Pumping Corn

Geoffrey Norman over at American Spectator has some corny ideas on his mind. Let’s take a look.

There was a time — and not so long ago — when America’s leaders would say that we were “addicted to oil,” and warn us that we could not “drill our way out of this.” This turned out to be a) simpleminded, b) patronizing, and c) wrong.

Pretty much par for the course, then.

So of course the solutions for meeting the crisis, as prescribed by our political class, were either ineffectual or just wrong as both science and economics. The politics, though, were another thing.

One proposed remedy that we were promised would help us avoid an energy crisis severe enough to crush the economy was… burn corn, not oil.

American farmers have no trouble growing things. Never have. They are famously hardworking, resourceful, and innovative. We don’t have food scarcity in America. We have surpluses. American agriculture inspired an industry of farm equipment and machinery that is supreme in the world. John Deere. New Holland. Massey Ferguson.

So it seemed simple enough to replace the oil we couldn’t extract from the ground with a bi-product of the things we could make grow out of it. That would be ethanol. And Americans surely did know how to make that. They had been doing it right from the nation’s beginning, turning American corn into American bourbon. Mostly legal. Sometimes not. In which case it was called moonshine, the scientific and boring name for which is “ethanol.”

It also works with the internal combustion engine. The car you drive burns the stuff. So do your lawnmower, chainsaw, and outboard. With less satisfactory results. Ethanol is not generally kind to two stroke engines. A small engine mechanic I know says the stuff doesn’t just keep him in business. It pays for his vacations. […]

So refiners were now obligated, by law, to add ethanol to the gasoline they produced and that was generally available at the pump. American drivers had no choice but to buy it and burn it. American farmers predictably began planting corn, fencerow to fencerow, as far as the eye could see. After all, they had a market that was guaranteed by the government.

Instead of “If you build it, they will come,” it was “If you grow it, they will blend.”

Meanwhile, the petroleum industry had decided it would not simply lie down and die and was saying, “Peak oil, my butt. You think we can’t drill our way out of this? Here, hold my beer and watch.”

America soon became the world’s largest producer of crude. Where we had once been obliged to bow down to “our good friends” the Saudis to be sure of those millions of barrels of imported crude, we were now exporting the stuff.

We are blessed with an abundance of both ethanol and crude oil.

Good news, right?

A situation where markets could do their magic.

Well…

The thing is, those farmers who had gone all in on corn for ethanol — and the refiners who had built an industry to service them — were now a political dependency and they were not going down without a fight. Mandated ethanol was, to them, a matter of first, prosperity, and then, survival. Instead of doing away with the requirement, they wanted to strengthen it. Their instrument would be government, in the form of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is positioned to raise the allowable percentage of ethanol in gasoline. From ten to fifteen.

Keep reading Corn at the Pump. He’s completely correct of course. It also highlights something else Americans have become amazingly good at growing: special interests.

Farmers since at least the civil war have been a vociferous special interest, heck nearly every state has a university founded to help them, but they’ve helped a lot of things, and it’s thanks to our farmers that we have gone from World War II where a considerable number of recruits were malnourished to where a majority of us are overweight. I happen to think that’s a better problem to have.

But the ethanol thing, while we laugh about it because it is silly, is really stupid. We’re using a fair percentage of our corn, which could be feeding people, to run our cars, here in the country that is the largest producer of oil in the world.

Huh? Yeah, doesn’t make much sense, does it? Talk about first world problems.

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

86 Responses to Pumping Corn

  1. Nicholas says:

    That Simpons bit springs to mind: the guru asks them all to listen to their inner voices. Ned’s says to stay the course (i.e. be faithful to Christ), Moe’s criticises him for forgetting his ethnic heritage, and Homer’s – appearing in a thought bubble upon his chest – simply says, “Food goes in here.” Better to put your corn in your gullet than in your fuel inlet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicholas says:

    NEO, have you ever thought of submitting a post for publication on Mises.org? I think you might be good at it, and it needn’t be long if you prefer writing shorter articles.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Scoop says:

    Technological baby steps is what we are seeing at present. Already, the idea of using food like corn as fuel has been eclipsed by companies such as Xyleco: https://www.xyleco.com

    But is it affordable yet? Or will there be a newer technology that will make biomass fuels obsolete as well? Men have an uncanny ability to find ways to survive and continue to advance; though at times we have a tendency to veer off onto paths that seem to take us backwards. But I believe, unless we have all submitted to mass insanity as being normal, that we will find a suitable technology at the same time as we truly need it. We simply do not need these technologies yet . . . and even so we are spending money for the next source of the world’s energy needs. I have faith that men will sober up and leave the innovative minds of entrepreneurial men to solve these future problems when they finally develop something that is better than we have at present. We aren’t there yet but the future will bring its own ‘normal’ energy into production when needed.

