Busted: Bankers and The Global Economy

September 24, 2010

U.N. Says World is at the Brink of Food Crisis through Speculation

Environmental disasters and speculative investors are to blame for volatile food commodities markets, says UN’s special adviser

The United Nations warned that the world is likely on the brink of a major new food crisis caused by environmental disasters and rampant market speculators today at an emergency meeting on food price inflation.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO meeting in Rome, Italy, on September 24 was called last month after a heatwave and wildfires in Russia led to a draconian wheat export ban while food riots broke out in Mozambique, killing 13 people. U.N. experts heard that pension and hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds and large banks who speculate on commodity markets are likely to be responsible for inflation in food prices being seen across all continents.

In a new paper released this week, Olivier De Schutter, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on food, says that the increases in price and the volatility of food commodities can only be explained by the emergence of a “speculative bubble” which he traces back to early this decade.

“[Beginning in] 2001, food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes began to see an influx of non-traditional investors,” De Schutter writes. “The reason for this was because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the U.S. housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last. Strong similarities can be seen between the price behavior of food commodities and other refuge values, such as gold.”

He continues: “A significant contributory cause of the price spike [has been] speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds or in order to hedge speculative bets.”

A near doubling of many staple food prices in 2007 and 2008 led to riots in more than 30 countries and an estimated 150 million extra people going hungry. While some commodity prices have since reduced, the majority are well over 50% higher than pre-2007 figures – and are now rising quickly upwards again.

“Once again we find ourselves in a situation where basic food commodities are undergoing supply shocks. World wheat futures and spot prices climbed steadily until the beginning of August 2010, when Russia – faced with massive wildfires that destroyed its wheat harvest – imposed an export ban on that commodity. In addition, other markets such as sugar and oilseeds are witnessing significant price increases,” said De Schutter, who spoke today at The U.K. Food Group’s conference in London.

Gregory Barrow, of the U.N. World Food Program said: “What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up. They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact.”

Sergei Sukhov, from Russia’s agriculture ministry, told the Associated Press during a break in the meeting in Rome that the market for grains “should be stable and predictable for all participants.” He said no efforts should be spared “to the effect that the production of food be sufficient.”

“The emergency U.N. meeting in Rome is a clear warning sign that we could be on the brink of another food price crisis unless swift action is taken. Already, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every night – another food crisis would be catastrophic for millions of poor people,” said Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid’s hunger campaigner.

An ActionAid report released last week revealed that hunger could be costing poor nations $450 billion a year – more than 10 times the amount needed to halve hunger by 2015 and meet Millennium Development Goal One.

Food prices are rising around 15% a year in India and Nepal, and similarly in Latin America and China. U.S.  maize prices this week broke through the $5-a-bushel level for the first time since September 2008, fueled by reports from U.S. farmers of disappointing yields in the early stages of their harvests. The surge in the corn price also pushed up European wheat prices to a two-year high of €238 a ton.

Elsewhere, the threat of civil unrest led Egypt this week to announce measures to increase food self-sufficiency to 70%. Partly as a result of food price rises, many middle eastern and other water-scarce countries have begun to invest heavily in farmland in Africa and elsewhere to guarantee supplies.

Although the FAO has rejected the notion of a food crisis on the scale of 2007-2008, it this week warned of greater volatility in food commodities markets in the years ahead.

At the meeting in London today, De Schutter said the only long term way to resolve the crisis would be to shift to “agro-ecological” ways of growing food. This farming, which does not depend on fossil fuels, pesticides or heavy machinery has been shown to protect soils and use less water.

“A growing number of experts are calling for a major shift in food security policies, and support the development of agroecology approaches, which have shown very promising results where implemented,” he said.

Green Party Parliament Member Caroline Lucas called for tighter regulation of the food trade. “Food has become a commodity to be traded. The only thing that matters under the current system is profit. Trading in food must not be treated as simply another form of business as usual: for many people it is a matter of life and death. We must insist on the complete removal of agriculture from the remit of the World Trade Organization,” she said.

