Worldwide food prices are up sharply in the last year. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization food price index, which measures the wholesale price of a basket of basic food, has increased seven months in a row. Food prices are now at record highs, according to the index.
The price increases are largely supply-driven and are expected to be long-lasting, according to the experts. Weather conditions, such as droughts, floods, and cyclones, have interfered with normally farming and harvest patterns and have kept food from the marketplace. Other factors affecting supply include the increasing efforts to use food as fuel — the heavily subsidized corn ethanol industry in the United States is a good example — and the spread of cities into areas that used to be agricultural producers. And as we all know from the law of supply and demand, when available supply does not meet demand, prices will increase. That is precisely what has happened.
If history teaches us anything, it is that food and famine often effect revolutionary change. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and countless other incidents of regime overthrow have been motivated by the actions of hungry, desperate people. The recent unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East also is being attributed, at least in part, to food prices and hunger. Leaders of regimes in those volatile, hungry parts of the world must be wondering whether they soon will be going the way of Nicholas and Alexandra and Marie Antoinette.