    And trying to push a first baby step into production when it makes no practical sense or common sense is simply being foolhardy. Governments ought to get out of the way as they usually get things wrong. The market solves the problems . . . not government elites.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nicholas says:

      I quite agree. I do not believe God is against us in this. I’m not part of the crowd that sees cities as destined to be wiped out and agrarian lifestyles revived in the Millennium. I think the OT and uses that kind of language because that is what the authors were familiar with: they could not envisage a world like ours today. (Indeed, some argue that some of the bizarre language in Revelation is an attempt by John to visually describe the modern world).

      The problem is not capitalism or technology, but our use of them as influenced by reason and by the sin nature. We create these dependencies, but they are not good: either in the long-run or short-term. In the short-term somebody is getting disadvantaged, be it the consumer or other commercial entities. In the long-run, the dependency becomes unsustainable (e.g. because of the disastrous inflationary effects) and it has to be ended, devastating those reliant upon it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Scoop says:

        Technologies come and go. Horses will likely not be the preferred transportation method in any future society unless our terrain becomes mangled so badly that roads are passe or we have bombed ourselves back to a previous age.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Indeed, and since various technologies are making our lives easier, we ought to consider how we can use them to enhance the things that really matter (as defined by God): family, charity, worship, etc. This is why I have gripes about state opposition to homeschooling (among other things): think what technology can do to help mothers raise the kids at home and prepare them for work. Home is supposed to be the basis of civilisation, and look what it has become. We complain about obesity epidemics, but public schools are a significant factor there.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Well once our infatuation with socialism and government control abates or enslaves us all and we regain our freedom by revolt or blood then we might put our technology to proper use again.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Here’s hoping. Still, considering Trump Derangement Syndrome, I’m beginning to think society needs a spell in mental care – a good monastery would do.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          We just need to get the lunatics back in their padded cells and get them out of regular society.

          Liked by 2 people

    • NEO says:

      Gotta admit that peak oil and climate change are amazingly good scams, lot of people have gotten rich on them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Scoop says:

        I saw that. Sadly we could bring it all here in one big chunk and the price of gold would fall to a penny for a pound of gold. It would be cheaper to build your house out of it rather than trying to spend it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Nicholas says:

    What are your favourite food dishes involving corn (or corn products)?

    Like

    • Scoop says:

      An interesting question since corn is prevalent in so many dishes.

      I would still have to place my top two dishes (in order of best) as 1) Corn Bread made with white cornmeal and bacon drippings (not too sweet) served with pinto beans and 2) Corn Muffins made with yellow cornmeal, mildly sweet and before serving, cut in half and grilled to medium brown perfection with fresh butter.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Nicholas says:

        I love corn bread, which is difficult to obtain in the UK. I tried to make it myself some years ago, but I don’t think it came out right.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Scoop says:

          Hard to screw up really. Try stone ground white cornmeal, a few tablespoons of bacon grease, a little baking powder and baking soda, and a spoonful of fresh butter. Mix it with fresh buttermilk until it is a soft consistency and place it in an iron skillet. Bake it until it is nice and brown on the top. The skillet will brown the bottom and sides and make it crunchy. Serve with butter and a eat it with a proper helping of pinto beans with garlic, salt and a ham hock (of course).

