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Old 03-30-2008   #21
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Default Thanks...

Watcher In The Middle, thanks for the links. With much of my attention devoted to other portions of the SWJ Empire of Knowledge, I am most deficient in following the great contributions of Council members.

Bottom-line, this one caught my attention on contributing - there are dozens of the same on many threads. To all who are making this thing work - thank you very much!
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Old 03-30-2008   #22
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Default This one is something to pay attention to. It's what you don't see....

...that's interesting here:

Quote:
Hedge funds raise profile in U.S. grain business
Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:47pm EDT
By Sam Nelson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The presence of hedge funds in the U.S. agricultural sector expanded on Thursday with the sale of ConAgra Foods Inc's grain business to Ospraie, as speculators increasingly tie their futures trades to physical markets.

Trade sources said the sale was also a sign of tough times for grain companies which must find ways to protect against wild swings in the futures market and raise extra money for margin calls due to a credit crunch.

ConAgra said earlier Thursday it would sell its commodity trading and merchandising operations to Ospraie Special Opportunities fund, an affiliate of investment management firm Ospraie Management.
Link to full article

Another viewpoint

There's a whole lot of "talk" going on about this one. First off, there's other recent "new" hedge funds charging into the commodity biz, being that the mortgage and credit business profit opportunities have dried up. So, it's onward to commodities.

This market's going to be a whole lot more interesting, though. First off, we're already sitting at or near record highs in prices, and the market (in many commodities) may already be close to being fully priced. But, these hedge funds will ring much more liquidity into the commodities markets, and that tends to mean higher, and more volatile pricing. Means that nations buying food exports from the US, but also other nations, will find everything to be more costly.

Secondly, ConAgra appears to be betting that it's a great time to sell their Commodities merchandise and trading business, because (a) getting $2.1 bil US isn't pocket change, plus (b) there is no business disadvantage to them, because they are the only one of the majors which had a separate line of business for commodities trading. Looks like they think the assets they are selling today will be back on the market in a few years for less, and they can buy back if they so decide to.

But this has interesting potential considerations, because these hedge funds are out to make serious returns in commodities, and that means bottom line increasing prices for commodities. And the US is fast becoming one of the "suppliers of last resort" in terms of open market access for grain crops.

Imagine if wheat (Ex.: May, 2008 Wheat at CBOT closed right at $10 a Bu. this last week), goes up another 25%, which isn't out of the ballpark. Imagine $20 a bu.

This has real implications, because many of the nations which are major food importers are nations we have/had long standing negative balance of trade issues with. Those deficits may start to disappear, because (a) commodity food prices are going up rapidly, and (b) We've (the US) has the available food supply.

One immediate result would likely be that these nations will not want the US dollar to strengthen, because then acquiring the commodities will cost even more.

Game is going to get interesting....

Normally, this might not be a topic for SWJ. But food shortages can tend to create some interesting decision making among nations, and using armed conflict to establish future food supplies is one of those considerations, and it's not like it hasn't been a motivation in the past.

Btw, SWJ is "THE BEST". Love it here, because if you are into thinking, here's the place to be. If you are into "Talking Points", IMO, you best move on.
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Old 03-30-2008   #23
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On the micro level, this is a big problem in the Philippines. My wife just spent an hour or two talking to her mother who is in Pasig City (suburb of Manila) right now. It seems that the average price went from 18 pesos to 40 pesos is a short and sharp increase, and the result is many people are having a hard time getting access to the staple.

