because of the people and culture of Haiti, then America is not the way it is because of its own people and culture either. Its Chinas fault because their government subsidizes our sweatsock consumption.
    On topic, wouldn’t an economist expect the market to adjust to higher agricultural demand with higher agricultural output? And if there is evidence that agriculture has economy of scale, then then in the long term our ethanol policy WILL REDUCE THE PRICE OF GRAINS!
    Refute this economics 101 argument please.

  33. JDH

    Name, when I teach Econ 101 (actually, called Econ 2 here at UCSD), I use agriculture as a prime example of a sector with clear decreasing returns, because a critical factor of production (land) is fixed, and the best land gets cultivated first.

  34. Charles

    GK says, “It is absurd to blame the US’s actions from 1915 to 1934 as a reason for Haiti’s poverty in 2008.”
    Have I done so? No, you invented that rather than read and seriously consider the link I provided, just as you’ve invented the offensive lies that somehow I “blame America first,”… that that I an a “self-loathing pseudointellectual.”
    Yes, those are offensive lies, for which a decent person would apologize.
    I suggested that you to start reading up on the history of Haiti because it’s obvious that you aren’t aware that the current occupation is a repeat of the occupation of 1915, with many of the same rationales given– and many of the same propaganda emitted then. Nor do you seem to understand that the withdrawal of troops in 1934 did not end the American occupation. To quote Wikipedia: “The U.S. retained control of Haiti’s external finances until 1947. All three rulers during the occupation came from the country’s small mulatto minority, whom the Americans considered more “civilised”, while the black majority was kept in subordination.”
    Nor did American control end in 1947. Instead, the United States helped bring “Papa Doc” Duvalier to power. Wikipedia: “His regime is regarded as one of the most repressive and corrupt of modern times, combining violence against political opponents with exploitation of Vodou to instil fear in the majority of the population.” He killed over 30,000 people.
    And we installed this monster: According to the Center for Defense Information (”Also under the cover of the Cold War, the United States supplied military and development aid to a brutal father-son dictatorship in Haiti. Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier came to power in 1957.
    In 1958, the US Marines once again returned to Haiti, this time staying for five years to train “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s military. Before “Papa Doc” died, he made his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, his successor. Together their violent rule lasted 27 years.”
    And that brings us to the last two decades, during which the US has invaded Haiti and removed its elected leader through a coup. And that, GK, is why Haiti is so desperately poor and chaotic.
    GK says, “No great power has trod upon the world as gently as the US has. No country has devoted more of its own resources and lives for the freedom of others.”
    This is laughable. Every great power, including the very worst regimes in history has said exactly the same. The United States has done plenty of good things. Those, I celebrate. But this is what the commander of the forces who occupied Haiti, General Smedley Darlington Butler said:
    I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service in the country’s most agile military force, the Marines. I served in all ranks from second Lieutenant to Major General. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
    I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
    Thus I helped make Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.
    I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers and Co. in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
    During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, and promotion. Looking back on it, I feel that I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate a racket in three city districts. The Marines operated on three continents.
    –Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940) was at the time of his death the most decorated U.S. Marine in history. He was twice the recipient of the Medal of Honor, one of only nineteen to be so honored.

    Tell it to the Marines, GK!

  35. HZ

    Since the poorer countries have much larger percentage of population farming, one can only assume that it is a net positive for those countries that agricultural products are being valued more. For years the complaint was that US and Europe subsidize farming. How could you now turn around and blame US for driving food price higher? Countries that have problems with the high price most likely have internal issues that are the true cause — it is not as if not enough is produced to feed everybody.

  36. Buzzcut

    Since E85 has only 74% of the energy of gas, if gas sells for 3.44, E85 should sell for no more than 2.51. You should be avoiding it.
    It’s slightly more complicated than that.
    E85 is 100 octane. You can mix small amounts of E85 with regular gas and increase the octane significantly.
    If you have a car that requires premium, or even better, a turbo, mixing E85 may get you better mileage than you might expect based on those energy calculations.
    My Saab requires 90 octane. 4 gallons of E85 per tank gets it a little higher than that. E85 has other properties like evaporative cooling upon injection that also enhances turbo performance.
    So… does it still make financial sense to top off with E85? That’s what the blog is all about! No one really knows, but I’m going to find out.

  37. DickF

    Barkley Rosser wrote:
    It is inequality and local political disorganization that leads to people not being fed.
    Personally, I find it immoral to stand by while people to death, if it can be avoided. What makes the wealthy so morally superior? Have we not progressed beyond this sort of crude Social Darwninism?

    You clearly recognize the problem as your first sentence above demonstrates, but why then to you suddenly turn from the cause to slamming the wealthy as morally superior?
    The problem, as you state, is political disorganization. Haiti was once one of the major food producers in the world, now they cannot even feed their own population. What changed? Not the land and not the rich in the world. It was the political situation in Haiti. Zimbabwe was the once the bread basket of Africa and now after years of Robert Mugabe’s socialist experiment its people are starving. Remember Somalia? It was not the wealthy that left food on the docks to rot. Chad, Darfur starvation used as a weapon of mass destruction.
    Do not vent your anger against the wealthy who supply the world with food and other goods. Vent your anger against the despots and mercantilist central planners who destroy production and the lives of people.