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          I must try again when I return to carbs – though that may not be for some time.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Yes, I too am mostly eating protein at this time though I do love carbs as well.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Yes, I love carbs and sugar. The French half of my blood has a strong belief in the value of good food and the ritual of eating.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          I do appreciate good old fashioned family meals myself.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          And they’re often interesting scenes in films as well: I like the meal scene in “Bridge of Spies”.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Funny. I liked the film but for some reason I can’t even remember the meal scene. It probably was simply all too familiar to the meals I was accustomed to while growing up to make any mental note of it.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          It struck me because the family was Catholic, so it was interesting to hear the grace and see their social customs. There’s definitely a sense of a link going all the way back to the OT in these family meetings where the head of the house says prayers on the family’s behalf.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Actually, until I became Catholic, that wasn’t part of my protestant ritual except at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Now its there at every meal . . . whether it is eaten alone or with others.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          I remember when I used to dine with the Catholics at college. It really makes you think about the busy-ness of our lives today and how easy it is to forget that God is the basis of it all. “We plough the fields and scatter” springs to mind.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Yes, we need to slow down our lives a little bit and give some proper thanks for all our blessings . . . including the food we eat. When we used to be mostly agrarian we understood that having food to eat was a real blessing and wasn’t a given. Now our kids especially don’t even know where the food in the grocery store comes from.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Truly. Sometimes I think that the simple practice of reading the bible everyday, which I used to do, made me more aware of the past and the rhythms of life than the average person in the modern world is. You cannot escape the agrarian life and family structures in the bible. You frequently bump into references: “When the time came for kings to wage war…” – i.e. they waged war in the summer because people could be spared while the crops grew, but not in ploughing or harvest time.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Indeed. Even in my grandfather’s time he doctored the people in his area oftentimes for some produce from their gardens. So during the great depression (though a doctor) he was down to a single twenty dollar bill for his whole family to live on and his patients weren’t paying him with cash or gold but most of them wanted to pay him something. So at times he would be given things like an old Thomas Edison phonograph or some the tube recordings that were played on it. He ended up having all sorts of antiques lying around his house . . . but not so much cash as his register showed that he was owed well over $150,000 on the books which he wasn’t interested in trying to collect at all. And that was a sizable amount of money in the 60’s.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Your grandfather was an honourable man. We need more like him in this world. RIP

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          He was indeed. Hard for our family to live up to his legacy though it seems to be dying out.

          Of course, so were the people that made up his community. Nobody wanted to get a free ride and they were insulted if you would not take something from them . . . no matter how poor they were.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          I imagine he was a pillar of his local community. In those days everyone knew who their doctor was, and he ranked up there along with the mayor, alderman, minister/priest, sherrif, and bank manager. Now, pretty much all those positions are viewed with suspicion by cynics and victims.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Indeed so. Any ‘profession’ or position that required an education was looked at with esteem. In fact there was a conscious seeking out for those older folks who might have some ‘wisdom’ which is not appreciated in our culture of the young . . . who think that they are wiser than the old or those who came before them.

          They think because they have computers they are wise; forgetting who imagined these things and built them in the first place. For they confuse advancement in science makes them wise and care not a bit about the wisdom that comes from living a good life and making good choices in life. That kind of ‘wisdom’ still exists but it is rarely sought out in our times.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Indeed. I wish that Proverbs, Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes were required reading under the national curriculum. If kids were exposed to real, earthy wisdom like that, they’d hopefully grow to be more in tune with the structure of reality that God intended. Society today is rather like St Paul kicking at the goads – nothing good comes of that. In the meantime, those of us who have a historical and conservative perspective, be we Catholic or Protestant, feel like pariahs in this world obsessed with the now. I constantly feel embarrassed in conversations these days.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          I know what you mean.

          I listen to the democrats all trying to out-give free stuff to the American people when it is nothing but hocus pocus. Nobody paid my grandfather’s tuition to college. He worked until he had enough money saved for the next semester and eventually became a doctor. He was born dirt poor in a family that farmed a poor piece of land on the side of a mountain with his other 18 siblings (2 died at birth and so they had 21 kids total). Today they would whine and cry and ask for government assistance etc. Almost every one of my grandfather’s sisters and brothers became a professional of one type or another; lawyer, banker, pharmacist, store owner etc. Those people don’t exist in America much anymore and it is to our great loss. We used to respect hard work but in an age where everything is considered a right and everything is provided (food, shelter, clothing, education) for them. Not so for my grandparents. They educated themselves, worked for themselves and made themselves who they were by their own choices, their wills and their steadfastness to a work ethic.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          It seems to me as well that we disincentivise and hinder the progress of such impressive self-made people. We tax dividends and don’t teach our kids about investment; we generally have high income taxes; we regulate industries, making it hard for newcomers to break into them; and we penalise men in divorce cases, making them lose hard-earned savings and possessions – at times in cases where they are (largely) not at fault.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Often that which sounds good to itching ears and caters to our own gain, we find ourselves willing to give up the character of the self-made man. It is on the shoulders of those men that the notion of being a man is realized. No wonder so many moderns are so depressed. We feel like we are being pampered and so few want to even take up an oar and try to paddle up the stream; we just float along in life and our decisions usually are not fraught with so many hardships as we like to whine about. No doubt some people are still like those of old . . . but it is not characteristic of whole communities of people like it was. Those communities did not do what we do here: sit around and bitch about how bad stuff is. When they weren’t working they rejoiced, danced, made music and told stories (story telling now being a completely lost art form). My grandfather among other things was a magnificent story teller. And that I think I miss as much as anything else.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          The Scottish communities are a case in point: ceilidh performances in village halls to brighten the evenings. Do you have any Celtic stock in your family tree or is your line mainly English?