The news is getting significant airtime on the nightly news shows we can catch via the satellite channel back to home for her. Folks are getting worried. Don't know if this is unprecedented, but it is definitely becoming uncomfortable across the country.
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Old 03-30-2008   #24
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Default Ug99 et al.

see also this thread on Ug99 wheat rust http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...highlight=rust
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Old 03-30-2008   #25
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Quote:
Normally, this might not be a topic for SWJ. But food shortages can tend to create some interesting decision making among nations, and using armed conflict to establish future food supplies is one of those considerations, and it's not like it hasn't been a motivation in the past.
This is most definitely a topic for the SWJ, and a most important one at that. With food staples (and fuel) costs shooting up all over the globe, and real hardship affectling the lives of people across the world (even in the West it's hurting many people now), and growing political instability (people killing each other for cooking oil in China is just one sign of the stress that is building up), oh yeah, this is a topic for us. Great work, Watcher.

This is very unsettling news; and even Cargill has sold one of its operations to this hedge fund. I mean Cargill?!, the great-grandaddy of them all? I can't help but think that there ought to be laws against these sorts of acquisitions.
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Old 03-30-2008   #26
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Default Those who control oil and water will control the world

Along this topic I thought this article was great at looking towards the food and water shortage issue. There are very few ways to create water and all of them cost orders of magnitude more than oil. All forms of food agriculture require water. Water is the future resource of conflict much like it has always been.


Link to story

Quote:
Those who control oil and water will control the world

History may not repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain observed, it can sometimes rhyme. The crises and conflicts of the past recur, recognisably similar even when altered by new conditions. At present, a race for the world's resources is underway that resembles the Great Game that was played in the decades leading up to the First World War. Now, as then, the most coveted prize is oil and the risk is that as the contest heats up it will not always be peaceful. But this is no simple rerun of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, there are powerful new players and it is not only oil that is at stake.

It was Rudyard Kipling who brought the idea of the Great Game into the public mind in Kim, his cloak-and-dagger novel of espionage and imperial geopolitics in the time of the Raj. Then, the main players were Britain and Russia and the object of the game was control of central Asia's oil. Now, Britain hardly matters and India and China, which were subjugated countries during the last round of the game, have emerged as key players. The struggle is no longer focused mainly on central Asian oil. It stretches from the Persian Gulf to Africa, Latin America, even the polar caps, and it is also a struggle for water and depleting supplies of vital minerals. Above all, global warming is increasing the scarcity of natural resources. The Great Game that is afoot today is more intractable and more dangerous than the last.

MUCH MORE AT THIS LINK
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Old 04-04-2008   #27
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Default Most current is...

Quote:
Corn Hits $6 a Bushel on Tight Supplies
Thursday April 3, 6:56 pm ET
By Stevenson Jacobs, AP Business Writer

Corn Prices Jump to Record $6 a Bushel, Driving Up Costs for Food, Alternative Energy

NEW YORK (AP) -- Corn prices jumped to a record $6 a bushel Thursday, driven up by an expected supply shortfall that will only add to Americans' growing grocery bill and further squeeze struggling ethanol producers.

Corn prices have shot up nearly 30 percent this year amid dwindling stockpiles and surging demand for the grain used to feed livestock and make alternative fuels including ethanol. Prices are poised to go even higher after the U.S. government this week predicted that American farmers -- the world's biggest corn producers -- will plant sharply less of the crop in 2008 compared to last year.
Link to article

Article is ok, but doesn't fill in the pieces behind the real story - which is, Why the Drop in Acreage devoted to corn production?

Looks to be a number of reasons:

01 Crop rotation. Running continuous corn results in lower yields per acre, and even those yields require increased applied nitrogen per acre. Either a crop rotation of corn/alfalfa or corn/soybeans is a better bet, with more sustainable, higher yields, with lower applied nitrogen per acre requirements.

02 Applied nitrogen (per acre) costs are way up - no surprise there. So cost reduction is a big thing, and therefore, #1 comes back into play.

03 Virtually all the "bankable" farmland has already been put back into production. Where you (as the farmer) could grab 20, 30, or 40 acres out of "Bankable" land, now it's 1, 2, or 3 acres, and you are scraping edges of grass waterways, reclaiming old building sites, adding an extra crop row along roads. In other words, the farming community is "working the edges" for more crop production, because that's all that is left.

