Has the time not come for us to accept the sovereignty of every nation, not only political sovereignty, but economic sovereignty as well?
A good friend of mine has referred me to an article that was posted on the Internet yester- day, Food Riots Erupt Worldwide. The article can be found on AlterNet, which is an independent on-line news service that amplifies other inde- pendent news services’ articles with the goal of inspiring citizen action and advocacy on envi- ronment, human rights, civil liberties, social justice, media, and health care issues. I guess this makes AlterNet part of the “liberal” media, so some may be tempted to dismiss this news all together. But Alternet’s goal is near and dear to my heart, so the article really got my attention. Accordingly, I decided to do some research myself and pass the story on with some amplification of my own.
I’m like Will Rogers who said, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” So I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of food riots, nor do I have access to primary sources of information about it. But when I google “food riots,” I get dozens of returns on news stories posted in recent months by various news agencies about food riots in places like Mexico, Haiti, Afghanistan, Syria. I found one story too about how Canada anticipates that we who live north of the Rio Grande may be closer to food riots ourselves than we think. This article, UN Food Agency Needs Hundreds of Millions for Hungry, posted also yesterday by the Associated Press, confirms for me that the Third World is in fact experiencing a growing food shortage. This has been the subject of reports and discussions on National Public Radio in recent weeks. But the situation, to my knowledge, has not made it past the “so-what” cut to be featured prominently on evening network news programs. How come? Are we not an enlightened, generous nation?
World food prices, according to the AlterNet article, have increased by a whopping 39 percent over the past year with rice prices increasing to a 19-year high. Fifty percent of this price increase occurred over a single two-week period. Commodity traders are making money “hand-over-fist.” So, while we here in the United States have been distracted by the political bickering between Senators Clinton and Obama and our own rising fuel and food cost problems, half of the world’s people, the half that must live on the equivalent of $2 a day or less, are facing starvation. Why?
Have I got your attention yet?
Analysts the AlterNet article cites have identified some obvious causes for the food shortages: increased demand from China and India, whose economies are booming now, thanks to free trade; rising fuel and fertilizer costs driven by steeper demand for oil owing to China’s and India’s booming economies, thanks to free trade; increased demand for bio-fuels in this country to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and trade deficits, and; climate change (much of the land in coastal rice-growing regions of Asia have experienced more frequent and more severe tropical storms in recent years with accompanying storm surges that have left the soil less fertile owing to sea water flooding). But there’s more behind this problem than just the obvious reasons… much more.
For several decades now, the United States, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose policies that have had a devastating effect on developing countries, policies that some recognize as the New Colonialism (neocolonialism).
According to a Hoover Institution essay, World Bank and IMF financing programs rarely prescribe appropriate economic policies or sufficient institutional reforms; they are at best ineffective and at worst imprudent investment and public policy decisions. They reduce economic growth and encourage long-term IMF dependency. By requiring countries to open up their agriculture markets to giant multinational companies, by insisting that countries dismantle their marketing boards that served to keep commodities in a rolling stock to be released in the event of bad harvests, thus protecting both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices, the First World has put the “screws” to the Third World. Countries that were once self-sufficient in food crops are now compelled by market forces to grow exportable cash crops instead such as tea, coffee, cocoa, cotton and even flowers. So the rich get richer… The poorest countries of the world have been forced into economic servitude, unable to repay massive loans. Is it any wonder that so much of the rest of the world hates us now?
So, what should we do about it?
To begin with, we should stop fooling ourselves. We may be the most generous people on earth giving 1.67 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to charity. But the lion’s share of our giving goes to local and national charities like churches, the Salvation Army, and the American Red Cross. Most of our foreign aid, a tiny fraction of our GDP, goes to Israel. Along with this, we need to realize that free trade and market forces alone do not serve humanitarian purposes. Free trade, as opposed to “fair” trade, simply makes it possible for money interests to exploit other’s resources. So, it is essential that we should not stand in the way of developing-world governments reinstituting safety nets and public distribution systems for food. Additionally, donor nations must do more, and do so immediately, to support govern- ment efforts in poor countries to avert wide-scale starvation. But most Americans are already feeling the effects of recession, stretching family budgets and doing without to make monthly ends meet. So, those of us who can really do need to pitch-in; the UN food program desperately needs contributions. Warren, Bill, Oprah, and all the rest of you who so richly benefited from the Bush tax cuts over the past eight years, are you hearing this?
In the long-run, the world’s financial powers need to back off, accepting the fact that what works so well in U.S. and Canadian agricultural sectors doesn’t necessarily work in Third World countries. With large numbers of their citizens still engaged in agriculture as a way of life, these countries cannot be left to depend so heavily on food imports to feed their people. They need substantial production and consumption of locally grown crops from small, sustainable farms rather than large, commercial farms growing cash crops for western markets. It may be time to reconsider whether even the IMF has a legitimate reason to exist.
Has the time not come for us to accept and respect the sovereignty of every nation, not only political sovereignty, but economic sovereignty as well? Then the time has come for us as well to to stop worshipping the golden calf of free markets. Paraphrasing the words of the AlterNet article’s author, Anuradha Mittal, every country and every people have a right to affordable food. When the free market deprives them of this, it is the market that must give back.
Please feel free to post a comment, pro or con, in response.