Food fight

Paul Krugman, Laureate of the Sveriges Riksban...

Paul Krugman Image via Wikipedia

Paul Krugman has caused quite a stir with his claims that the riots in Egypt are the result of:

global warming > causing bad weather > causing crop failure > causing increased food prices > causing riots.

It’s rather circular logic IMHO, and one that isn’t supportable by the data at hand.

First, there is a piece, Debunking Krugman: NYT’s “Soaring Food Prices – Blame the Weather”. The author, who is open to the possibility that global warming might be problem, shows that Krugman knows not of what he speaketh. As she says, “This is so far off base, Paul Krugman, I hardly know where to start.”

Andrew Bolt has a very good piece in which he reminds us that “food production is in fact at near-historic levels and the Egyptian regime actually keeps food prices pretty stable through massive subsidies.”

So food prices probably did not trigger the problems in Egypt. In fact, because of subsidies that keep bread prices constant at low levels, many poor folk are favorably inclined toward the current regime.

Also, on Pielke, Jr’s website, Richard Tol reminds us that IPCC reports tell us that for modest global warming (of the order of 1 to 3 degrees C, I believe) , global food prices may decline.  And this is despite the fact that, as shown at WUWT, negative Socioeconomic Impacts of Global Warming are Systematically Overestimated, while positive impacts are underestimated. (This is in two parts; Part II is here).

Pielke Jr. has this graph on his website to speak to the issue:

Note the spike in prices 1972-1976. The food crisis in the 1970’s wasn’t driven by weather either.

During that 70s food crisis, many of the same arguments were made that are being made today:

“We’re running out of food!  People in (enter random developing country name here) will starve!  There’s unrest in the third world!”

Remember this? From Wiki:

Erlich’s The Population Bomb was a best-selling book written by Paul R. Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich (who was uncredited), in 1968.[1] It warned of the mass starvation of humans in the 1970s and 1980s due to overpopulation, as well as other major societal upheavals, and advocated immediate action to limit population growth. Fears of a “population explosion” were widespread in the 1950s and 60s, but the book and its charismatic author brought the idea to an even wider audience.[2] [3] The book has been criticized in recent decades for its alarmist tone and inaccurate predictions.

Well we all know how those predictions turned out.

Thanks to Indur Goklany, who contributed to this article.

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Claude Harvey

Consider the possibility that food prices are escalating because we are burning food in our automobiles. Being unable to digest oil, myself, I have chosen to burn it to make the machinery go round-and-round. I recognize corn as precious food and avoid burning it in my car because I’ve heard half the world goes hungry each night. Call me old fashioned!

HR

Mubarak must be loving this. It’s nothing to do with his failing regime, it’s all down to climate change. It’s particularly annoying that complex social phenomenon such as protest and war are reduced to a simple correlation with climate metrics. For me these are the hardest pieces of ‘science’ to swallow. Every politician in the world must be loving this ‘get out of jail free card’ that takes responsibility for corruption and failure from them and piles it onto the weather. Climate scientists as excusniks for autocrats, that must be satisfying for their liberal consciences.
BTW Antony one mans riot is another mans vigorous democratic protest.

Scottish Sceptic

I saw this news article, and whilst I usually tip of WUWT that about breaking news stories, I thought this one was just so outlandish that it didn’t merit inclusion on a serious blog like this.
There was nothing more to this story than a presumption of connection, I know in climate “science” that’s enough to get you a (ig)Nobel prize but … well really even by their standards this argument held together like a wet paper bag.

BillyV

Some people believe firmly that in the process, their oracle statements make it so. Such arrogance manifests itself in such logic that Krugman I suspect really believes it himself. Very sad. We had food price riots in Mexico ultimately because of the effect of diversion of corn to ethanol instead of Tortillas. Look elsewhere for causes Paul.