  38. Loyal Democrat

    A serious argument except for the last paragraph? That is scary. It was intended to be satire and a serious argument against socialism, not for it. I was wondering if someone would bite.
    In my mind, there is only one person in the universe capable of centrally planning an economy that is just. I suspect his plan would closely resemble a completely capitalist society. His name is Jehovah among others.

  39. Barkley Rosser

    I have donated money. Maybe we have not gone beyond crude Social Darwinism, but we should.
    “Loyal Democrat,”
    OK, got it. The whole thing a parody. I did not agree with any of what you said, but the first part was mostly stupid, whereas the last part was downright immoral. But, all a parody, hah hah.
    Yes, the messed-up local leaders are the primarily responsible parties for when we see outright famine, which is indeed the position of Sen, with which I agree.
    However, and we are back to the original point, behavior of wealthy Americans and the US government does affect the price of food in poorer countries, and ethanol subsidies tend to push them up. Yes, some peasants are doing better as a result in many countries, but not in all. For anybody who is not able to sell food products at a higher price, the higher prices hurt them very much, as the riots in 33 countries indicate. So far, fortunately, we have not seen outright starvation or full-blown famine, but some of the more poorly managed countries might see it. But, even in those that are poor but not totally mismanaged, the higher prices are hurting lots of people who are not responsible for what is happening to them.

  40. DickF

    Thanks Barkley. I may have been overly harsh. I agree with you that there are some in the US who are helping to create higher food prices for the rest of the world but they are usually the ones who slop at the government trough. The working wealthy lower world food prices (and other commodities) through increased production. If there were working wealthy in many of these countries such as Haiti and Zimbabwe there would be an abundance of food. But the country is ruled by the confiscatory wealthy who eat the seed corn.

  41. Charles

    DickF says, “What changed? Not the land and not the rich in the world.”
    Actually, yes, the land has changed. As I pointed out on the very first post of the thread, the fertility of the land has been ruined by soil erosion, soil erosion caused deforestation, caused in turn by desperation. A case study on the topic can he found here:

  42. Name

    I will study the issue of land scarcity in agriculture, of which I have some ignorance.
    However I just _know_ when I do the first inch of work, I’m going to find that the best land outside of Europe, Australia and North America is going to be split up into relatively small parcels worked with relative inefficiency by too many farmers and not enough tractors.
    I’ll do enough research to verify the suspicion. The mean farming acreage per Indian farmer is only a Goggle away.

  43. Name

    There is plenty of farm data available out there.
    Mean farm size (Hectares) in
    Bangladesh: 0.46
    Philippines: 2.16
    Albania: 4.21
    Italy: 7.57
    Netherlands: 18.63
    Germany 32.11
    UK: 70.21
    USA: 197.24
    Canada: 341.10
    Australia: 3601.70
    The pattern seems clear. Land scarcity might be an issue, but efficiency of use is a bigger one. USA, Canada and Australia crank out grain because they choose to.
    Continental South America has large farms and sketchy economies, but they are eating and exporting (e.g. Argentines and their beef).

  44. Barkley Rosser

    “Loyal Democrat,”
    Since you seem to be very full of your Jehovah-laden self satisfaction with having pulled people in with your parody, allow me to simply point out that much of what GK said was much worse than what you said. Is GK a parodist also or not? Frankly, I doubt it.

  45. General Specific

    Name said: “I’ll do enough research to verify the suspicion. The mean farming acreage per Indian farmer is only a Goggle away.”
    This is actually one of the dangers of the internet. Selective data mining. People have suspicions and then can assemble (through google) enough data to satisfy themselves–even if not true.
    A better way to do science: how would you disprove your proposition? I’m not saying it’s not true, but I am curious what the effiency is of farms with respect to acreage. Not in terms of output per acre, though I’m interested in that as well, but in terms of output per fossil fuels put into the acre. That should also be considered.

  46. ep3

    I have always heard stories that there are lots of farms that are paid to NOT produce a maximum production amount. I can’t believe that in this giant country we cannot produce enough corn to feed ourselves. Could this be a ploy to drive prices up so these large corporate farms make more money? Wasn’t it not so long ago that we had to control the amount of corn we were producing because if we didn’t, we would overproduce and the price of corn would be zero so we created “farm subsidies”?
    I think the real deal with prices is OIL.

  47. FarmNow

    Ok, I have read all the comments posted here. Some are good, some are bad, and some are downright ignorant. I am a cultural anthropologist who has left the workforce to raise my own food on a standard city lot in a million+ population area. I have chickens and ducks for eggs, plenty of good organically grown produce to feed my children, and am doing it on less area than alot of ppl have to live in, such as apartment dwellers. I will be growing my own grain next year. I buy my meat from sustainable ranchers (Read: grass fed, not inhumane grain-force fed feedlot animals.). And all this on less than 26K a year.
    A good model (the one I’m using) is the Dervaes in Pasadena CA. They grow 50-85% of their own food on a city lot, produce their own biofuel, and recycle everything they can onsite. If you REALLY want to learn about food production on a small scale, do some research on urban agriculture, and visit the Dervaes page, These ppl grew 6000 pounds of produce last year, and are shooting for 10,000 this year.
    So stop squalling about how “The Man” (Insert your choice of oppressor here) is keeping you down, and get your butt off the couch and take some responsibility for yourself. And those of you squalling about how we need to help ppl in other countries, remember that charity begins at home, and God(ess) helps those who help themselves.

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