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          My grandfather (from my father’s side) that I speak about is mostly German stock. I get my English stock from my mother’s side of the family.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Do you think this appearance of militant atheists was a spiritual attack upon us? They seemed to have come in response to my post about redating the Late Bronze Age as a way of making sense of archaeology and the Exodus. Do you see anything in your spirit that we should be mindful of?

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Not really. In an over-arching sense yes. It is a spiritual battle after all and everyone is used . . . if they are capable of being used. So yes it was a spiritual attack, it was an attack of very proud intellects who would like to push buttons and disrupt this forum. They want to point out what everybody knows already hoping to weaken faith; that is, that nothing can be proved via scientific analysis that will substantiate Faith. But sadly they miss that even children understand when they ask their parents “who made that”. Its a natural question and grown men should readily see when examining the cosmos that there is a Creator just like there is an architect for a building and builder or inventor for everything we see except in nature. But with all of nature’s intricacies it seems that this is the Architect of all architects and the Creator of creators. What we create pales in comparison and in complexity. It is not a random accident as they would like us to believe nor is it some woking out of some mathematical formula that naturally occurs. Occurs from what source. We only need to see like a child that the Source is God and that Christ is the expression of His unexpected and unexplainable love for us; collectively and personally. We can speak to Him and ask for His help . . . and that we do. The atheists ask scientists to unravel the mind of God and make it understandable. His mind is not our mind and good luck in making of yourselves God.

          They are truly in a game of chess and merely pawns in the game but they want to think themselves the player who plays against himself. There are rules to chess and not all of us are the Kings, Queens, Bishops, Knights or Rooks . . . most of us are mere pawns and it is good if we simply follow the rules of the game and live up to the piece that we were designed to be in that game. Another of our choices, however, is which side we will play out our lives as: the dark pieces or the pieces of light.

          Once you see who you are and what team you are on and also understand your boundaries in the game then you are fulfilling your place. There is nothing wrong with being a pawn in this supernatural battle: that’s where most of us are and why half the pieces are of this lowly status. And in the end, quite often, it comes down to a pawn that wins or loses the game.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          And there is the immorality of the income tax. Both Scoop’s and my family would have been very unlikely to make it after about 1935 or so.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          I personally prefer a sales tax. It’s not perfect but it has a few advantages:

          A) It’s the same for everybody.
          B) It is administratively easier (and therefore less costly) than some complex taxes.
          C) The customer deals with the tax then and there, without having to worry about leaving some savings in his budget to pay his bill at assessment time.
          D) If you don’t want to pay the tax, don’t buy the product.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          We ran this country almost entirely until about the Great War or import duties, with an assist from an excise tax on booze. Maybe we should go back, although that wouldn’t fund the military these days, but the income tax is well and truly out of hand.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Plus, provided the sales tax is low to moderate, products can still be reasonably priced given the advances in manufacture that mean production costs are lower.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep, but I won’t support a federal sales tax, at least until the 16th Amendment is repealed. Now it would be just more money wasted.

          Like

        • Nicholas says:

          That’s fair enough. I think both our countries need to revise their tax systems (plus cut back on expenditure). “Live within your means!” springs to mind.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Indeed it does, for both our governments and our populations.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          I put your link up on AATW