Espen

There may in fact be a connection between “Global Warming” and high food prices, but not the way Paul Krugman thinks: The culprit is not the warming, but the scare, which has such undesirable political consequences as the biofuel lunacy, which in turn may be partly responsible for some of the soaring prices, at least for corn and palm oil.

Edmh

May be people will pay attention when rising Global Food prices escalate even further caused by GLOBAL COOLING as is only too likely in the coming decades.
Then controlling CO2 will not be an answer, if it ever was.

AGW is responsible for the world’s ills. Speaking from personal experience, I have noted that ever since AGW started I have gotten older every year. No point graphing it, it is a direct linear correlation with 100% confidence levels. I would suggest, if you check your records, you have probably been affected in the same way. Something must be done, and quickly, before it is too late!

Manfred

Even in todays western world, it is difficult to find similar extremist views.
That puts Krugman and the New York Times into one league with folks from North Korea or worse.

Steve C

We have a phrase in English English for the Krugmans of this world. We call them “barking mad”. And if you want to stop food crises, action number one has to be preventing the gamblers of the international stock markets from playing their games with people’s nutrition – food is far too important to allow that sort of thing. Plus, maybe, a little more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a little more warmth, to help the supply. 😉

Magnus

Great. They gave the hobbit a nobel prize in economics. Now we have to endure this puppet yabbing in every news outlet about… global warming?
I have no problem with people speaking on the topic, but Krugman is trying to promote himself as an AGW-economist by “making up” climate science to support his thinking. His comments on Egypt are, not only wrong, but they give us a shallow and very dumb, narrow look at a conflict which deserves much better.

tango

can some body tell him he has to contact his doctor and tell the doctor that I am not taking my medication for what reasons nobody knows he dose,t know also and nobody else . now that dose not make any sence and either dose he or any body else

tmtisfree

Economist Don Boudreaux on Paul Krugman’s paper:
http://cafehayek.com/2011/02/hot-to-jump-to-conclusions.html

It’s irresponsible for Krugman to ominously predict increasing “disruptions” based only on a recent food-price spike and a few instances of political unrest – especially given that the long-term trend is for extreme weather events to cause less and less human suffering.

Roy

Food riots among the dirt-poor look very different from plump middle class political uprisings organized using sophisticated telecoms and media relations.

John Marshall

Rising food prices are a factor! The riots last year were caused by the rising cost of bread. This is caused by the rising production of biofuels caused by alarmist policies of governments not climate change.
Mubarak has been in power for 30 odd years. He is an autocratic President with the backing of the Egyptian Army and when he first came to power he was good for Egypt and his pragmatism brought peace to the region after his deal with Israel. This has helped Egypt to gain prosperity but they have not gained any freedom. It is this that has sparked the problems. The internet has also been instrumental in showing the Egyptians what lies outside their boundaries and what is possible when oppression is removed. Let us hope that the new government is western styled not fundamentalist.

Alexander K

Why do people such as Krugman put such odd information together then, by some magical process not available to mere mortals, read some causality into the mix?
The next question, of course, is why such illogical conclusions actually get publicity… sorry, I forgot the general lack of reasoning in the MSM.

R. de Haan

Altough I underwrite all the arguments that destroy the insane claims from from Paul Krugman, I am missing the most important argument why food prices went sky high.
Have a look at this graph here:
http://climategate.nl/2011/02/04/niet-climate-change-maar-co2-beleid-oorzaak-islamitisch-oproer/fao-300×180-2/
This graph shows that it wasn’t climate change that caused the price hikes but CO2 policies, the grand scale conversion from food crops into bio-fuels.

robertvdl

Webster Tarpley – Egypt – A Post Modern Coup

arthur clapham

I think the ever growing world population is a contributary factor, and far more
damaging to the world than the myth of global warming. Governments should
spend our taxes on population management sooner rather than later.

R. de Haan

The information at the FAO website clearly shows the moment we started to convert food crops into bio-fuels. Here is the site: http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/FoodPricesIndex/en/
The moment we stop the bio fuel scam, prices will drop to normal levels again.

