Rice Prices Surge 30% in one Day

I think I’ll start eating more quinoa.

The Financial Times reports that “fears of unrest rise across Asia as rice price surges 30% in a day.”  In a BBC interview, the director of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI–don’t tell me you didn’t know one existed) bluntly states why this could be a major problem.

“Rice is the staple food for about half the world’s population, and over half the world’s poor.”

As the FT reports, many events has transpired to cause such a dramatic, sudden rise in the price of this extremely important food staple and the potential political effects.

Rice prices jumped 30 per cent to a record high yesterday, raising fears of fresh outbreaks of social unrest across Asia, where the grain is a staple food for more than 2.5bn people.

The increase came after Egypt, a leading exporter, imposed a formal ban on selling rice abroad to keep local prices down and the Philippines announced plans for a major purchase of the grain in the international market to boost supplies.

Global rice stocks are at their lowest since 1976. While prices of wheat, corn and other agricultural commodities have surged since late 2006, the rice prices increase started in January.

The Egyptian export ban formalises a previous poorly enforced curb and follows similar restrictions imposed by Vietnam and India, the world’s second and third-largest exporters.

Cambodia, a small seller, also announced an export ban.

These foreign sales restrictions have removed about a third of the rice traded in the international market.

Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said: “I have no idea how importing countries will get rice.” He forecast prices would rise further.

Here is the BBC interview with the head of the IRRI:

Ken Roth Lecture on Human Rights and the Environment

We watched a video of a lecture given by Ken Roth (the Executive Director of the human rights NGO, Human Rights Watch) on the link between human rights and environmental degradation.  You can watch the entire lecture on youtube.  It is also embedded below.  Here is the description of the lecture:

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth explains how environmental abuse has led to human rights violations in Darfur, Nigeria, Indonesia and Angola in the first of this season’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of San Diego. Series: “Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series” [10/2007]

President Bush wins European Approval for Missile Defense Shield

Yesterday in intro to IR we discussed the morality of former US President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) from a moral standpoint.  We debated the morality of replacing the theretofore existing principle of Nuclear Deterrence for a missile defense shield meant to destroy launched nuclear weapons, thereby making nuclear weapons essentially useless.  Some quarter of a century later, the New York Times reports that President Bush has won acquiescence from some European allies for his version of a missile defense shield that would cover the European continent.

bush_europe_missile_shield.jpgBUCHAREST, Romania — NATO leaders agreed Thursday to endorse a United States missile defense system based in Europe and to provide more troops for Afghanistan, but they declined, as expected, to back President Bush’s proposal to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO membership…

“There has been, over 10 years, a real debate as to whether there is a ballistic missile threat,” said Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley. “And I think that debate ended today.”

The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, has objected repeatedly to building parts of the missile defense system in former Soviet bloc states, despite Washington’s assurances that the system is a response to threats from Iran, not from Russia. Mr. Putin, saying the system would fuel a new arms race, has even threatened toaim Russian missiles at the system, while also offering the use of a substitute system in Azerbaijan.

NATO’s final statement invited Russia to cooperate with the United States and Europe on developing defenses jointly.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee of the Russian Parliament, said that missile defense would be high on the agenda for the meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush in Sochi, a Russian resort, scheduled after the NATO conference, which Mr. Putin is to attend Friday.


Is NAFTA good or bad for US Workers and the US Economy?

With Democratic Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tussling over the relative  merits of the North American Free Trade Agreement, this Boston Globe column, in which Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson is quoted, is useful as quick background reading.  NAFTA, signed by former President Bill Clinton and ratified by the US Congress in teh mid-1990s, sought to bring down trade barriers amongst the Mexican, Canadian, and United States’ economies.  A common lament amongst those in rust-belt states and along the Mexican border is that the agreement has sent millions of jobs formerly held by Americans to Canada and Mexico.  Emerson cautions us to be wary of this claim, parsing the logic:

I strongly believe that the growth in protectionist sentiment is somewhat misplaced and irrational. It’s people who are concerned about the loss of jobs over the last 10 years which largely — analytically — has been shown to be driven by technology,” he told reporters.

“To the degree that it’s the result of liberalized trade, it’s more to do with the Asian dynamos like China and India and Vietnam, and countries like that. It’s not NAFTA that is hurting the North American worker. It’s not,” Emerson said.

“In fact, NAFTA is probably the friend of the North American worker because it enables us to achieve a level of efficiency and competitiveness that helps us take on the real competitive threats.”

Emerson said he had urged his counterparts in Canada’s 10 provinces to stress this message in dealings with the governors of U.S. states and members of the U.S. Congress.

“When you recognize that 39 out of 50 states have Canada as their number one export market, you start to realize governors and congressmen at the local level have an awful lot at stake, and we need to make sure they understand that,” Emerson said.

“Premiers and provincial ministers are very good, they have lots of contacts. The federal government cannot do it all.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has expressed confidence that, despite the rhetoric, the North American Free Trade Agreement will not be reopened. Emerson was not quite as confident.

“We’ve all been hearing the comments of presidential candidates, of congressmen. Protectionist forces have been gathering steam for some years and they’re showing no signs of abating,” he said.

Political Ideology/Attitudes and Happiness

Are individuals of a certain political attitude orientation more likely to be happy than those with competing political attitudes?  The short answer, in the United States at least, may be yes; moreover, self-defined conservatives seem to be much happier (or at least claim they are) than are liberals, and extremists of either group are happier than moderates.  From the Economist:

economist_happiness.jpgIn 2004 Americans who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” were nearly twice as likely to tell pollsters they were “very happy” as those who considered themselves “liberal” or “very liberal” (44% versus 25%). One might think this was because liberals were made wretched by George Bush. But the data show that American conservatives have been consistently happier than liberals for at least 35 years.

This is not because they are richer; they are not. Mr Brooks thinks three factors are important. Conservatives are twice as likely as liberals to be married and twice as likely to attend church every week. Married, religious people are more likely than secular singles to be happy. They are also more likely to have children, which makes Mr Brooks confident that the next generation will be at least as happy as the current one.

When religious and political differences are combined, the results are striking. Secular liberals are as likely to say they are “not too happy” as to say they are very happy (22% to 22%). Religious conservatives are ten times more likely to report being very happy than not too happy (50% to 5%). Religious liberals are about as happy as secular conservatives.

Why should this be so? Mr Brooks proposes that whatever their respective merits, the conservative world view is more conducive to happiness than the liberal one (in the American sense of both words). American conservatives tend to believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed. This makes them more optimistic than liberals, more likely to feel in control of their lives and therefore happier. American liberals, at their most pessimistic, stress the injustice of the economic system, the crushing impersonal forces that keep the little guy down and what David Mamet, a playwright, recently summed up as the belief that “everything is always wrong”. Emphasising victimhood was noble during the 1950s and 1960s, says Mr Brooks. By overturning Jim Crow laws, liberals gave the victims of foul injustice greater control over their lives. But in as much as the American left is now a coalition of groups that define themselves as the victims of social and economic forces, and in as much as its leaders encourage people to feel helpless and aggrieved, he thinks they make America a glummer place.