Monday, February 7, 2011

The Politics of Food and Oil

Here is a bit from an interesting post by Barkley Rosser on the EconoSpeak blog:
I do see two clear areas where one can see economic factors. The first has to do with oil. No Arab country that is a major oil exporter (or earns the vast majority of its export earnings from oil) is seeing an uprising, or even any noticeable hints of one, unless one counts the continuing rumblings and instability in Iraq, and Algeria is a borderline case as a somewhat significant oil exporter that has had riots. Oil prices have risen, and it would appear that most of the leaders of the countries exporting lots of oil have been clever enough to sufficiently distribute the rising earnings from this so as to tamp down any incipient unhappiness about dictatorship or monarchy or excessive friendliness with the US.

The other obvious shock has been the spike in food prices, with the massive drought due to an unprecedented heat wave in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan last summer playing the leading role in this, with something on the order of a 10% decline in world wheat production resulting. Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, and pretty much all the other Arab countries with demonstrations or riots are also importers of food to some extent, and almost all of wheat in particular. So, there we have a neat story. Those with rising foreign earnings from oil exports have not had political upheavals (except maybe Algeria), while those more strongly dependent on food imports and thus suffering shocks that especially impact the poorer parts of their populations have almost all had uprisings.

Beyond those two fairly clear cut matters, all else is very murky. This can be seen by considering the two reasonably large, non-oil exporting and mostly Sunni Arab, states that have not had actual demonstrations or riots, although both have had rumors and threats of same: Morocco and Syria.
I like the basic message: the events of the world are murky with many causes but there is a larger theme of food price rise as a pressure that leads societies with inequalities (and lack of jobs, a sense of the future, etc.) to revolt.

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