Mike McMillan

A man of vision, Dr Krugman, able to see the Big Picture and make connections that ordinary men of lesser intelligence would find ludicrous. As would men of greater intelligence.

arthur clapham says:
February 8, 2011 at 2:22 am
I think the ever growing world population is a contributary factor, and far more
damaging to the world than the myth of global warming. Governments should
spend our taxes on population management sooner rather than later.

Not according to the facts and arguments set out in The Rational Optimist , a fantastic read that I highly recommend. I have not quite finished but he make a lot of sense.

Nik Marshall-Blank

Everything is caused by Global Warming.
Except Global Warming, that’s caused by man.
So why don’t the alarmists save the planet and find a skyscraper to jump off.

OK, what’s the deal with higher prices when the chart shows prices dropping?
Easy, note that the chart says “prices deflated”…
Governments all around the world are printing nice paper money by the superfreighter load (no, wait, that’s too small a metaphor…) in an attempt to keep all the bubbles from all the prior overprinting of money from imploding into a recessional black hole.
This doesn’t work.
So they print more money.
The folks who get all these pretty pieces of paper try to turn them into something real with real value as quickly as they can. That’s why everything from sugar, cotton, and wheat to corn, soybeans, and coffee, to iron, copper, and coal, to oil and … you get the picture. Basically just about EVERY commodity is shooting up.
This “puts the lie” to any explanation based on turning corn into fuel (why, then, is it also hitting copper and aluminum? Coal and sugar?) or based on weather (which does what to Uranium and Tin (also spiking like crazy)….
The simple fact is that inflation starts with commodity inflation. It then takes a while to work into product inflation. Eventually, at the far end, it turns into wage inflation and real estate inflation. To quote Microsofts web site when researching a bug in their product “This behaviour is by design.” The Fed wants real estate inflation to cure the incipient deflation that everyone is scared bat-shit about. The Government wants a loverly load of inflation so they can inflate away the $14 Trillion and rising debt they have (and maybe even inflate away some pension obligations with poor Price Index inflators…).
There is a trivial weather component, but that component is tied to COLD and WET and is not tied to HOT and DRY. Floods in Australia and snow in the USA Midwest are impacting wheat. (Russian wheat impacts were long gone. Ag commodities tend to run in seasonal cycles, not over multiple years… as inspection of the chart up top shows. There is a secular decline, but each spike runs about a year, sometimes two at most, then ends. NEVER overstay an ag commodity trade… it WILL return to the mean…)
So the “food cost” problems in Egypt are simply the result of the prices in dollars rising due to the devaluing of the dollar (and the Egyptian pound) not any significant increase in Real Costs. But the problem is that poor folks don’t pay Real Costs, they pay present currency prices, and when the currency is being trashed, that is sucky.
So what’s going on is pretty simple: “Helecopter Ben” is dumping dollars on the world as fast as he can to prop up housing prices, and those dollars are going into all sorts of things NOT houses…
It will take a while for the world to figure this out, and longer for Mr. Ben to figure it out, and even longer for the Politicians to realise this was A Very Bad Idea (if ever… some folks, like Barney Franks, will never get it…)
It’s about 1973 again (though we’ve got the moral equivalent of the S&L Resolution Trust already happening a bit early this time), and you need to start preparing for the “war costs” to come home to roost as an oil shock hits and just hope that there isn’t another “oil embargo” (though this time I’d expect it to be caused by something more subtile than an actual OPEC vote… say an Iranian Bomb or an EPA ruling…)
Though this time we don’t need Tricky Dick to take us off the Gold Standard to print boatloads of currency; Old Ben is already at it.
So give it about a decade to get inflation to the intollerable level, prop up housing prices (while letting real value drop) and repudiate the debt in real terms while paying every nominal dollar. Then we’ll be ready for 18% interest rates (again…) to put the inflation monster back in its cave…
Until then: Buy “stuff”, things with real value to them. Buy assets in countries with a stable currency and low propensity to print money like crazy. Avoid countries with a Socialist Sovereign Risk Penalty (like, presently, Brazil, Venezuela, Greece, and The USA) and generally avoid US Bonds at all costs.
Oh, and stock up on sugar, coffee, noodles, canned goods,…

