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"One commenter argues that social hosts faced with an intoxicated friend who insists on driving have no reasonable recourse. I do not think that is quite true. ... liability is not for failing to prevent an intoxicated guest from driving, as such, but from continuing to serve liquor to the guest after it is apparent that he is intoxicated."

I'm not sure this is practical either. When I have a party, it's usually BYOB. The guests help themselves to their own alcohol ... there's no "serving" of liquor. If there were social host liability, I would simply stop having parties, rather than have to monitor my friends' consumption *of their own property* and try to prevent them from drinking it.

Also, my point remains that once they are drunk and insistent on driving, my only option is either to use force, or get them convicted of a serious offense.

Thirdly, the host may not be sure that the guest is planning to drive -- as has been noted, a willingness to lock up one's keys early can result in belligerance later. With social host liability, I would be forced to ensure that NONE of my guests become too intoxicated to drive, because I can't take a chance that a stated taxi-caller will change his/her mind later.

If I tried to have a party where nobody was allowed to get intoxicated, nobody would show up. :)


Every once in a while with fair frequency, a pol or judge speaks of "sending a message". So it is I suspect that host liability helps to a greater or lesser extent, much as we're all a bit more careful about maintaining "attractive nuisanses" or other hazardous conditions on our property for the reminder that it may lead to a law suit.

Phil; I'm not sure of the liability at your BYOB bashes either, but it might be a good question for an attorney. I guess as a matter of being something of my brother's keeper I might scratch the beligerent and obvious drunk driver from my list of invitees.

BTW have most here thought about the fact of many annoying laws being put in place due to the lack of individual accountability, respect for others and common manners? In the matter of drunk driving we have the choices of doing better on our own, or finding the "Madmoms" pushing for the Scandinavian solution of a one drink standard or perhaps the techy "solution" of breath testers in every car.



There are two fundamental flaws in your calculations above regarding production of ethanol vs. what is needed. The notion that we need to produce the same energy content in ethanol that we use in gasoline is false, and ethanol != corn.

There exists no engine capable of extracting all of the energy content from gasoline that it has - regardless of pollution output. None. Nor is there one for ethanol.

However, we get a higher percentage of the energy in ethanol out of it then we get out of gasoline. To put it in non-energy terms, would you rather get 70% of $800 or 50% of $1000?

To carry back into the direct discussion, IF an ethanol engine (E85 or E100 take your pick) can achieve similar, the same, or better miles traveled per gallon of fuel as gasoline, what does it matter how much energy is in the fuel?

What matters is what the fuel accomplishes. Since it is a proven fact that an automotive engine burning 100% ethanol can achieve fuel economy better than that same engine running 100% gasoline in the very same vehicle (Saab did it), it is therefore proven that the argument on energy content is a red herring.

The second fundamental flaw is the implication or assumption that only corn can be used to make ethanol. In fact the variety is tremendous and cor is one of the worst choices. From paper mills converting waste to ethanol to sweet potato waste, to even other such feedstocks as sweet potato, which has nearly triple the ethanol yield of corn without requiring cellulosic technology still in development.

Furthermore, the use of E85 using only 5 of the 7.5 million barrels of oil the US produces every day provides for about 237 billion gallons of E85 per year. This would require about 200B gallons/year of ethanol.

Drawing from multiple industries and feedstocks can supply this amount, and more. The notion that we must have a single source is not only fallacious but would be absurd if it were possible. An economy is stronger with more industries.

Paper mill sludge is one source that can provide a couple to a few billion gallons per year without a single bit of extra land being cultivated. Other large industry waste products turning to onsite ethanol production can easily account for another 40B gallons per year.

Switchgrass or Miscanthus for cellulosic processing, or even sweet potatoes for fermentation process (and their top growth for cellulosic processing), is able to provide over a hundred billion gallons per year on a) land that is currently reserved by the FSA as marginal quality or in order to limit the amount of land farmed by Americans (to keep the price up) and b) land that is currently rotated with switchgrass and others to slow down erosion and recondition the soil.

And this does not take into account advances in lightweight vehicles which has the proven capability to reduce non-commercial transportation fuel usage by half.

So in summary, when looking at the real world instead of academic arguments about energy content it is possible to convert over time to a carbohydrate based transportation economy from a hydrocarbon based one. But it will require multiple sources, and an honest look at the entire picture, not cherry picking academic arguments that are ignorant of the real world.


