Monday, May 21, 2007

Corn or Flour ?

Among the many things I know little about, agriculture is certainly one. It is amazing how little I know about important things in life, but ask me questions about the 1961 Yankees or the 1896 American Presidential election, and you will get the proverbial ear full and more.Actually, I have never liked people who seem to know a lot about everything. As the Zens should say, until you know "nothing about nothing" you have no knowledge ( that "everything about nothing" always struck me as oxymoronic.Knowing "nothing about nothing" though, just try to get your arms around that after three or four drinks).

So since I know little about agriculture, I have been off base, or so I thought about the ethanol issue. First, I was against it on moral grounds, how could you use corn, which could feed Africa, to lower the gasoline bill of a bunch of rich people ?Yes, I said rich, anyone, in the world, who owns a car is rich by over all world standards. Then someone that knew something about agriculture (but did not know "nothing about nothing" and no, that's not a double negative) explained to me that the corn grown in the American midwest for use as ethanol fuel is not consumed by humans. So I felt better. Until a rancher friend of mine explained to me that that type of corn was consumed by cattle and that the ethanol corn growing could cause beef prices to go sky high. So, I got a little upset at that, but I don't eat much beef and it is a really inefficent food anyway, so I shrugged it off.

But today, ah today we have a problem. I just learned that because of corn growing for ethanol, the price of the tortilla in Mexico has doubled. That may not mean much to you when you pay for your combination plate over at El Chico, but it means something to a family that eats practically nothing but tortillas. The good news is that the Mexican farmer can now get a high enough price for his corn to where he can compete with American Agri-business for the first time since NAFTA went into effect. That's right, the country that invented corn, has not been able to grow it as a staple for over 20 years.

So it turns out that I was right all along. Ethanol is a moral issue. If it doubles the price of the food for the poorest of the poor, that's a moral issue. Some argue that this will help the United States with its immigration problem. It seems that after NAFTA, the small farmer in Mexico could not make even enough to cover his expenses for growing corn and so millions left the land, and a whole bunch of them crossed the river. We are mad about them coming over here and taking all the jobs that we refuse to do, but it never crossed our collective minds thatAmerican Agri-business was making a double profit here. They now have the Mexican market all to themselves, and have driven the former Mexican farmers over here so that they could exploit them for substandard wages. What a deal ! A win/win as we call it in the USA where we know everything about everything, but nothing about nothing.Will the high corn prices drive immigrants back to the land in Mexico. Experts say not, they say that more than 70% of the Mexican immigrnats are urban. Wow, how do they know stuff like that ? They sneak over here and blend in or hide out, and yet we have all of these statistics on them. Social Science is a wonderful thing. I don't know much about that either.I need to ask one of my neighbors. I got to talking one of them at a party this weekend and mentioned a part of Austin, not far from us, that I really liked. It is about a mile from us. "Yeah, they have no mosquitos at all in that neighborhood" he replied. Now how the hell could he know that ?


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