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Whenever our bloated federal government comes up with a grand, new scheme, the law of “unintended consequences” strikes hard and fast. The energy policies of both Presidents Obama and Bush give a striking example of the harm that a well-meaning government can cause. At a time when gas prices are at their higher level yet, it makes sense that we should be looking to other forms of fuel to put into our cars and churn out of our factories. Thus, the two previous administrations, with the support of many politicians, have subsidized the conversion of crops into biofuels. By creating biofuels, however, farms are setting aside crops that would have normally been grown for food. As a result, more fuel derived from our farmlands means a proportionally less amount of food, much to the detriment of the world’s starving poor. Our misguided efforts to mandate which fuels should be used to fill our car tanks fail to consider the actual consequences, which stretch as far as destitute Africans struggling just to fill their stomachs. Moreover, since there is a reduced supply of food on the market, the cost of the ever-so-precious commodity has skyrocketed in recent years. Atrocious, biofuel-friendly bills such as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 have been responsible for 75% of the spike in food prices over the past decade, according to the World Bank.
While the plight of the starving African or Asian peasant may not be making daily headlines, another byproduct of rising food prices certainly is: the “Arab Spring.” Images of deadly unrest in places such as Egypt, Libya, and Yemen bear witness to wide-spread anger in the Middle-East, which stems largely from increased costs. In nations such as Egypt, a perfect storm of high unemployment and skyrocketing food prices drove normally peaceful populations to the boiling point. According to World Bank President Robert Zoellick, the cost of food was certainly an “aggravating factor” in the recent turmoil, and it is easy to see why- record highs in world food prices have coincided with the rise of the revolutionaries.
Although a federal policy pushing for energy independence may appear to be benevolent at first glance, things like the skyrocketing cost of a burger and third-world uprisings bear tribute to its ugly consequences. Such is the nature, though, of that over-bearing, ever-present law of unexpected consequences. Our central planners in Washington D.C., armed with the best intentions as always, try to craft a complex system of agricultural mandates, subsidies, and regulations, with disastrous consequences to struggling US households and world citizens alike. To avoid outcomes such as these in the future, it is imperative that US policymakers tread lightly when considering to impose broad designs on the vital energy sector. While mountains of laws can be inscribed into the federal code, none can override the over-arching peak of unforeseen consequences.