June 4, 2008

Truth on a Global Scale

Project Syndicate has a piece up by Chris Patten entitled "Bread and Bush-bashing" in which he talks about the first and does the latter in the context of the global food crisis.  Pointing first to Bush's spin on the food crisis as he announced an increase in US food aid: 
Bush pointed his finger primarily elsewhere. Food prices had responded to growing demand. In Asia, economic growth had stimulated food consumption. The Chinese and Indians were eating more and eating better. Over a 20-year period, for example, the Chinese had doubled the amount of meat they eat.

What Bush said is of course true. But it is only part of the truth. Globalization has benefited India and China, and the rest of us, too. One key of the principal reasons for the world’s economic growth from 2000-07, despite wars and terrorist atrocities, was that India and China joined the world economy. Hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of poverty.

But many Indians are still wretchedly poor. Too many. They have a miserable diet – not least when compared with Bush’s Texan neighbors. Grain consumption per head in India has remained static, and is less than one-fifth the figure for the US, where it has been rising. I do not imagine you will find too many vegetarians in Crawford, Texas, and the meat consumed by the average American is way ahead of the figure for any other country. Think of all those T-bone steaks.
Patten then reminds us that not only did the Bush administration act as if Americans are not seated at the global dinner table but they also glossed over the fact that we're drawing pretty heavy from the global fuel pump - pointing instead to rising fuel demand in Asia as the chief culprit behind rocketing crude prices, not, of course our own patterns of consumption.  Analysis like this plays well on the home front but fares poorly on the global stage.  Call it half-truths if you like but for most it sounds like a double-standard.  Meanwhile . . . 
. . . . there is a food crisis to solve. We have already seen many examples of how not to deal with it. Stopping food exports is stupid. If we restrict market forces, there will be less food and higher prices. We should also avoid the cheap political trick of holding down what we pay to poor farmers in order to benefit poor city dwellers.

Why do governments do this? The answer is obvious: city dwellers riot; in the countryside, people just starve. The best way to deal with the problem is to subsidize food for the poor; we should not cut the price we pay farmers for growing it.

Having enjoyed a few days of Bush-bashing, India got on with the job of bowing to pre-election political pressures. The government announced that it was suspending trading in futures markets for a number of farm products.

India has the most economically literate triumvirate of politicians in the world in charge of its economy. They must know that this measure will have as much effect on food inflation as rain dancing has on the weather. But politics, alas, is politics.
As my grandfather would say, "times are hard all over."  Bush isn't the first president, of this country or any other, to shy away from pointing the finger at his own constituents or to decide that the best course of action might not be a policy of measured self-sacrifice.  Truth telling, I fear, only gets harder the farther you climb up the chain of command.  We've obviously got the self-interest down pat, now we just need to add the enlightenment.  

PS - I know of at least one vegetarian in Crawford.

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