04 Upfront investment costs. Bottom line (and this is from some friends who farm)the upfront costs for corn (vrs. the cash return per acre, based upon historical per acre crop production & current day prices), is that other grain crops such as soybeans are a better deal in the marketplace right now.

In other words; (Upfront money/production costs per acre)/(total anticipated revenue per acre) for corn is higher than for other crops. At least right now, hopefully will change. We'll see.

Congress had better rethink the whole corn based ethanol push, because corn at $7.25+ a Bu. means REAL PAIN for the American consumer. And there will be a pushback.
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Old 04-04-2008   #28
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Default Corn Briefing Room...huh ?

Watcher, Thanks for some intriguing conversation !

Who'd of thought the USDA has a Corn Briefing Room

Tons of great data, lots of links for old NCOs to research , but the majority is far more optimistic than the recent articles.

Quote:

Ethanol Expansion in the United States: How Will the Agricultural Sector Adjust? examines effects of the expansion in U.S. ethanol production. Market impacts extend well beyond corn, the primary feedstock for ethanol in the United States, to supply and demand for other crops, such as soybeans and cotton, as well as to U.S. livestock industries. As a consequence of these commodity market impacts, farm income, government payments, and food prices also change. See narrated slideshow for an overview; see related Amber Waves feature U.S. Ethanol Expansion Driving Changes Throughout the Agricultural Sector.
More interesting is how Argentina simply stands back and watches our corn production (supply and demand) and adjusts "fire" errr production.

Quote:
World Corn Trade

While the United States dominates world corn trade, exports only account for a relatively small portion of demand for U.S. corn—about 20 percent. This means that corn prices are largely determined by supply-and-demand relationships in the U.S. market, and the rest of the world must adjust to prevailing U.S. prices. This makes world corn trade and prices very dependent on weather in the U.S. Corn Belt. However, Argentina, the second-largest corn exporter in most years, is in the Southern Hemisphere. Farmers there plant their corn after the size of the U.S. crop is known, providing a quick, market-oriented supply response to short U.S. crops.
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Old 04-04-2008   #29
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Default Can certainly use a more optimistic outlook...

because the grain market seemingly is being driven by the negative news. And as a result, prices are going up.

As to Argentina, that's what has tended to occur in prior years. But Argentina has created a major self inflicted wound resulting in a nationwide agricultural strike, which has lots and lots of implications.

Quote:
Argentina Bids To End Farm Strike
Apr 1, 2008 9:49 AM, By Richard Brock

In a bid to resolve a 19-day farm strike that has produced severe food shortages and a major political crisis, Argentina’s economy minister on Monday announced measures to compensate small-scale farmers for the effect of a recent controversial tax hike on soy exports.

Martin Lousteau says the government would offer refunds on export taxes equivalent to the loss that these smaller producers have incurred since the tax was raised under a new system introduced on March 11, when it provoked farmers to block roads and withhold supplies.

Vowing to challenge the heavy concentration of soy production in the hands of a few large producers, Lousteau says the measure would cover 80% of all producers – those who produce just 20% of the country's total output.

Additionally, special transport subsidies will be given to small producers in Argentina's more distant, poorer northern provinces.
Link to Article

There's another issue that's almost certainly going to come up, and that's the adoption and use of bio-engineered corn (like Bayer CropScience LibertyLink corn). All the activists say its unsafe, and they raise all the "Frankenfood" threats and issues. Here's a link to a more balanced outlook:

The other side of the story.

The real issue, long term, is that at least one, if not several options are going to have to start to occur in the near future to alleviate the food shortage issues. Bottom line, is that as in petroleum, food demand is and has been increasing greater than supply (for the last several years).

