Many Democrats and some Republicans applauded President Bush's State of the Union proposal for a 20 percent reduction in gasoline use over the next 10 years, largely through greater reliance on ethanol.
Mr. Bush's idea, however, is adding corn-based fuel to protests in Mexico City. Existing federal laws that mandate ethanol in U.S. gasoline have diverted trainloads of corn from America's food supply-chain to ethanol factories. This boosted U.S. corn prices nearly 80 percent in 2006.
That's bad enough if you buy corn on the cob for a weekend barbecue. But it's much worse if you are a poor Mexican surviving on corn tortillas. A kilo (2.2 pounds) of tortillas recently has shot up 55 percent, from 5.5 to 8.5 pesos. Poor Mexicans are not taking this sitting down.
In fact, some 75,000 of them stood up Wednesday in Mexico City's giant Zocalo Plaza. More than 200 unions and social-action groups organized protests to denounce the rising price of this basic Mexican staple.
"[Felipe] Calderon stole the elections, and now he's stealing the tortillas," screamed one banner, chiding Mexico's narrowly elected new president. According to the Associated Press, the normally free-market Mr. Calderon has been trying to get manufacturers to follow a gentlemen's agreement to keep tortilla prices flat.
How has American energy policy inspired political instability in Mexico? This is a pristine example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. When big government does big things, all sorts of wacky stuff happens, and rarely for the good.
Uncle Sam gives ethanol manufacturers a 51-cent-per-gallon subsidy. Anyone who wants to import ethanol is welcome to do so, provided he pays the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff slapped on ethanol imports. This is one reason for another unintended consequence: Gasoline prices shot up last summer since ethanol, largely produced in the Midwest, had to be shipped south and to both coasts to be blended, by law, with gasoline. Importing Brazilian ethanol into Atlantic and Pacific ports would have made sense, but then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, hated the idea, since that would put competitive pressure on his corn-farming constituents. "I don't see an economic plus in it right now," Mr. Hastert sniffed.
What other unintended consequences could the federal government's ethanol-mania propel?
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with Stanford University's Hoover Institution.