Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Arab Uprisings, the Irish Potato Famine and the End of ‘Globalisation’

By Tim Heydon

Let them Eat Cake

Historians have studied the outbreak of the French Revolution by tracking the daily movement of the price of bread in Paris in the period preceding it. The same study could be made of the price of food in the days preceding the outbreak of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has said that world food prices hit a record high in January for the seventh consecutive month. It’s food price index was up 3.4% from December to its highest level since 1990, when its measurement of food prices began.

The Guardian reported that ‘food prices have hit record levels in recent weeks..soaring prices of staples such as grains over the last few months are thought to have been one of the factors contributing to an explosive mix of popular unrest in Egypt and Tunisia.

Importers Suffer when Food Exporters need their Produce for Themselves

Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat. The biggest exporters to Egypt (63%) were Russia and the Ukraine. In 2010, Valdimir Putin banned exports of wheat because fires brought about by climatic conditions (climate change?) had devastated the crop. This move doubled the world price of wheat in two months. It was pushed to its highest level since 2008 when it hit a record high. As a result, other foodstuffs rose in price also.

In 2008 there were riots in Egypt and elsewhere in poorer parts of the world such as Mozambique. Food exports were banned. In a piece in the Observer, Raj Patel said that when droughts, floods and other natural phenomena put stress on the produce of food exporters – the most vulnerable countries, who depend on these exports, will be the most pronounced economic victims. In other words, in a system where African food is grown in Russia, a European heat wave can result in riots in Maputo. He remarked,
‘This may sound familiar. In 2008, the prices of oil, wheat, corn and rice peaked on international markets – corn prices almost tripled between 2005-2008. In the process, dozens of food-importing countries experienced food riots.

New Labour and the Cameroons Have Made Us More Vulnerable to the Actions of Food Exporters.

Globalisation depends on the specialisation or division of labour and Ricardo’s theory of Comparative Advantage. New Labour positioned this country into the Global economy as specialising in financial services. Hence its love affair with the City which has brought us to such disaster, and its total lack of concern for the export of our manufacturng industry and the huge increase in the population of an already crowded country. (One of its idiot ministers, Alan Johnson, said that he could ‘sleep easy’ at the prospect of unlimited immigration. Ie the country could be concreted over from Land’s End to John O’ Groats so far as he was concerned.)

The assumption seems to have been and to be that in the new, fully integrated, globalised utopia of universal brotherly love, we would be able to buy our food from abroad for ever. The Globalising Cameroons led by the ‘heir to Blair’ are following in New Labour’s footsteps

The Most Vulnerable Countries will be the Ones to Suffer Most in an Era of increasing Food Shortages

The commentator Raj Patel tells us that when droughts, floods and other natural phenomena put stress on the produce of food exporters – the most vulnerable countries, who depend on these exports, will be the most pronounced economic victims. In other words, in a system where African food is grown in Russia, a European heat wave can result in riots in Maputo.’

But we are a food importing country and thanks to our ‘leaders’ are now increasingly vulnerable.

In the 1980s Britain produced 78 per cent of what it ate, ie a shortfall of nearly a Quarter. This fell to 58.9 per cent in 2009, the decrease being blamed on a change in EU subsidies. But the increase in our population has certainly also had an effect and we are going to be far vulnerable in the future because of this artificially-induced population surge and the disappearance of our own good food-producing land under the concrete poured to accommodate it. At the same time we can look forward to increasing instances of food shortages abroad and rising world food prices due to the increasing demand from ever-wealthier ‘third world’ countries like China, India and Brazil; rising populations in many third world countries; ever -increasing oil prices as a result of peak oil (oil is necessary to produce the fertiliser used in the ’green revolution’ and to transport it ). Food-producing areas in areas like Indonesia and Brazil are being turned over to crops for the production of ethanol, the petrol substitute. The apparent effects of climate change , whatever its cause, are severe.

The Lesson of the Irish Potato Famine

Being a comparatively rich country (for the present) won’t save us as (strangely for egalitarians) New Labour and the rest seem to have calculated. As we have seen, the first thing that happens when an area suffers from a food shortage is that it bans exports of that food.

