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Ear to the Ground

High Food Prices Drive Unrest, Study Says

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Posted on Aug 22, 2011
Flickr / lucianvenutian

An old argument says that full or empty bellies lead to contentment or revolt. Recent research supports that claim, showing that spikes in global food prices have coincided with the surge of social unrest and political instability seen recently in North Africa and the Middle East.

We know the culprits too, researchers say. Corn grown to produce fuel, rather than food, is one contributor to high prices. The other and perhaps greater cause of price instability is the deregulation of commodity markets.

Readers interested in a deeper understanding of the role financial markets play in making basic food unaffordable for much of the world’s population can check out Frederick Kaufman’s article published in the July 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “The food bubble: How Wall Street starved millions and got away with it.” —ARK

ABC Science:

Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, and colleagues, correlated the dates of riots around the world with data from the United Nations that plots changes in the price of food.

They found evidence that episodes of social unrest in North Africa and the Middle East coincided closely with peaks in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index.

... The researchers point to two main factors driving the increase in food prices. The first is the deregulation of commodity markets, especially in the United States, United Kingdom and Japan, which allows prices to fluctuate widely. The second is the use of corn to produce ethanol for biofuel.

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By Phyl Henshaw, August 24, 2011 at 8:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The ability to correlate riots with food shortages is
important.  A golden opportunity was missed for
raising the very clear main cause of the problem. 
Our economy was designed to generate ever increasing
resource demand, intended to never run into limits of
supply.

For years people have tried to define the limits of
supply theoretically, and invariably failed for not
having a mathematical model of the future.  Now that
we are colliding with natural limits of supply,
there’s much easier way to settle the question. 
That’s to just observe whether the effects of demand
exceeding supply are affecting the economy as a
whole. 

I think the data now shows that very clearly. 
There’s been a very visible increase in environmental
resistance to providing increased supplies for the
whole spectrum of food and fuel resources.  It’s
reflected in the 10 year pattern of escalating
commodity prices and price volatility for about 10
years, for all of them together.
http://www.synapse9.com/pub/ASustInvestMoment-PH.pdf

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, August 22, 2011 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment

High tequila prices piss me off.

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By raja1031, August 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm Link to this comment

We needed a study to tell us that people might get pissed off and possibly revolt and riot because of high food prices???  Jeeeezz.

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