And, yes, extreme weather and high oil prices are major contributors to those price hikes
Leading experts, reported in the media, have made the case that high food prices are one of the triggers of MidEast unrest. Bizarrely, people who were once full-time professional journalists now dismiss the serious reporting of their fellow journalists — and are apparently completely unable to distinguish between underlying causes and triggering events.
- Washington Post headline (1/14): “Spike in global food prices contributes to Tunisian violence“
- Guardian headline (1/15): “Jordanians protest against soaring food prices: Protesters angry over high food costs and unemployment call for the prime minister to step down, in an echo of Tunisian demonstrations”
- NPR story (1/30): “Rising Food Prices Can Topple Governments, Too: Political unrest has broken out in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and other Arab countries. Social media and governmental policies are getting most of the credit for spurring the turmoil, but there’s another factor at play. Many of the people protesting are also angry about dramatic price hikes for basic foodstuffs, such as rice, cereals, cooking oil and sugar.”
I quoted all that in my Sunday piece, as well as Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House, who was interviewed at Davos (click here) and said the Egyptian riots “were driven partly of course by the rise of food prices.” Similarly, NPR notes:
Rising prices are “leading to riots, demonstrations and political instability,” New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini said during a panel discussion. “It’s really something that can topple regimes, as we have seen in the Middle East.”
That high food prices are historically a major driver of political unrest is pretty much an uncontroversial historical fact. Indeed, there is actually recent research on this very subject:
Economists at the University of Adelaide, for instance, recently examined the impact that food prices have on civil conflict in 120 countries in the past 40 years. “Our main finding is that in low-income countries increases in the international food prices lead to a significant deterioration of democratic institutions and a significant increase in the incidence of anti-government demonstrations, riots, and civil conflict,” the researchers note. The same finding does not hold true in high-income countries, where citizens can better afford food.
That’s from a long analysis in Slate on how higher food prices are helping to fuel unrest in Egypt, “Protesting on an Empty Stomach,” which explains: