Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Global Food Crisis Caused By Federal Reserve Bank

In a recent American Thinker post (hat tip Larwyn), JR Dunn is right to be concerned about potential United Nations and governmental interference in the food market, but in his capable discussion of causes of today's food shortages Dunn omits the fundamental cause: economic distortion or malinvestment for more than a decade due to the Federal Reserve Bank's monetary expansion. Those of us who remember the 1970s recall that the Nixon administration's monetary expansion's resultant price inflation was blamed on OPEC and oil prices. Dunn commits a similar fallacy and blames current food shortages on a litany of proximate causes,such as ethanol, which while important are not fundamental. Dunn is right that ethanol is a mistake that causes food shortages, but it is not the only mistake. For the past fifteen years, from America to China, economic resources have been diverted away from commodity and food production toward real estate investment and construction. In China, farmers have been uprooted to build dams and cities. In America, farmers have sold land to real estate developers. This amounts to malinvestment of artificially created credit. Now there are food shortages. The beneficiaries of the monetary expansion primarily have not been oil producing governments but Wall Street, hedge fund managers, real estate developers and the commercial banking system. Those who pay are those who cannot afford food now, those in dire poverty. Warren Buffett, George Soros and the new residents of Greenwich, Connecticut have waxed rich at the expense of those starving to death now.

Food shortages occur only if demand exceeds supply and supply cannot adjust. Several things can increase demand. These include the factors that Dunn enumerates in his blog: ethanol and the like. But in a free economy supply will expand to meet the higher demand. Supply shocks can be handled over a few year period. If this does not happen it is because there are blockages. None of the factors that Dunn enumerates explain the failure of farmers to anticipate or respond to shortages. Yet most economic theory suggests that firms are rational enough to at least approximately do this. What would explain farmers' hyper-irrationality? Distortion or malinvestment.

Worse, Dunn's analysis overlooks increasing prices across a range of commodities, not just food and oil. Gold has more than tripled in price in the past four years. Copper and other construction materials, rubber for instance, have increased since the millenium. The factors that Dunn enumerates do not explain an across-the-board increase in commodity prices. Does ethanol explain a three-fold increase in the price of gold?

Moreover, Dunn's discussion of OPEC omits the force of mistrust. OPEC has found it difficult to act in unison because of what game theorists call the prisoner's dilemma: economic actors find it difficult to act in unison in their own self interest when any one member can make side deals to sabotage collusion. That is why OPEC failed in the 1970s. Today, a broader swath of nations produce oil, so trust will be considerably less than it was then. Higher prices would motivate players to go behind the backs of their collaborators.

Dunn is correct to argue that the relationship between politics and food should be severed. But he omits the fundamental cause of the global food shortage: malinvestment away from commodity production toward real estate and stock market investment. This follows directly from Alan Greenspan's and Ben Bernanke's monetary policy, which is necessarily the cause of all general inflation.

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