A blow to the ethanol welfare queens

ted-cruzGovernments around the world do a great many silly things. I am not talking about evil things, you understand, just, on this occasion, silly things. One of the silliest is agricultural subsidies. “Protecting” the interests of one producer group is always ridiculous, but with farmers it is particularly absurd. The knock-on effects include damage to the environment and closing off development paths for the developing world. People in Africa literally starve because of agricultural subsidies in western countries. Land falls out of cultivation and is lost to desert. All of this is just the accidental outcome of the fact that agricultural interests are concentrated in rural districts unlike, say, accountants, who are spread all over the place and therefore don’t get any government welfare.

In the US, the political need for corporate welfare for agri-business is reinforced by the unfortunate fact that Iowa gets first crack at choosing the president. Iowa is a hopelessly unrepresentative state and, though it is a swing state, has very few of the swing voters that parties need to appeal to. (Unlike New Hampshire, which has a great many swing voters). Iowa contains mostly far-left Democrats and evangelical conservatives, both of whom demand corporate welfare for farmers. 

The result is that even people who know better – Mitt Romney, say, a man with a deep understanding of how markets work, or John McCain, who condemned farm subsidies the first time he ran for president – end up kissing the ring of Iowa’s welfare queens. As Jon Birger put it in Fortune in 2006:

“Mike “Heckuva Job” Brown would stand a better chance of winning an election in New Orleans than an anti-ethanol candidate would of winning Iowa’s caucus.”

Until this year, that is. Senator Ted Cruz opposes the ethanol subsidy. Donald Trump spread it around that this was because Cruz comes from an oil state. Since it takes energy from fossil fuels to turn corn into ethanol, this doesn’t make much sense. Ethanol doesn’t replace fossil fuels at all. It boosts demand for them.

Your columnist has no particular insight into the workings of Ted Cruz’s mind. I don’t know why he opposes the ethanol subsidy, and don’t care. While having no particular regard for him in general and certainly being no supporter of his, Common Sense celebrates the fact that someone who opposes the ethanol welfare program won the Iowa caucuses.  

Perhaps, in 2020, only candidates who actually believe in this insane policy (of which, I am sure, there are none) will say that they believe in it. 

This is just a small blow to corruption and the way politicians suck up to special interests, but it is a significant one. Farming has always been the most special of special interests, and Iowa the most special of special states. Well, even Iowa can vote for someone who doesn’t sign up to Iowa’s own special brand of corruption. Iowa’s governor, who traditionally stays neutral in the caucuses, and is the longest serving governor in the US, campaigned against Cruz. He lost. Cruz won.

Cruz would not necessarily be a good president or a good candidate. This columnist suspects he would be disastrous in both roles. But his victory in Iowa has the significant silver lining that Iowa’s special place in field of government corruption just took a major smack in the face.   


Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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