Bill, it's interesting that the topic was that of rising food prices, but that most of the comments went directly to the issue of soaring fuel prices along with the attempt to avoid conserving fuel by running our wasteful gashogs on diverting food to fill their greedy little tanks. I'd guess that means most of us think the energy situation is the major contributing factor over our, perhaps, having approached the limits of driving costs down through mechanization and using slave labor at harvest time or that export prices are being bid up because more people around the world can afford to eat.

I think Posner sums the whole situation up well:

"Ethanol could be bought cheaply from Brazil, but high tariffs prevent the Brazilian and other foreign producers from competing with our farmers and producers. We could not achieve energy self-sufficiency from our own production of ethanol. Even if all the corn produced in the United States were used to produce ethanol, which is unthinkable, the amount of gasoline consumed would fall by only 12 percent. (This is a little misleading; an enormous increase in the demand for ethanol would lead to more cropland being switched to corn from other crops. But that could result in much higher food prices.) Moreover, the amount of other fossil fuels consumed would rise because of the energy requirements for the production of ethanol."

......... but leaves us wondering just why we, irrationally, are trying to force corn, as you say, "the worst choice" on us when we'd be far better off buying ethanol from a sugar cane growing nation such as Brazil, or in my opinion, even better, Mexico where their sugar cane industry, that theoretically employs 2.5 million is suffering from a lack of demand due to US subsidies of its own sugar beet industry and apparently having reneged on its NAFTA agreements.

I hadn't heard of SAAB's sleek, aerodynamic, concept car so I took a look at:


and its muscle car performance numbers reminded me of the silicon valley boy's Tesla Motors concept car that offers about the same via electric power. They offer a rooftop solar installation that will supply all that the Tesla requires for $6000. Not too bad! Say $500/ year for interest and perhaps the same for maintenance or depreciation, and those early adopters sprinting around in the Teslas are not taking tortillas out of the mouths of poor Mexicans and Tesla has a SAAB-like production sports sedan on the drawing boards.

For longer trips thoughout much of the western mountains and windy prairies the "Texaco Star" may be replaced by the windmills that a number of oil companies are now building, and in some parts of the mid-west perhaps wind can supply some of the massive amounts of power required to turn some of the farm lobby's corn into ethanol though I can't help wondering "What's the point?"


Though I don't expect it to convince Bill, for anyone that might be confused by his post, I will repeat that the lower energy density of ethanol is a chemical fact. Furthermore - it is simply not true that modern engines are somehow more efficient at converting the energy of combustion of ethanol into horsepower vs the small organic molecules in normal gasoline (e.g. Toluene).

Any improvements in fuel-economy that can be had by driving tiny, aerodynamic, ultralight vehicles apply to any fuel source and do not mitigate concerns about ethanol.

But the problems with ethanol go far beyond energy density and mileage. The US ethanol policy has complex political origins and economic effects, but one thing is certain - by imposing a diversion of a large amount of the supply of corn into the production of a small amount of transport fuel, prices go up, and a good deal of wealth is transferred from the population to corn farmers and distillers in exchange for the most trivial reduction in imports of oil. If one accepts that this is precisely the real purpose of our ethanol policy, and notices that the primaries start in Iowa, then it is no mystery that the US does not, and will not, allow ethanol imports.

For references, see:




Frank Church

CS: Richard Posner recently published a book that included a ranking of the top 100 public intellectuals. Do you think it is healthy to have "public intellectuals" speak to Americans about moral questions.

Chomsky: First of all, I think the book is an exercise in such silliness that I can't even talk about it. Putting aside the silliness of that particular effort, to be an intellectual is a vocation for anybody: it means using your mind and applying it to issues of human significance. Some people are privileged, powerful and usually conformist enough that they can make their way into the public arena. That doesn't make them any more intellectual than a taxi driver who happens to be thinking about the same things and may be much smarter and much more understanding of them. It's a question of power. What's a "public intellectual?" A public intellectual is someone who can make it into the mainstream. How do you make it into the mainstream? Not by talent. For the most part, by conformism. That's not a high value


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ChinaCoal sez: "but one thing is certain - by imposing a diversion of a large amount of the supply of corn into the production of a small amount of transport fuel, prices go up, and a good deal of wealth is transferred from the population to corn farmers and distillers in exchange for the most trivial reduction in imports of oil. If one accepts that this is precisely the real purpose of our ethanol policy, and notices that the primaries start in Iowa, then it is no mystery that the US does not, and will not, allow ethanol imports.