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Good. It might be interesting to see how they squirm around their ‘smarter than religious folks’ banter. Their science only takes a longer route to lead a man to the same place. Creation needs a Creator.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          BTW, you need to get back into the editor it is not populating the screen properly and the picture is laying on top of the words you typed.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          WordPress drives me mad with things like this. I switched to the simplified editor after they kept pestering me about it, but I find it less powerful and less user-friendly than the old one.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          I always use the old one . . . the new one is very confusing.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Everytime they have screwed with the editor, it has gotten worse. I’ll give them credit though, if you dig around you can still get to the old one.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          True, which is fortunate. It takes a lot of work to actually produce an aesthetically pleasing page on WP. I suspect that a lot of the deceptively simple-looking ones actually took a lot of time messing with layout, etc.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          It’s part of the reason I don’t screw with mine much, I see thing that could be better, but they could also be worse. Mostly it’s been the same since day one.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep, my family was a bit smaller, but very similar. It’s how this place got built.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I miss those folk.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Me too. I pine for those folks as they had true dignity and purpose.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          BTW, the next time we have a run-in with the atheist trolls at AATW the following article just released today at Crisis Magazine would be a good one to throw in their face:

          https://www.crisismagazine.com/2019/has-science-run-its-course?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CrisisMagazine+%28Crisis+Magazine%29

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          I appreciate your and Phillip’s help in the matter. It is quite a problem. I don’t know whether you saw my final comment to Arkenaten, but I cut him off, as it were. I will not practice censorship, as that is against the wishes of Jess and Chalcedon, but I refuse to engage with him any further. I am not sure when I will next write again for AATW. If you would like to post that link with a few comments, please feel free. I have finished reading the Centuries of Darkness book, though, and it was interesting.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Yes, I did see it. Probably best.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep, he was a bad un. That’s the old practice, all we can do really is treat ’em as trolls and ignore them. Arguing with them just encourages them. Very much the old argument about wrestling with pigs, you get dirty and the pigs enjoy it.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Yes, that proverb sprang to mind as I was reflecting on the matter. It’s sad, because I started out with openminded questions, despite his hostility from the getgo. I believe in affording people initial grace to see if they will soften up, but here at least it was of no avail. I hope that my comments are at least helpful to others who might read them.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Looks like a winner, not that logic ever really helps with them.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Must be an epidemic, cause I am too. Miss some of those carbs though.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          I’ve no advice on that – I use the box stuff. Scoop might, he more in the right neighborhood.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          I’ve also seen a New Yorker make what he referred to as “corn pudding”, which I think he said was another Southern dish. Course, you can always drink the stuff 😛

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Ever wonder why Bourbon come from Kentucky and Tennessee, mostly? Because it was the only reasonable way to ship corn to New Orleans in the early days. Concentrated corn.

          Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Damned near everything we eat has corn in it these days, not to mention its packaging. Good ham and beans with cornbread is well up my list though. Not so much the people downwind from me though. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Downwind of NEO. 🙂
        Technology information I’ve learned. Did you have a new home AC unit put in in ’15? It could’ve been filled with freon R22 legally then, and not the new approved stuff.
        Guess what? Your stuff no longer manufactured or imported into U.S. Need a recharge? Well, maybe if dealer can get rationed supply. After 2020 only recovered R22 can recharge your system. Already expensive, gonna be outta sight.
        Like to be downwind and collect the recovered gas. 🙂
        P.S. I need some, and hopefully my long time service guy can deliver.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. audremyers says:

    Ok; I’ll admit I’m the only person in all of America to NOT know that moonshine is ethanol.
    On the other hand, I’m prompted to ask the following question: How small was he?
    (“A small engine mechanic I know”)

    Liked by 3 people

    • NEO says:

      You may be, BTW the ethanol producers are required to put something in the product (before shipping) to make us sick or maybe dead if we drink it out of the train cars. 🙂

      Probably pretty small, a one lunger, I’d warrant.

      Liked by 2 people

      • the unit says:

        Maybe that’s why? 🙂
        https://boxcarbeergarden.com/

        Like

        • NEO says:

          Likely so. 🙂

          When I lived in Montana, they used to tell stories about the trains getting derailed because they kept hitting grizzly bears. They finally figured out that the bears were eating corn from a train wreck several years before and getting drunk. How that for a nightmare a drunk and belligerent grizzly bear. 🙂

          Like

    • the unit says:

      Small? In the ’50’s when I went to the model shop downtown (or was it uptown?) and looked around asked if the model airplane mechanic was here today? 🙂
      As for technology…dang plane had 50 feet of control wires, and after your got the engine started, someone had to hold it ’til you could run back to the handle.
      And I was lucky to keep control and be a “two minute” man, …sometimes. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. the unit says:

    OT
    Need not give credit to Miami Herald for posting this pic. Still, they did though. Somehow they did. Some normal folks even down there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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