Food prices and discontent

Date posted: October 14, 2011

People sometimes get grumpy when they are hungry. But is there a relationship between civil unrest and rising food prices? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden answers.

“So what you’re asking … is do people generally on mass get grumpy when they … see food prices going up, and does that connect grumpiness current into something more serious? And the answer is yes.

“And I think this obviously is logical. Food is a basic human need. If people don’t have food, they’re not going to be happy. And they may take matters in their own hand. And there may be civil unrest.

“And, indeed, there’s a recent set of research papers that confirms this.  They show that things like political unrest, riots, insurrections increase the higher that food prices go. And we’ve seen this, for example, recently this year in some parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, where food takes a much bigger part of people’s budgets. We’ve had some dramatic increases, as people in our country know, in food prices. And that has led to civil unrest. Some say that’s led to some of the political turnover in the Middle East.

“I think this is also one reason … why … in many countries and our country included, there’s been a concerted public policy to make sure that food is plentiful and to make sure that those who grow the food — farmers — are supported, particularly in bad times when there are droughts, low prices, et cetera.

“So, over our history in our country we had several federal programs that go to support farmers. And I think this is all based on the very simple notion: If people are hungry, they’re not going to be happy.”

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