1DandyTroll

Only climate hippies seem to blame a somewhat peaceful revolution on climate rather than the more simple stuff like the common folks being feed up with getting subjected to torture by their own ant-democratic government and probably not wanting their country to be a torture hall of fame for hire by other countries (which apparently is rather bad for tourism.)

AJB

John Marshall says February 8, 2011 at 1:49 am …
Youth unemployment (accentuated by global economic downturn) is probably the biggest factor. See:
http://www.moneyweek.com/blog/merryn-somerset-webb-egypt-youth-unemployment-and-britain-00311.aspx

Lewis Deane

Anthony,
Sorry if this is a bit long but it’s needs the telling.
You might like to refer your readers to The Daily Reckoning by Bill Bonner – someone who knows what he’s talking about, being down in the trenches, rather than up in Academia, where, when it comes to economics, you can guarrantee, they’re always wrong – particularly this article:
http://dailyreckoning.com/growth-or-hot-money-whats-really-affecting-food-prices/
The take home, to coin a phrase, is similar to that which I wrote on Keith Kloors blog visa vie Romms rubbish on the same theme:
This extraordinary ignorance of even the simplest economics is what is astounding. Worldwide food price inflation has nothing to do with enviromental causation, whether that be bad harvests, ‘global warming’ or, indeed, a rise in the production of ‘biofuels’! Neither now nor in 2007 (remember that far back?): in both cases, to put it simplistically, though with different complications, caused by the massively inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve (affectively negative interest rates, constant re-inflation of the Wall Street Bubble of a Thousand Holes by the printing of money – $1.2 trillion in the last year – constant deficit sclerosis etc etc), devaluing the worlds reserve currency (probably, over the last two decades, the biggest devaluation in world history), hence making commodies in general (not just food – all commodies!) rise in price for all other currencies. This, in combination with large speculative flows in anticipation of, and in conjunction with, capital flight from risky holdings – goverment bonds, sovereign debt, financial instruments etc – into the always safer bet of commodities – from gold through oil to potatoes – as well as the consequent competitive devaluation of all other currencies just to keep par – is the complete, if crudely put, explanation of these short to medium term fluctations. Not global warming, nor any corollary pressure on production – which, as usual, is becoming more and more productive (as Pielke Jnr shows) and is outstriping supply in accellerated fashion, as it has been doing for the past 100 years.
If this was merely caused by ‘climate disruption of food production’ then how come food commodities verses other commodities have remained stable? If the former where the case, then food commodities would have inflated visa vie these other commodities.
If crude material causation where the only spring of human history one would, with far more justice, put the North African revolts at the feet of the Federal Reserve! And, of course, the larger context of the historicle uneven developments of West verses East but that’s for another lecture!
But cirtainly not climate change!
To put it simply, if you print trillions of dollars, it must buy something – hence inflation. Gresham’s law. Krugman NYT article misleadingly cherry picked various worldwide agricultural yearly production figures- in fact, for instance, wheat production, one of the most staple of staple products, is up by some way – as if there was merely the producers, on the one side, and the ultimate consumers, on the other and no world market in between! Either he is totally ignorant of his alleged subject or I would not like to say? Noble prize, my a–!

R. de Haan

Here is the FAO site with all the graph’s that show when the food prices started to hike.
They coincide with the bio fuel scam.
http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/FoodPricesIndex/en/

Lewis Deane

E.M.Smith, You seem to have written more or less similar to what I attempted to post but mine got swallowed by the aether, probably because it had a link and thus was spammed. Anyway, bravo! Krugman wouldn’t know economics if it hit him in the face. Simply put, if you print trillions of dollars they have to buy something – hence inflation. If there were a problem with food commodities why are they stable visa vie other commodities? Etc etc.

