At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level…
Most of the explanations we were given at the time have turned out to be false. It didn’t happen because supply fell: the International Grain Council says global production of wheat actually increased during that period, for example. It isn’t because demand grew either: as Professor Jayati Ghosh of the Centre for Economic Studies in New Delhi has shown, demand actually fell by 3 per cent. Other factors – like the rise of biofuels, and the spike in the oil price – made a contribution, but they aren’t enough on their own to explain such a violent shift.
Read the whole thing…but have a barf bag handy. And a pillow to punch. This, right here, is the perfect example of why financial regulation is so critical to get right. We’ve got a window right now. Both conservatism (the terribly-destructive modern version of it practiced by today’s GOP, anyway) and the market-worshipping of unrestrained capitalism exemplified by Gold-In-Sacks, lie in tatters. The public’s had an eyeful of how badly those institutions have failed to live up to their promises, and a bellyful of the consequences. They’re beginning to realize that class warfare isn’t the socialist boogeyman that they’ve been told would be unfairly used to everyone’s detriment by Marxist Kenyan Nazis; it’s what’s already being used by the very institutions and interest-groups that constantly warn us of it. Being used against US. Against all of us (unless you count yourself in that top one-one-hundredth of one percent).
But that window is closing fast. The same forces that managed to convince majorities of the country that a tax which affects – literally – almost that exact same 1/100th of one percent, is really a “death tax” that will affect many if not most of us, or that George W. Bush was cut from Presidential timber – those same forces are moving to shut this extraordinary window as quickly as they can, by any means necessary. And if there’s one thing they’ve got plenty of, it’s means. Every day since the 2008 election (even earlier, in fact), they’ve been engaged in a coordinated effort to tell us that there’s nothing to see here; just cyclical downturns which can be blamed on Fanny and Freddie (which Democrats had a hand in, just like Ray Nagin became the GOP’s villain for Katrina, because of his party ID), or Clinton’s penis, or 9/11 changed everything, etc. Right now, the public’s still too personally affected by (or close to) too many of these entirely-avoidable tragedies to believe the hokum. Right now, they’re still willing to believe their own lyin’ eyes, as the saying goes. But they won’t be forever. As the visceral pain and memories of some of this recedes, if the relentless drumbeat of forget, obfuscate and distract keeps up it’s hypnotic thrum, that window we currently have will close. If nothing’s done – or if things are done incorrectly or overly-timidly, it won’t be long at all before “conventional wisdom” (which is usually neither) will hold that although there was a “spot of bother” when Obama too office, he’s had plenty of time to sort it all out by now, so he should just quit whining, along with all those liberals who supported him. And if anything ELSE “happens” (as if in a vacuum), well, that will not only be Obama’s fault, but proof that we shouldn’t have elected him in the first place – and that next time, we should just “go with our gut” and pick the well-dressed Republican who tells us what we want to hear (or at least gives us someone to blame).
Never mind that it’s axiomatic that anyone who thinks with their gut quite literally has shit for brains; this is America, where we banished the selection of our leaders by aristocracy and the Divine Right of kings in favor of selecting them on the basis of who we’d most like to “have a beer with.” We have a window now. But it won’t last, and in fact, it’s already starting to close. While it remains open, we can – no, we must – use it to restore things that were taken away or watered down (hello, habeas corpus, Glass-Steagall and so many others), and we must attend to what has been so long-neglected (hello, regulation of industry and national infrastructure). That’s why I sometimes seem so hard on the President: because I’m 100% sure that if we don’t get it almost completely right the first time we try many of these things (health care, fin. reform), there isn’t going to BE any second bite at the apple. And, in fact, it’s even worse than that: to whatever degree we allow what we know must be done to prevent these catastrophes from recurring in the future to be watered down or ignored, future Republicans will be only too happy to let it fail – even gleefully hasten its failure – and use the very fact OF the failure itself as proof the Democrats and liberals can’t govern, and that clearly, what we need to do is cut taxes some more, and quit all that pesky restricting of business via regulation. And they will be believed. That window we have now will slam shut with a thud, and our children will grow up in a world where “liberal” is still defined by people like Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. And worse, they’ll grow up in a world (or at least an America) where these problems are not solved, which means the next crisis might just ruin them financially — or even threaten their lives. I dunno about you guys, but I’m just not interested in letting Frank Luntz and Karl Rove shape the world my kids grw up in, and tell them what the things in it are worth, or what they mean. Screw that.