Sunday, February 25, 2007

More on Ethanol

Nolan Finley at the Detroit News writes about the new ethanol boom from the perspective of a bourbon drinker:
As a bourbon drinker and grandson of a moonshiner, I naturally perk up when talk turns to distilling corn.

Grandpa cooked corn into sour mash whiskey in a process nearly identical to the one used today to produce ethanol.

But while the feds chased Old Pap up hills and down hollers to stop him from running off a batch or two of home brew, the government this year will provide more than $7 billion in subsidies to encourage a massive expansion of ethanol production.

I noted a few weeks ago that the new push for ethanol is likely to drive food prices sharply upward. Finley notes that the ethanol boom is unlikely to solve our energy problems, anyway, and the reduced car emissions are offset by new pollution in the manufacturing process.

Why would anybody propose to solve one problem by creating a worse problem? Perhaps that's what happens when you get a disproportionate amount of information from polls and lobbyists. Or maybe it is a lack of practice in thinking about systems: "If I do this, then another player could react like that...."

I am heartened by the number of young people I see playing the live poker tables. They are honing their systems-thinking skills, their game theory, their ability to think ahead and make choices based on possible consequences. Some of these kids will crash and burn. (I'm thinking of the ones who play a lot of online poker, or who think that "poker player" is an actual profession.) But some will learn to apply the game player's mind to our most important problems, to think in synergy rather than linearly. These people will be the next generation of problem solvers, and I'm thinking thay might do a markedly better job.

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