.............. Exactly. And how many of these major distortions of the market can a "capitalist economcy" stand before it loses the essential power of a capitalist economy?


To Those who think that the discussion about energy was off course to the food issue is badly mistaken. Modern agriculture is highly mechanized requiring large amounts energy to operate. Not too mention the storage and distribution networks. Where do you think the beef comes from to make your hamburger? Some little elf goes out back of the burger stand, slaughters a cow runs it through a hand operated grinding mill and walks through the back door and frys it up for you? hat about the storage of the excess so it doesn't spoil? Also, the "Green Revolution" was predicated on the use of energy extensive hydrocarbon technology i.e., petrochemicals. Better known as fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.


Ethanol is an inefficient substitute for gasoline in the way it is administered now. There is a huge subsidy for ethanol. If we let the free market reign, it may become a real substitute. (Brazilian sugar is most often cited)

How about development of other alternatives? The way we administer energy policy in this country is very inefficient. We pick winners and losers, and do not let markets determine outcomes.


One more try at explaining my social-host argument.

Bars and liquor stores deal with patrons at arm's length. If they see a drunk customer drive away, they can call the police. If they see a drunk customer order another drink, they can refuse, or eject the customer, or have a bouncer deal with the situation, or call the police.

If a bar is liable for the actions of its drunk customers, it can hire extra servers to count how many drinks each person orders. It can, I suppose, require a customer to take a breathalyzer before being served.

If I am a social host, I can do none of these things. I can't call the police on a friend. I can't physically eject a friend from my house. I can't keep track of the consumption of twenty friends who BYOB.

If you hold me liable for the drunken actions of my guests, my only alternative is to not have guests at all. And the deadweight loss of the forgone parties, I would bet, is much larger than the benefits.


Well, Phil you're getting part of the message! Those writing the laws with Mad-Moms on their neck are seeking to put a chilling effect on "BYOB" bashes that flood the highways with inebriates. Sixteen thousand DUI related funerals per year are hardly events for fun loving partiers. But perhaps you and whatever number of your 20 guests who aren't in the bag at the end of the evening can figure something out in regard to those who tippled a tad too much?

Perhaps, early in the evening someone who's been through it could talk about the joys of taking a DUI arrest these days and toss around ideas of how $5,000 or so could be better spent not to mention having to answer dumb questions about the funny little device in your car you have to blow up every fifteen minutes or so.

Checking over, and considering the alternatives to policing ourselves that have been posted here might be helpful too. "Friends don't let friends........"


"The liability is not for failing to prevent an intoxicated guest from driving, as such, but from continuing to serve liquor to the guest after it is apparent that he is intoxicated."

Imagine this scenario: a guest at your party, extremely excited about the party, arrives promptly on time and over the course of 10 minutes takes 8 shots of vodka. It happened so fast that you didn't even notice him until he was downing the last shot. You figure he's staying for the whole party (at least 4 or 5 more hours) but you cut him off just in case. However, while your attention is diverted, he slips out of the door ten minutes after taking his last shot, tries to drive home, and gets into an accident.

Should you be held liable as a third-party? You stopped serving the guest once it was apparent that he would be too intoxicated to drive home. I think most people in favor of third-party liability would have to be in favor of holding you liable, even though it seems like this event was largely out of your control. How does holding you liable in this situation serve justice or efficiency?

If this person should be held liable, doesn't it set the precedent that you have to play "bartender" all night at your party, i.e. stand guard at the bar, check guests for signs of intoxication, etc. Does it signal the end of the cocktail party?


If the above scenario is not clear enough, imagine that you invite some guests over for cocktails. One of your guests notices that your in an involved conversation, and swipes a bottle of liquor from your bar. He runs to the bathroom, chugs as much as he can keep down, puts the bottle back, and bids farewell.

People are not immediately intoxicated by drinking, and you notice nothing odd about your friend, outside of his swift departure. He drives home and gets into an accident. Are you liable as a third-party? Should you be liable? You in no way allowed your friend to get drunk and drive, you didn't know about it. However, he got drunk off of your booze at your party and you let him drive home. How can a person be liable for such a situation?

The point: it is a fallacy to assume that property owners can have total power over the actions of their guests. This is exactly the power that third-party liability of the type Becker & Posner blogged about ascribes to people though! If you invite friends over for poker night, and one guest brings a gun a shoots another guest, are you liable? No! So why is this different than the drunk-driving party guest?


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