I just read a brief article citing the high costs of grain as the reason the US will be severely cutting back on food aid to starving countries. This brings up some fundamental questions about two subjects near and dear to the Professional Panty-Wetting Class in this country.
First, how much of the world’s population would starve if not for free food from the US? According to the US Department of Agriculture, the United States is projected to spend $101 Billion on food aid to the rest of the world in 2008. Assuming I’m doing my sums correctly, that means we are spending nearly twice as much money on free food than the UK spends on its military (source: CIA World Factbook). We give away more food than the entire GDP of Ethiopia. How many people are starving around the world, and why are we the only ones trying to do anything about it? To Hell with being “the world’s policeman”, why are we the world’s food bank?
Americans are historically and traditionally the biggest soft touches on the planet. We give more as individuals than every other country combined. Our government gives more than the rest of the world. We can afford it, and many Americans feel enough of a connection with their fellow humans that we don’t begrudge them our surplus food and money. This widespread willingness to help others is not unique to Americans, of course, but Americans are far and away the biggest donors in the world.
Getting back to my original point, American food aid seems to be the difference between survival and starvation for millions of people worldwide. For some reason, this fact is never mentioned by the people P.J. O’Rourke describes as “the Perennially Indignant”. These people seem to believe that America can do no right, and any American influence on other countries is invariably evil. Fine. Let’s stop sending out the millions of tonnes of grain to starving people around the world. This will make the prices of those grains drop (supply and demand, you know), and millions of people will die of starvation and diseases associated with malnutrition all over the world, but at least they’ll be free of association with Evil America . The Perennially Indignant probably wouldn’t like that, either. I suppose there’s no pleasing some people.
Now let us try to discover why the prices of grains have risen. As far as I can tell, US farmers are still producing their typical bumper crops of grains. This means that the source of supply has not decreased. Perhaps the demand has increased. What could possibly have put a dent into the massive surpluses American agribusiness creates each year?
The answer lies in another pet project of the Professional Panty-Wetters: Ethanol. This colossal boondoggle created and sustained by the “Humans (and especially American humans) Are Teh Eevul!” crowd is responsible for the steep rise in grain prices.
A bunch of loud mouths with lots of time on their hands managed to convince Congress that Ethanol would reduce CO2 emissions, eliminate American dependence on foreign oil, get the weeds out of your lawn, and increase your penis size. Congress bought this line of drivel and immediately forced it down the throats of the American public. To the surprise of no one with a functioning cerebellum, none of the promised benefits emerged. In addition to failing to produce any reduction in CO2 emissions or minimize dependence on foreign oil, the stupid decision to use corn to create ethanol has caused a catastrophic ripple effect through American agriculture.
With the demand for corn increasing, the price of corn went through the roof. Farmers who used cheap, plentiful corn as animal feed cursed and switched to less expensive options. Surprise, surprise, surprise. The prices of the corn alternatives also went up as the result of increasing demand. Everything that used to be inexpensive because of cheap corn became more expensive. It started with beef, milk, and other products of the meat industry. The ripples are still disturbing the economic waters.
Mexican consumers suddenly couldn’t afford to buy corn and corn products. Corn is THE staple of the Mexican diet. The cultural repercussions are just starting to be felt in Mexico and points south.
American food aid to poor countries gets eliminated or reduced. All over the world, people who might otherwise have eked out a tenuous existence don’t have enough to eat. The result of such evolutionary pressure has historically been mass starvation and armed uprisings.
All of that wouldn’t have been worthwhile even if it meant lower prices at the gas pumps and cleaner air. Sadly, we didn’t even get those benefits. The corn-ethanol boondoggle is causing misery and death all over the planet and we didn’t even get the minor benefits we were promised.
Here’s a neat idea: let’s let go of the generations-long hissy-fit our Gummint has had with Cuba’s government and start buying sugar cane from there. We can use sugar cane to make ethanol (just like the successful Brazilian program) and use our corn to make FOOD. This will reduce the price of corn (and other grains) and increase the productivity of Cuban farmers. The people of Cuba get a market for their goods, and can buy more essentials and join the 21st century. More affluent Cubans means a more reasonable Cuban government (one way or another). The US food aid programs can go back to being the difference between death by starvation and survival for millions of people around the world. Everybody wins.
Except the Perennially Indignant and the Professional Panty Wetters. But, let’s face it, nothing we could do would ever make them happy.
Current status: Flabbergasted
Current Music: One of These Days by Pink Floyd