All the activists shout about "No War For Oil", but will they say the same thing about Food?
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Old 04-04-2008   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Watcher In The Middle View Post
All the activists shout about "No War For Oil", but will they say the same thing about Food?
I suspect that will depend on price rises in the fair trade vegan delicatessens .
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Old 04-04-2008   #31
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Default strategic grain reserves

Wasn't it just last year American farmers asked Congress to consider the need to reinstate strategic grain reserves, in order to stabilize crop prices?

Did that ever go anywhere?

Much like our need for strategic petroleum reserves, policymakers will soon have to come to terms with/or acknowledge that having grain reserves has become just as urgent.
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Old 04-04-2008   #32
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Default Strategic Grain Reserves? Probably No Time Soon...

Originally posted by Stan:
Quote:
Much like our need for strategic petroleum reserves, policymakers will soon have to come to terms with/or acknowledge that having grain reserves has become just as urgent.
You are probably quite correct, but tend to doubt that it goes anywhere, particularly after our experiences back in the 1960's and 1970's.

We used to have what you are talking about (Strategic Reserves), but it ended up being a giant boondoogle on a scale that was almost beyond imagination. It really was a mess, and if you talk to the guys who were active "back in the day", well they still tell stories about it. Let's just say that it tended to be a real life version of "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".

Seriously, it was bad, and then congress started using the program as "welfare for farmers", and honestly, that just made things worse - even for the farming community.

Remember all the "surplus cheese" owned by the USDA? It wasn't limited to just cheese.

You can only store crops for so long before they go bad (even under the best of conditions), so then you had storage issues, and then there was the program where the feds would provide subsidies for farmer's grain bins, storing federally acquired feed grain, and the audits, and the record keeping, and - what an overall, never ending nightmare.

One of the biggest problems you see today in the AG marketplace is that our storage capacity isn't up to the needs. Demand for building new grain storage has a backlog, and up into December, 2007 it was actually getting longer.

Tend to doubt they (and I mean the farming community in particular) wants to deal with that type of government program any more.
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Old 04-05-2008   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Watcher In The Middle View Post
All the activists shout about "No War For Oil", but will they say the same thing about Food?
I would argue that oil is food. And further argue that the activist “no war for oil” mantra is as misguided, as the center-right notion that oil (and thereby food) has nothing to do with this, and it is a war over religion/civilization/freedom/etc.

The lefty likes of Harper’s articles aside, I think this is a pretty good, systematic look at things:

'The Oil We Eat' Following the Food Chain back to Iraq
, by Richard Manning. Harper’s, 31 Jan 2003.

Quote:
Food is politics. That being the case, I voted twice in 2002. The day after Election Day, in a truly dismal mood, I climbed the mountain behind my house and found a small herd of elk grazing native grasses in the morning sunlight. My respect for these creatures over the years has become great enough that on that morning I did not hesitate but went straight to my job, which was to rack a shell and drop one cow elk, my household's annual protein supply. I voted with my weapon of choice--an act not all that uncommon in this world, largely, I think, as a result of the way we grow food. I can see why it is catching on. Such a vote has a certain satisfying heft and finality about it. My particular bit of violence, though, is more satisfying, I think, than the rest of the globe's ordinary political mayhem. I used a rifle to opt out of an insane system. I killed, but then so did you when you bought that package of burger, even when you bought that package of tofu burger. I killed, then the rest of those elk went on, as did the grasses, the birds, the trees, the coyotes, mountain lions, and bugs, the fundamental productivity of an intact natural system, all of it went on.
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Old 04-05-2008   #34
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CBC.ca has a decent story with some links in it here.
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Old 04-13-2008   #35
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Today's Wash. Post front pager on the Philippines rice issue referenced these folks: http://www.philrice.gov.ph/ and the lead article there provides some interesting context. Rice production, for wxample, is having problem keeping up with the "three babies a minute" birthrate.
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Old 04-13-2008   #36
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Default But there's news afoot with worldwide rice production.

