Hundreds of entries later, the results are clear. An absolute majority of contestants spoke in favor of ... mandates and subsidies for ethanol use as the stupidest manifestation of bipartisan public policy in the last 50 years.
There could have been a recent-events bias in this choice. (We all think that today's athletes are "the best ever," and so too with stupid policy decisions.) Still, the sentiment was strong, and so was the reasoning. I quote from the lucky subscription-to-the-Atlantic winner, Justin Cohen, who himself begins by quoting his father Reuben Cohen on the stupid aspects of this policy. The Cohen-Cohen team is chosen winner because they entered early, and because I have decided to show a bias in favor of collaborative family efforts:
"I think bi-partisan support for ethanol is more stupid [than the McCain-Clinton 'gas tax holiday' plan], because it's actually harmful and because it not only panders to the public ... worse it panders to a special interest group (Midwest farmers and their regional politicians).
It's harmful because: 1) it helped to catalyze higher levels of food inflation, 2) it consumes as much energy to make and distribute as it provides, 3) it deflects attention from developing trying sound policies to enhance our energy security, 4) it didn't allow for removal of taxes on the import of truly energy efficient ethanol produced in Brazil from sugar, and 5) it's a such an extreme example of government disfuntionality it causes people like me to become truly disillusioned with the political process."
I would add on my own that, to my limited understanding, most of the money for ethanol goes to large corporate farms and trickles down and around through agro-business, with only minimal impact on small family farmers (the ones our politicians claim to support), making the whole venture politically disingenuous in addition to economically-unsound and environmentally dubious.
After the jump, a list of some other popular nominees. Where I can think of some reason why a particular suggestion didn't end up the winner, I include that in parentheses. Thanks to all! And God help our country.