As the title of this post indicates, confirmation bias may well be getting the better of me, but the main thesis of this Foreign Policy article by Annia Ciezadlo coincides with the findings of the empirical work I have been doing recently:
“Change is sweeping through the Middle East today, but one thing remains the same: the region once known as the Fertile Crescent is now the world’s most dependent on imported grain. Of the top 20 wheat importers for 2010, almost half are Middle Eastern countries. The list reads like a playbook of toppled and teetering regimes: Egypt (1), Algeria (4), Iraq (7), Morocco (8), Yemen (13), Saudi Arabia (15), Libya (16), Tunisia (17).
For decades, many of these regimes relied on food subsidies to ensure stability (…). But over the past several years, grain prices reached record levels, and these appeasement policies lost their luster. In Tunisia, pro-democracy demonstrations began in late December 2010 with protesters brandishing baguettes.”
To be clear, I don’t think food prices are the sole determinant of political instability in the Arab world. Rather, I think that food prices are likely to have been the spark that set fire to the powder keg in Algeria and Tunisia. The events in Tunisia might have then set in motion a chain of events by inspiring further protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.
Because we will never observe the counterfactual, we will never know for sure whether rising food prices caused political unrest in the Arab world. So far, however, I have not heard a good argument to the contrary. I would seriously love to hear such arguments in the comments.
Tags: Food Prices