Free market = food riots

By Anuradha Mittal, AlterNet (via Truthout):

We Americans are very privileged in comparison to billions of other on this planet.  Even the poorest of us will have access to more than the $2 a day three billion subsist on, for food, housing, clothing…everything.

I hear the words “free market” thrown about quite often, but what do they really mean?  Do those words have an effect on my daily life?  Of course they do, but being lucky enough to be a citizen of one of the richest countries on the planet does have it’s perks — I pay a lot more for food these days, but I won’t be starving to death anytime soon.

Food riots are erupting all over the world. To prevent them and to help people afford the most basic of goods, we need to understand the causes of skyrocketing food prices and correct the policies that have fueled them.

World food prices rose by 39 percent in the last year. Rice alone rose to a 19-year high in March – an increase of 50 per cent in two weeks alone – while the real price of wheat has hit a 28-year high.

As a result, food riots erupted in Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. For the 3 billion people in the world who subsist on $2 a day or less, the leap in food prices is a killer. They spend a majority of their income on food, and when the price goes up, they can’t afford to feed themselves or their families.

Why is this happening now?  The obvious reasons, of course:  increased demand by the growing population, climate change, bio-fuels, etc.  There is a less obvious reason as well…

Over the last few decades, the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose devastating policies on developing countries. By requiring countries to open up their agriculture market to giant multinational companies, by insisting that countries dismantle their marketing boards and by persuading them to specialize in exportable cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and even flowers, they have driven the poorest countries into a downward spiral.

In the last thirty years, developing countries that used to be self-sufficient in food have turned into large food importers. Dismantling of marketing boards that kept commodities in a rolling stock to be released in event of a bad harvest, thus protecting both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices, has further worsened the situation.

Free market!  The market is free to help itself to all the money it can grab, and the poor are free to starve to death.

Read the rest of the article here.