Sera

I’m not sure about Krugmans’ sanity, but I do know that 70% of the Egyptian populace works for the government.
“So food prices probably did not trigger the problems in Egypt. In fact, because of subsidies that keep bread prices constant at low levels, many poor folk are favorably inclined toward the current regime.”
Well, it just makes sense not to ‘annoy’ your employer.

R. de Haan

E. M. Smith’s argument of dollar decline also play’s a big role.

Chris

Population growth rate, and rate of growth of economic indicators cannot be sustained unless we manage to get off the planet and harvest the universe.
1% growth rate does not sound high, but it means the population roughly doubles every 70 years. I.e. The number of people on the planet doubles roughly every generation if the growth rate is 1%.
Now, it does not really matter what the actual growth rate is, but the point is that a constant rate of growth leads to exponential increase in number of people.
At 1% our great grand children will share the planet with roughly 52 billion other souls. The great grand children with 448 billion!
It is obvious that either the growth rate will need to reduce by some means, or more preferably, we will have to obtain resources including lebensraume from somewhere other than just this planet.

P Wilson

William Herscell made the connection between food prices, the price of grain, and sunspot numbers.
Everyone thought he was mad, though he did observe that during high sunspot periods, the price of grain decreased. Yield was greater, but so was the quality.
During low sunspot periods, yields and quality were lesser, driving up the price.

John Brookes

I’m always slightly puzzled when Erlich’s predictions of mass starvation are derided. As far as I’m aware, around 30,000 people a day die of hunger.
Its not happening in Australia, the US or Europe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. To the poorest people in the world, a near doubling over 5 years in the cost of basic staples must be very hard indeed. Enough to stop you being happy with your government.
Did AGW cause it? Well, it again stands to reason that we have farm where conditions have been suitable. If the climate changes rapidly, then our farms will be in the wrong place, and so yields will be down. Of course this applies whether the climate change is “natural” or man made. Either way, if it is changing, farmers have to keep on top of it.
In the far south west of Australia, you pretty well always get enough rain to bring in a crop. If you own a farm down there, I suggest you don’t sell, because you’ll be making a lot of money for a long time.

P Wilson

typo: William Herschel

LeClimatique

Global warming is the culprit:
(alleged) global warming > mandatory (EU) biofuels > food scarcity > increased food prices > riots.
What happens there with food prices, could happen in the west with energy-bills:
(alleged) global warming > mandatory expensive wind- and solar energy > subsidized by energy tax > increased energy bills > riots.

guidoLaMoto

Facts can be so troublesome when you’re trying to make a good point:
If he cared to read the news a month ago when all this N. African stuff started, he’d know that the riots started in Algeria when food prices went up because the GOVT RAISED TAXES ON FOOD.
Please note that the misguided corn-for-ethanol program only adds about $0.25/bu to the cost of corn (currently selling for ~$6.50/bu, up from $3.80/bu five months ago. Grain prices follow petroleum prices. Right now, about 1/3rd of the US corn crop goes to EtOH. If the ENTIRE crop were turned to fuel, it would only satisfy about 2% of the world’s yearly automotive fuel demand. To put that in perspective, we could save 10% just by keeping our tires properly inflated.

John Law

Murray Grainger says:
February 8, 2011 at 12:55 am
“Speaking from personal experience, I have noted that ever since AGW started I have gotten older every year.”…………………….”Something must be done, and quickly, before it is too late!”
Murray, A solution is at hand, but, was it Maurice Chevalier who, when asked if he liked growing old, replied that it was better than the alternative.

Dave Springer

Interesting. In normal post-normal times George W. Bush would get the blame. Has the left finally moved on?

Curiousgeorge

Personally, I am very upset about this. The price of Arugula has just skyrocketed, to say nothing of other essential foods such as shiitake mushrooms and truffles. I just don’t know what to do.

