I perked up when I heard that the governor of Iowa had come out strongly against Ted Cruz, but then slumped back when I heard the reason: because Cruz opposes the "renewable fuel standard" that forces all of us to buy gasoline mixed with ethanol from corn.
Let me say this for Cruz: he is the first free-market conservative not named Paul who has had the guts to stand up to the pressure exerted in Iowa over ethanol. It has always bugged me that Republicans regularly run as "free-market" conservatives but support this boondoggle. The original idea was to increase American energy independence by using corn instead of imported oil, and also to reduce air pollution. Both of these arguments are nonsense; the ethanol rule does nothing either to reduce reliance on imported oil or to make the air cleaner.
What the ethanol standard does do is put money in the pockets of corn farmers, especially in Iowa.
Ten years ago I scoffed at this subsidy, which I considered special interest profiteering at its worst. But thinking hard about inequality has made me wonder. I do know that these days more and more corn is grown by agribusiness corporations, who are the main beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies. But there are still lots of middle class farmers in the country, and lots of other people in small town America who depend on them. If something like the ethanol rule helps farmers by imposing what amounts to a tiny tax on the rest of us, is that a bad thing?
As I have said before, it now seems to me that a maximally efficient economy dispenses with millions of middle-class jobs. Maybe some sorts of inefficiencies help create the middle class. My job exists only because of a government requirement that libertarians would like to do away with, and this is true of millions of others.
The ethanol subsidy may still be a bad idea. But in my new frame of mind I would have to take a detailed look at how much of the money goes to farmers and how much to corporations before I would accept that conclusion.