Hunger and Instability
April 14, 2008, 4:48 pm
Filed under: Food

Time’s Tony Karon writes that the current global food crisis will challenge many governments around the world and indeed, may topple a few regimes. This is interesting, particularly because the issues raised in the article are what compelled me to start this blog a few days ago. The global food crisis which I have highlighted a few times, namely in Haiti and Bangladesh, is also challenging more stable governments in Mexico, Egypt and elsewhere. Disconserting to say the least, not only because instability will topple regimes, (although some rightly deserve to be challenged) but because unrest due to hunger brings with it violence and crime. The attendant consequences created by hunger can challenge the very core of a society. Add to the discussion global income inequality and you have a recipe for disaster.

The idea of the starving masses driven by their desperation to take to the streets and overthrow the ancien regime has seemed impossibly quaint since capitalism triumphed so decisively in the Cold War. Since then, the spectacle of hunger sparking revolutionary violence has been the stuff of Broadway musicals rather than the real world of politics. And yet, the headlines of the past month suggest that skyrocketing food prices are threatening the stability of a growing number of governments around the world. Ironically, it may be the very success of capitalism in transforming regions previously restrained by various forms of socialism that has helped create the new crisis.

Haiti is in flames as food riots have turned into a violent challenge to the vulnerable government; Egypt’s authoritarian regime faces a mounting political threat over its inability to maintain a steady supply of heavily subsidized bread to its impoverished citizens; Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroon, Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Indonesia are among the countries that have recently seen violent food riots or demonstrations. World Bank president Robert Zoellick noted last week that world food prices had risen 80% over the past three years, and warned that at least 33 countries face social unrest as a result. read on

Something must be done to curb the crisis. Of course food prices have increased in the United States, but this is nothing compared to what is occurring elsewhere. Here, our relatively low level of inflation means that even with increases in the consumer price index, we still manage to get what we need…and than some. For many in the developing world, the problem is not only the increased prices but also rampant inflation. Thus, the food shortages attack the poor from two directions. First, inflation eats away at peoples income/purchasing power, and than price increases make the matter worse.

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