Revolution’s Kindling

I wrote this yesterday for the NY Times’ Room for Debate series, before today’s momentous news. Watch this space for more on Egypt…

The last time we heard of a record prices was 2008, and food inflation is back for many of the same reasons: the demand for meat has returned with the recovery of middle-income economies; the price of oil is up, which both raises the cost of food production and transport, and stokes the diversion of food crops into biofuel production; speculators are taking pounds of flesh in the commodity exchanges. And, of course, there have been freak weather events disrupting production in key export zones.

But what makes the weather matter? This is hardly the first La Niña weather cycle, after all, and every human civilization has understood the need to plan for climate’s vicissitudes. Over centuries, societies developed the tools of grain stores, crop diversification and ‘moral economies’ to guarantee the poor access to food in times of crisis. International economic liberalisation discarded these buffers in favour of lean lines of trade. Safety nets and storage became inefficient and redundant – if crops failed in one part of the world, the market would always provide from another.

Climate change turns this thinking on its head. A shock in one corner of the world now ripples to every other. The economic architecture that promised efficiency has instead made us all more vulnerable. Little has changed in this crucial respect since the last food crisis. But this isn’t simply a re-run of 2008.

While the recession has turned a corner for some, unemployment remains stubbornly high for many, and hunger has trailed it. There are 75 million more people food insecure now than in 2008. At the same time, governments are cutting back on entitlement programs for the poor as part of austerity drives to fight inflation. Urban families are unable to afford food and fuel, and governments are unresponsive to their plight. Under such circumstances, as Egyptians know too well, food prices and climate change are revolution’s kindling.

7 Replies to “Revolution’s Kindling”

  1. Nice read Raj. Sadly it is a stale read though, since without proper controls food inflation will continue so long as we are using grains as fuels.

    We all know that solar and wind are the future, if there be one, yet we grip fossil fuels as if we could never exist when they are gone.
    Unfortunately there is a tug of war going on over principle between liberals and conservatives particularly in america. The libs refuse to allow for drilling which would increase production and availability while depressing the need for using food sources as additives. Which btw, decrease fuel economy and engine performance.

    I’d say there is far more to the Egyptian crisis than food shortages or inflation, but rather corruption at the highest levels, which sadly will simply be replaced by a newer generation of corruption.

    Do you agree that drilling would be a good short term solution for inflated fuel prices, and act as a stalwart against foods being used as fuel?
    If additional drilling gave us 10 years of fossil fuels for energy, that would be a pretty healthy buffer as we transfer to solar and wind. Also, jobs could be created in the west, where charity(particularly to food starved areas such as northeast asia, africa, and latin america) is usually the highest amongst the working class.

  2. @ ceti.

    Yup, the chinese are already purchasing US food for fuel, and since they are expecting a massive grain shortage this year, they have began doubling, and even tripling their grain purchasing from he US.

    I do not hunger. I am an american. But if my food costs go up 30% as predicted, my charitable contributions to food starved countries might drop off as well. Who can know. We do our best, right. Or at least in most cases, something. But if our wallets are hit all the more, who is to say those giving $100/year will even do that.

    Sad, this is most to do with fuel.

  3. I’m a native american indian from the SW and my people lived off the land in harmony for generations. As much as we like to romanticize the idea of primitive culture and opine over the subjegation of innocent peoples we must recognize that EVERY society has greedy, selfish, heartless, jealous, envious and murderous people. Our tribes fought and warred like every tribe of people around the world. That is a fact. Villages, towns, cities and kingdoms and such developed out of a need for security and need for resources. Deception, corruption and subjegation has always been an issue. And as we all know, America is not immune either. But I do not blame capitalism, I blame men and women who have turned from, and lost the meaning of: Love your neighbor as yourself.
    Yes, I am a Christian. I believe if we are Christ focused, meaning, all our actions and words are worthy of praise and give honor to our Creator. When this happens, the desire to lie is actually removed, the willingness to acquiesce to depravity and corruption is replaced with the desire to give and sacrifice.
    Unfortunately, most people don’t want Christ in there life, but guilt of their selfishness and acquienscence drives them to pick up a cause to “fight for” to “make” things right to satisfy their heart’s aching for justice.
    So in turn they decide that it’s their responsibilty to make sure they “take” what they and others don’t have(because they gave it away). This is the snake eating it’s own tail. A vicious cycle that will never end as long as we focus on ourselves and what we don’t have and what others have.
    The Lord says to be a cheerful, or hilarious, GIVER, not taker. Those who say we need to get together to TAKE what we need, are no better than those who tricked you into giving them all your money and resources for comfort. There is a better way. Blessed be the Lord God, Jesus Christ.

  4. True intelligence is the one that makes one happy
    and happiness can only be found in the happiness of others!

    Generosity is intelligent egoism

  5. It appears that everything is moving according to the Great Plan. The reductions in the population anticipated in the “Report from Iron Mountain” has been implemented on many fronts. The move towards illegality and confiscation of weapons in anticipation of the coming anarchic conditions as people are suddenly forced fight for food and water were decent and necessary actions. The culling of the weak has commenced in earnest as the coming months will demonstrate. Scalar destruction of uncooperative countries is necessary for the implementation of the New Civilization intended for the survival of the planet.

  6. Yeah, and I’m sure monetary policy and currency manipulation has nothing what so ever to do with the rise in food and oil prices.

    I can’t stand this Raj Patel guy. “We need to remove this idea of liberty from the market place” “the free-market is bad” “the price system is evil”.

    What solution does he offer? Something about a “democratic food system”? Hmmm… sounds an awful lot like a communal food system if you ask me. I believe they tried that in Soviet Russia, China, Cambodia etc… Did that work out well? Nope.

    But wait! I’m sure Patel will reply, you don’t get it! the current system isn’t really free! You see, because those evvvviiiilll super marketeers put…dun dun dun…Bakery’s in their stores! The Fraud! The Greed! The Evil! You see, the bakery makes us more hungry when we walk in the store because we can smell the bread, FORCING us to buy more food! AH! Can’t you see the con? And Because human beings are just so weak minded they will give these greedy super marketeer’s all their money!

    This PROVES the free market is not a completely free, and if something is not completely free. Well, logically that means that we should remove all freedom entirely yay!

    Hey but don’t worry, Patel has a solution for this inflation. Public works spending and tax the rich! because tat worked so well in the 1970s, Patel thinks we should give it another whirl! Why don’t we try some price controls while we’re at it!

    I also love all of Raj Patel’s talk of “free-market fundamentalism” a term that is completely imaginary. Bush was no market fundamentalist in fact he interfered quite a bit, “real “market-fundamentalists” have very little power.

    Patels real error is that he can’t see he system for what it is Corporate welfare state run on government corporate partnership. With BOTH the government and corporations working towards the detriment of everyone.

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