Chris says:
February 8, 2011 at 4:29 am
Population growth rate, and rate of growth of economic indicators cannot be sustained unless we manage to get off the planet and harvest the universe.
At 1% our great grand children will share the planet with roughly 52 billion other souls. The great grand children with 448 billion!

Current projections are for a peak population of 9.2billion around 2050 and we will never make 10 billion.

Olen

Or revolutionaries stirring up trouble to grab power for themselves.

rbateman

This stunt by Krugman isn’t the first time he’s been found butchering the role of expert.
About 60 seconds of airtime is enough to make most viewers scramble for the remote to change the channel.

kim

People haven’t noticed much yet, but this bubble of expectation, politically and financially, for the ‘green re-making’ of our society has created the potential for a correction that will make the housing crisis look like small beer.
==============

Dave Springer

Actually Krugman is right about the cause but he got the chain of events wrong.
Global warming -> good weather -> high corn, sugar, soy production -> foolish notion that food crops can be used as feedstock for transportation fuels without consequence -> subsidies to make fuel derived from corn/sugar/oil competitive with oil -> staple food prices skyrocket -> mass starvation
Dopes like Krugman are soon going to learn the hard way that global warming is a good thing and that global cooling is the bad thing.

Pull My Finger

Mass starvation is not due to lack of available food, it is due to lack of responsible government. Starvation is quite literally a political problem. The percentage of people suffering malnutrition in the world has falled steadily, about half what it was in 1970. China, India, and even Bangladesh, to a lesser degree, have severely reduced their food problems by having more efficient and repsonsible government. Mass starvation is pretty much a sub-Saharan African and North Korean problem, and due almost entirely to corrupt governments. If people would get over their unreasonable aversion to genetically enhanced produce, the problem would be even further minimized. For some reason the lefties are hell bent to reverse every technological advance of the 20th Century while embracing the worst of the politics, Communisim and Fascism.
John Brookes says:
February 8, 2011 at 4:36 am
I’m always slightly puzzled when Erlich’s predictions of mass starvation are derided. As far as I’m aware, around 30,000 people a day die of hunger.

Tom_R

>> John Brookes says:
February 8, 2011 at 4:36 am
I’m always slightly puzzled when Erlich’s predictions of mass starvation are derided. As far as I’m aware, around 30,000 people a day die of hunger. <<
The deaths by starvation are not due to overpopulation or food shortages, but by dictators blocking food distribution. Starvation is being used as a means of killing off of internal enemies when it's cheaper than other means (and also less likely to be recognized as genocide by UN bureaucrats). If the world population were half what it is today and food output doubled, those people would still be starving to death.

AntonyIndia

Krugman got a Nobel prize? Amazing.
Which other disaster story can be connected to boost “Global Warming’s” falling stock? AGW’s links to: WMDs, giant meteor, hostile Aliens, Islamism, escaping (artificially created) superbugs, Armageddon………. ?

higley7

He may not have it so wrong; just wrong point of view.
Global Warming Scam > stupid desire to avoid using petroleum > idiotic funding for biofuels > food and crop land stupidly used to make biofuels > food prices rise > riots in Egypt in part due to food prices.
Biofuels are evil. All should be cancelled.

SteveE

Lack of food caused by the weather was one of the factors causing the French Revolution so it’s not completely far fetched:
From Wikipedia:
“These problems were all compounded by a great scarcity of food in the 1780s. A series of crop failures caused a shortage of grain, consequently raising the price of bread. Because bread was the main source of nutrition for poor peasants, this led to starvation. The two years previous to the revolution (1788–89) saw meager harvests and harsh winters, possibly because of a strong El Niño cycle caused by the 1783 Laki eruption in Iceland”

RonPE

High food, energy and commodity prices in any country are caused by over-spending governments and inflation of money supplies by central banks(US Federal Reserve). The US Federal Reserve still claims there is not enough inflation.