Corn has become ubiquitous in the United States. It is in almost everything Americans consume in one form or another, due to its presence in sweeteners, oils, and other products. The main reason we eat so much corn is because it is incredibly cheap. The crop grows well in North America, but more importantly it is heavily subsidized; the corn industry receives approximately 4.5 billion dollars a year from the US government (Washington Post), and benefits from tax credits and import tariffs. This means that the more corn is produced, the more money farmers receive from the government – incentivizing further production while driving prices lower and lower. This goes against the basic laws of supply and demand and has many unintended consequences for Americans and their health.
Corn is cheap, so it is used to make cheap food products that include ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. These products are very unhealthy, and they have a disparate impact on the poor – people who cannot afford expensive food end up consuming unhealthy corn products that have artificially low prices due to heavy subsidies.
We also use corn for purposes other than human food consumption. Corn can be a healthy, nutritious food, but because it is so cheap it is being used for other purposes. We use corn to feed livestock, such as cows, but cows actually cannot digest corn well. It causes harm to them, but it also makes them grow quickly and become very fat (and it’s cheap) so Americans feed their livestock mostly corn despite the negative health effects and the subsequent need for more antibiotics in the cows (PBS).
We also use corn for ethanol production. Corn is not the most efficient source of ethanol, but because corn is so heavily subsidized it is cheaper to make ethanol out of corn than out of a more efficient source. According to Forbes, 40% of the US corn crop went to producing ethanol in 2013, up from only 5% in 2000. The reason behind using corn ethanol is that it produces less carbon emissions than gasoline, which is true, but the land use required to farm corn produces just as much greenhouse gas as burning fossil fuels. So it has no net environmental benefit, but corn that could be used to feed starving people is used to create an inefficient fuel source instead.
How does this relate to IMT? This concept shows that people are often unwilling to take accountability for their actions. The corn industry loves subsidies and the US government won’t admit that the ideas they have invested time and money into have been a waste. It also shows that the more you try to control human behavior, the more unintended consequences there will be. In this case, the government tried to subsidize corn to protect farmers and to promote sustainability. They ended up harming people’s health and damaging the environment. According to IMT, the simplest, most efficient solution is usually the best one – and corn subsidies in the US are neither.