High Food Prices Are Fueling Egypt’s Riots-and Those in Brazil, Turkey, and Syria
Conflict continues to sweep Egypt, and the death toll is rising fast. Demonstrators protesting ex-president Mohammed Morsi’s ouster are the latest victims, and they number at least in the hundreds. The region has been wracked with conflict for months now, and, while the West is fond of blaming Morsi’s incompetence as a governor, the problem may be much more fundamental than that-Egypt is starving.
When people are hungry, societies tend to unravel, regardless of whether it’s led by an authoritarian tyrant or a democratic body. When food is too expensive, people can’t eat. And all over the world, food is way too expensive right now.
Two years ago, the New England Complex Systems Institute published a famous paper that sussed out the mathematical correlation between food prices and unrest: Every time food prices breached a certain threshold, riots broke out worldwide.
That all-important threshold is about 210 on the FAO Food Price Index. That’s the “measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities,” according to the United Nations.
In 2008, the wake of the global economic crash, food prices skyrocketed to 220. Violent protests and riots swept the globe. In 2011, food prices spiked, and breached the threshold again-and the Arab Spring was born. Today, most of us remember of the millions-strong demonstrations and the toppled dictators, but recall that the uprising began when one man was so desperate and humiliated that he couldn’t feed his family that he set himself on fire.
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