Did Cole Porter have denatured industrial ethanol in mind in 1934 when he penned I Get a Kick Out of You, to the best of my knowledge the only song in the English language to rhyme champagne with cocaine? Probably not, and chances are he would be amazed at how much of mankind's oldest bane -- more than 1.3 billion gallons of John Barleycorn per year -- is being consumed on the highway by cars, not people. What would he do today, rhyme gasoline with Benedictine?
One for the Road
The blending of ethanol with gasoline ranks right up there with campaign finance reform as one of those bad public policy ideas that never makes sense and yet never goes away. If we took away the federal subsidies to grow corn, the federal subsidies to distill that corn into ethanol and the federal subsidy in the form of the motor fuel tax rebate, we wouldn't even think of putting this less-efficient fuel into an internal combustion engine. But we aren't going to take away those subsidies any more than we're going to take away the other welfare payments we shovel at farmers and agribusiness giants such as Archer Daniels Midland ( ADM). Just watch how presidential wannabes fall all over themselves in the Iowa caucus in support of ethanol. Use of ethanol as a motor fuel is supported by one of those odd coalitions of strange bedfellows dotting our political landscape and mixing our metaphors. First, several centuries after David Ricardo outlined the principle of competitive advantage in international economics, there are those who would rather waste money on domestic energy boondoggles than buy a cheaper barrel of foreign oil. Memo to file: If you spend more energy on producing the fuel than the fuel contains, you lose. Brazil has been producing alcohol fuels from sugar for more than two decades in search of energy independence, and who wouldn't want to emulate the Brazilian economic miracle? But unlike other energy boondoggles such as oil shale, we actually get a usable fuel back for our money, so at least it isn't a complete loss.