Jon Sanders

If you are a politician and you favor federal support for ethanol and other biofuels, would you kindly stop telling voters you care for the poor? We all expect candidates to tell some whoppers, but even so, that one is just plain unseemly.

By all means, examine the justifications for promoting biofuels. Conventional fuels are bad for the environment and contribute to global warming; oil prices are going through the roof; and we don't want to be held hostage to an energy cartel that keeps supply down to maximize profits.

It's one thing to speak wistfully about finding a fuel that will do all those things, but it is another thing entirely to discover it. The higher oil prices spike, the more entrepreneurs and independent investors will seek solutions. Why? Because there is simply too much money to be made by the person or company that figures it out. The profit motive is good; it impels people to search for solutions. Whether that solution is finding ways to tap into an American oil deposit that's larger than ANWR, or finding the next big energy break, or pushing for more nuclear power, or some combination, it doesn't matter -- just don't let government get in their way. Government is infinitely more capable of hampering the search for solutions than it is in finding one.

The last thing we need is our tax money used to promote a governmentally approved "market fix." If government thinkers were any good at picking the Next Big Thing, they'd be out there making money doing just that. The simple fact is, they're terrible at it. Even worse, their selections have the weight of government behind them, so they don't face any market repercussions for making colossal screwups. We the people have to bear the burdens of their mistakes instead -- not just overtly, but also in ways unseen and in paths not taken, having been blocked by government.

Look what has happened in the few short years since Congress passed and President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 with its "renewable fuel" requirements. The insulated thinkers in Foggy Bottom reached amid all this market uncertainty and hand-selected the energy alternatives to save America and the planet. And what they've accomplished is already as thorough a cock-up as possible even from that rarefied assemblage of bumblers.


Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.