Quote:
FAO expects rice production to rise by 1.8 percent in 2008

Market situation remains difficult in the short-term – lower rice trade

2 April 2008, Rome – World rice production is expected to increase in 2008 by 12 million tonnes or 1.8 percent, assuming normal weather conditions, FAO said today. Production increases would ease the current very tight supply situation in key rice producing countries, according to the first FAO forecast for this year. International rice trade is expected to decrease, mainly due to restrictions in main exporting countries.

Sizable production increases are expected in all the major Asian rice producing countries, especially Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand, where supply and demand are currently rather stretched. Governments in these countries have already announced a series of incentives to raise production.
Link to Information

Well, yes and no. A 1.8% worldwide growth in rice production is certainly better than what has occurred for the last several years, but not good enough. And remember, this is just an advance prediction by FAO - it has to actually come true.

The one thing it (an actual production increase) might do is alleviate some price increases on the futures market, but not for short term deliveries.

The other issue here is that UN crop "predictions" tend to be treated as somewhat suspect, at least to players in the commodities market. The term "wishful thinking" tends to come to mind.

But, we sure can use the increased worldwide production, if it comes true.

Btw, the very recent US futures market in grains (particularly corn) is showing some interesting trends. Farmers are seeing a very, very strong market for grains up through May/June, but not so much for future deliveries past that. Why the discount? Interesting question there.
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Old 04-14-2008   #37
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Default World Bank echoes food cost alarm

The rapid rise in food prices could push 100 million people in poor countries deeper into poverty, World Bank head, Robert Zoellick, has said.

So, we have a new deal coming, but no money to fund it ?

Quote:
The World Bank and the IMF have held a weekend of meetings that addressed rising food and energy prices as well as the credit crisis upsetting global financial markets. Zoellick's proposal for a "new deal" to tackle the international food crisis was endorsed by the World Bank's steering committee of finance and development ministers at a meeting in Washington.

He also urged wealthy donor countries to quickly fill the World Food Programme's estimated $500m (£250m) funding shortfall.
Some intriguing video links such as this police raid in the Philippines at a warehouse suspected of hoarding rice. Doesn't appear to be much of a rice shortage, the rice is just not getting to anyone.

Then finally this tidbit:There is no rice shortage,
Quote:
and the country’s rice supply is stable enough to last for 57 days, said Philippine Department of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap. If there’s no rice shortage, why is rice price abnormally high?
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Old 04-14-2008   #38
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In reference to the Argentine issue and others, two weeks ago The Economist published this brief piece on the impacts of export restrictions:
Quote:
In the past two weeks Cambodia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Argentina, Ukraine and Thailand have taken the easy option, restricting food exports in an attempt to shore up domestic supplies.

Such curbs may be politically expedient, but they are economically self-defeating. They demotivate farmers, push them into growing the wrong crops and jeopardise their future access to markets. Moreover, the restrictions on supply send prices even higher on world markets.....

....Because of export quotas, Ukrainian growers, after harvesting more than they could sell at home, were forced to toss $100m-worth of rotten grain into the Black Sea earlier this year—just when world markets were desperate for supply. The measures can also be counter-productive, forcing growers to switch into new crops to avoid the export curbs. That can make local food shortages even worse.....
Another piece is the same issue states that, "...most pundits, agree that the world now has plenty of food: last year saw a record cereal harvest. And the investments spurred by today's high prices promise even more food in future. Even if one allows for rising demand from Asia's middle classes, the real challenge is not the volume of food available; it is the problem of food being in the wrong place and at a price the poorest cannot afford.".
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Old 04-14-2008   #39
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Quote:
Another piece is the same issue states that, "...most pundits, agree that the world now has plenty of food: last year saw a record cereal harvest. And the investments spurred by today's high prices promise even more food in future. Even if one allows for rising demand from Asia's middle classes, the real challenge is not the volume of food available; it is the problem of food being in the wrong place and at a price the poorest cannot afford.".
Ted,

Once upon a time I was married to a USAID officer who worked PL480 (Food for Peace) in Sudan and again in Haiti. The above point was widely in play in 1984 during the Sudanese drought of that period (which by the way was every bit as bad as the drought in Ethiopia; it just did not get the coverage as the Sudanese government clamped down on access). The same held true in the 1990s with Haiti; food was available if someone could pay for it and if the population at risk could either pay for it or get someone else to do the same.

