Jesus said Man does not live by bread alone. Nevertheless, the lack of it makes people angry. The last time the world suffered a food-price shock as it is today, it helped launch the Arab Spring, a wave of uprisings that ousted four presidents and led to terrible civil wars in Syria and Libya. Unfortunately, the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin has once again increased the grain and energy markets. So this year too, unrest is inevitable.
Rising food and fuel prices are the most painful form of inflation. If the price of furniture or smartphones rises, people may delay the purchase or abandon it. But they can’t stop eating. Similarly, transportation costs are baked into every single physical thing and most people cannot work easily. So when food and fuel are dear, living standards fall abruptly. The pain for urbanites of poor countries is so severe that they spend most of their income on bread and bus fares. Like rural people, they cannot grow their own crops – but they can riot.
Many governments want to ease the pain, but after Kovid-19 there is a shortage of debt and money. For the average poor nation’s public debt –GDP The ratio is about 70% and it is rising. Even the poorest countries pay higher interest rates, which is rising. Some of them find it unsustainable. The imf 41 say they are “in a debt predicament” or in high risk.
Sri Lanka is already the default and dissolved. An angry and hungry mob has set fire to vehicles, invaded government buildings and urged their abusive president to oust the prime minister who is his brother. Riots have erupted in Peru over the standard of living, and India is in the midst of a plan to cut some jobs in the military. Pakistan is urging its citizens to drink less tea to save hard currency. Laos is on the verge of default. Anger over the cost of living undoubtedly contributed to the election of Colombia’s leftist fundamentalist president on June 19.
The Economist Has constructed a statistical model to examine the relationship between food- and fuel-price inflation and political unrest. It reveals that the two have historically been good predictors of mass protests, riots and political violence. If the findings of our model are indeed advanced, many countries can expect the unrest to double this year.
There is a greater risk in places that are already uncertain: countries such as Jordan and Egypt rely on food and energy imports and have unstable public finances. Many such places have bad or oppressive regimes. The supply shock in Turkey has accelerated the devastating inflation caused by Doty’s monetary policy. All over the world, the cost of living is increasing the grievances of people and the chance they get off the street. It is more likely to become violent in places where there are fewer and fewer employees. As their buying power declines, many conclude that they will never be able to get married and have a family. Frustrated and humiliated, some feel that if they join the riot there is nothing to lose.
Another way that inflation destabilizes society is to cultivate drama. When wages do not match the price, officers with relatives in need are even more tempted to extort money from the powerless. It irritates the hunters. Recall that it was the suicide of a Tunisian businessman who triggered the Arab spring, when he set himself on fire to protest against the constant demands of pay-offs by a dirty cop.
If unrest spreads this year, it could increase economic suffering. Investors don’t like riots and revolutions. One study found that a large outbreak of political violence usually hits a percentage point GDP After 18 months. The damage is much greater when protesters are angry about both politics and the economy.
It is difficult to prevent the coming eruptions. The abolition of policies that discourage food production, such as price controls and export restrictions, is a good start. Farmers of countries such as Tunisia have to plow their crops to the state for a fraction of the cost of plowing the land. The government should leave the farmers to reap what they sowed. Also, less grain should be burned as biofuel.
Many countries are asking for bail. International financial institutions must strike a tricky balance. Saying no can cause chaos — and cause lasting harm. But rooting out bad and unsustainable policies can bail out miserable governments. Such as bodies imf, Whose negotiators arrived in Sri Lanka and Tunisia this week, should be generous but insist on reforms. They should carefully monitor how they spend their money. And they must act quickly. If all this anger is allowed to escalate, it is more likely to explode. ■