NEWS

Lack of food prompts reassessment

Something is really rotten in the kingdom of Denmark. There are violent clashes in Haiti over the huge price increases for basic consumer goods and serious incidents for the same reason in Indonesia, New Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal, sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen and Mexico. There are empty shelves in Caracas supermarkets, consumer boycotts in Argentina, harsh measures by the Philippines government over rice exports, and Russian firms have been ordered to freeze milk and bread prices. In Pakistan, meanwhile, wheat prices are at record levels. When, until recently, neoliberalism was playing in its own backyard, reference to such emotionally charged news items was the exclusive domain of European left-wing intellectuals who had not accepted the market economy. News items like these were, until yesterday, invisible termites in the world’s timber, but are now front-page news and have strangely become a battle cry for a few politicians, many economists and even more journalists. When Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz, MIT Professor Lester Thurow and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman hint that the current economic crisis will seem like nothing compared to the coming food crisis, then something is really wrong in the kingdom of Denmark. A «perfect storm» of environmental and social factors are responsible for the «unexpected» food crisis and price rises – the increase in the world population and the concurrent reduction in the amount of available land, climate change and loss of farmland, changes in eating habits in developing countries, the abolition of protectionist tariffs and population movements due to civil wars, are all part of the problem. Biofuels have also played an important part. Demand for these, already high, is to increase by 170 percent over the next three years. Turning crops into fuel could also contribute to the overheating of the planet – whether or not this is a myth remains to be seen. Another factor in the crisis is the European Union’s negative stance on genetically modified products, globalization’s contribution to reducing poverty. So here we are back in the trenches, adherents vs opponents of globalization (which incidentally has broadened the middle class in Asia). Nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is being re-evaluated, condemned, praised, revised. Logically, we would seem to be facing yet another cycle in the economy, in which self-regulation is only a matter of time. However, the general climate has given left-wing intellectuals the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and revive their rhetoric, even though the poverty-stricken rebels they are defending no longer have chains to break free of.