There was a glib SOB on CNN this morning--I forget his name--and he had written a book on food. They had coverage on the screen about the Haiti food riots and this guy said we have to help the poor countries produce more food. I almost threw my cup at at the screen; we (the West)--despite all the BS spouted about using assistance to maintain dependency--have been trying to do just that since WWII. (Does anyone really think the US wants Haiti as a dependant?) Haiti is a stellar example; one only has to look at overhead imagery and see what has happened to Haiti to understand why they might not be such great farmers.

My point in this ramble/rant is two fold:

A. Saying we have food, we just need to move it is to me much like saying we need to readjust post-colonial borders to reduce ethnic warfare. It sounds simple because it is in its heart simplistic. It completely ignores reality as in political and/or economic reality.

B. Saying we need to help the Third World develop food production is another simple statement that is simplistic. They know how to produce food in Sudan. They know how to produce food in Ethiopia. What they do not know how to do is adjust their political, economic, and social structures to the reality of the Sudan or Ethiopia. The Haitians ar another matter; the oldest black republic and the second oldest repblic in the Western Hemipshere, Haiti is very much the longest running crisis. At some stage, the Haitians either fix it or nature will. Nature is a harsh task master. Nature coupled with political/ethnic agendas is devastatingly cruel.

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Old 04-14-2008   #40
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Hi Tom,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
A. Saying we have food, we just need to move it is to me much like saying we need to readjust post-colonial borders to reduce ethnic warfare. It sounds simple because it is in its heart simplistic. It completely ignores reality as in political and/or economic reality.
I'm often amazed at how many people forget that "reality", at least in the sense of operational social reality, is layered. Years ago I read a science fiction book that gave me a really great way of looking at it (David's Sling by Marc Steigler if I remember correctly) - for any given action, the first question is "is it technically feasible?" (i.e. can we do it?), followed (in order) by "is it economically feasible?" (i.e. can we afford to do it?") followed by "is it politically feasible" (i.e. do we want to do it?").

The constant focus on production is, in many ways, a hangover from old worn-out Marxist economics. Production this, production that, but no freakin' consideration of distribution (a point that Karl Polanyi made which got him excommunicated from Orthodox Marxism). A lot of Orthodox capitalist economists make the same mistake, but at the level of money as an accountancy measure (they confuse the accountancy value of a crop with the supply and demand ["needs"] value of a crop).

To make matters worse, and Zimbabwe is an excellent example of this, the hierarchy of questions is actually in a reverse order of "power"!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
B. Saying we need to help the Third World develop food production is another simple statement that is simplistic. They know how to produce food in Sudan. They know how to produce food in Ethiopia. What they do not know how to do is adjust their political, economic, and social structures to the reality of the Sudan or Ethiopia. The Haitians ar another matter; the oldest black republic and the second oldest repblic in the Western Hemipshere, Haiti is very much the longest running crisis. At some stage, the Haitians either fix it or nature will. Nature is a harsh task master. Nature coupled with political/ethnic agendas is devastatingly cruel.
Charles Darwin beats Adam Smith any day of the week !

Tom, you are absolutely correct when you say that these cultures know how to produce food. A lot of the crises in food production stem from socio-cultural changes imposed on them during the past 150 years. Consider, for example, the effects of introducing late Victorian public sanitation measures in Nigeria and, at the same time, stopping clan feuds (massive increase in birth rates and decrease in death rates). Adapting to changes like that is a long and hard process, especially when your agriculture has been set towards one or more forms of mono-cropping for export.
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