It must do so because if it doesn’t, the authorities will be hated by the local populations. That was the fate of the British Government and the British people at the time of Irish Potato famine of the 19th Century when about one million people died. That government, directed by the Liberal ideology of ‘Free Trade’ (akin to the Globalising ideology of today) allowed the export of grain in periods during that terrible time.

There is dispute about how much damage this did to the Irish people, but it doesn’t matter much whether this was less than many think. The mere idea of exporting food at all was enough for the British to earn the hatred of the Irish, a hatred which helped to lead to Irish Independence from Britain.

Will We see Food Riots in Britain.

Will our country too be subject to food riots as have occurred abroad at some point in the future? Thanks to the ineffable stupidity, foolish optimism and lack of foresight of our oh-so smugly superior political class, this is eventuality is no longer quite the the far –fetched possibility that it once was. Much more likely though, at least in the near decades, are ongoing huge increases in the cost of food in the shops to the point that, for example, many of our more vulnerable people such as the old, who already count the pennies, will constantly be malnourished and on the brink of starvation.

It’s not just Food

It is not only food that will be in shorter supply in the near future. There is oil of course, which will continue to escalate in price as the world gets over the Credit Crunch, but there are other highly important products as well which will suffer the same fate. For example, China recently announced that it is cutting its export of Rare Earth Minerals by a further 10%. This may sound unexciting but is in fact of tremendous importance. Why? Because these minerals are used in a vast range of industrial and consumer goods like electronic items and China is the source of 97% of the world’s supplies.

There are other possible suppliers of some metals such as Russia and India, but the pattern remains: When produce is scarce, producers hug their produce to themselves, regardless of the price that others might want to pay. This is the very antitheses of the Globalised world envisaged by the Utopian lunatics like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the Cameroons.

The advent of a world of scarcity signals the end of the Globalising vision.


jones said...

Then it will be necessary to dust off all that seemingly anomalous repressive social control legislation that's been hard-wired into our statute framework in recent years (almost as if they see where it's going....but I'm just being paranoid surely?).

These measures will ultimately fail of course but we're talking about an ideologically driven process here..

We certainly live in interesting times.

Yorkshireminer said...

The French Revolution came too a end or more correctly the Paris rioting when the Unemployed youth were conscripted into the Army and sent off too fight for the glories of France. Lets up hope that this does not happen with the poor unemployed youth of North Africa. If not armed an Army of unemployed North African youths sweeping into Europe through Sicily would be enough to start a war. Things are getting bad enough in Lampedusa, it is only by the Italian Government moving the migrants out too the mainland that is keeping the lid on things. The Bars and cafes have been closed and they are escorting there kids everywhere. If my memory serves me correctly there are only about 4,000 Italians living on the Island. The migrants have been landing at the rate of 700 a day a couple of weeks of that the local population would be outnumbered. If there was no food coming in and the migrants were not moved out the consequences do not bear thinking about.

Yorkshireminer said...

I would like to add a comment about the Irish famine. Well it was not an Irish famine it is the name we give too the famine that was raging in Ireland at that time. The Irish part was only part of a greater European famine or Hunger. The potatoe crop failed all over Europe during the same years and France and Belgium were badly hit. The higher the percentage of the potatoes in the local diet the harder it struck. Ireland who suffered the worst exposure suffered the worse. Denmark where potatoes made up only 5% of the diet suffered hardly at all. They were quiet a few death in England by the way. What is hardly known if at all is that in I think 1879 the potato crop failed again in Ireland. The reason the Irish did not suffer another famine was in fact globalisation. The Great plains in America were being opened up with the help of the Railways and the abundant cheap food could be quickly transported by steam ships direct to Ireland. People also seem to forget that it is not food that is the problem usually it is lack of money. If you don't have the money you can't buy the food. St Bob and his acolytes, did not produce one extra calorie of food all they did was provide the money too buy food and distribute it and most likely ruined a few Ethiopian farmers who had food to sell but couldn't sell it. The ones that eat in the Global famine that is coming the food shortages are only a precursor will be the ones who have the money.