You can read this article by Guardian environmental editor John Vidal, with reporting by various news agencies, in context here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/sep/24/food-crisis-un-emergency-meeting-rome

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July 19, 2009

Economic Depression: American Resentment Flickers Against Corporate Wealth

money green with envyThe recession and the rising gulf between the haves and have nots; investment bankers versus newly impoverished and unemployed Americans is changing viewpoints. At one time, any company reporting record profits was certain to earn applause for this was seen as the American way. Americans were firmly invested in what they believed was the trickle-down theory of economics. The scam that investment bankers have pulled on the world with their highly staked leveraging games has changed much of this sentiment. Now that institutions that formerly made up the investment banking capital of the world are recovering with the intent of paying back taxpayer-backed Federal Reserve bailout money, Americans are leering at the possibilities that nothing has been learned from the crisis of financial literacy that prevails itself upon the world.

Writer David Segal has introduced the idea that class resentment is to blame as investment bankers continue to rake in the speculation-based financial dough based on the same numbers games that brought the nation to the edge of financial oblivion. The reality runs much deeper. In the eyes of Americans, the reality isn’t about making money, but how money is earned. Americans feel that they are being scammed because the nation operates by multiple sets of rules depending on how much money and influence you can peddle. Even members of Congress like Charles Schumer have demonstrated that they believe Americans are simply brutes to be used by the system to bolster corporate along with government wealth and influence.

Now that the likes JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs are reporting fantastic encouraging numbers after having enjoyed bailout at the expense of Americans and the system at large, Americans see that the victory is very hollow. Recent financial victories in American are without benefit to anyone that doesn’t directly play the insider financial games on Wall Street. Multinational corporations continue to rule the roost behind the scenes, taking more out of America than they put in. Profit without personal responsibility is king. Most of America continues to be in great pain and America already knows that recent financial victory on Wall Street is a result of the same deluded thinking and policy that still threatens to destroy the financial system. It is not a system based on honesty and real numbers, but simply a gambling game of manipulation and opportunity.

The fact is that the Federal Government likes the control and authority that it wields in the banking community as a result of the bailout. The same can be said for the money that government has invested in the corporate structure. Uncle Sam holds the cards as the government maintains a front row seat at AIG. This is the only means that government now has to rein in the continued greed and avarice of Wall Street and corporate investors. The system hasn’t been reinvented as promised nor have sufficient reforms taken place to insure the safety of financial system on any level. We are still living in the last century. Nothing has changed. That is why government is so quiet about what is a hollow victory on Wall Street. ~ E. Manning

July 16, 2009

Global Economic Crisis: G8 and the Papacy

G8 ItalyDuring the G8 economic meetings and debate in Italy, Pope Benedict released a new encyclical saying “there is urgent need of a true world political authority.” In that document, Pope Benedict XVI urged G8 leaders meeting in Italy to rewrite global financial rules and to defend the world’s poor from the effects of the economic crisis.

responsibility of the market

In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.

responsibility of business

Owing to their growth in scale and the need for more and more capital, it is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the life and the results of his company, and it is becoming increasingly rare for businesses to depend on a single territory. Moreover, the so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favour of the shareholders, who are not tied to a specific geographical area and who therefore enjoy extraordinary mobility. ...business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference.

The papacy has taken an interesting step by inserting itself into the G8 debate framework and  by ordering the involvement of Italy in the process. Certainly, in much earlier times, the papacy was directly involved in such matters without better consequences in those times. History is the best  witness of that truth. Now, the pope indicates that we need a man in charge once again as if the G8 institution is really in charge beyond politics. The real charge has been given to multinational corporations including central bankers on a global basis. The central bankers operate as a global corporate fraternal brotherhood through none other than the Swiss and Rome. Is the papacy and politics going to ‘take authority back’ or have they really lost any authority? The reality is that the papacy already holds ‘such coveted authority’ through the central bankers. Most of them have simply forgotten their moral compass in their need to service their clients. Pope Benedict is simply reminding his league that he holds them to a higher priority and that they need to exert a new influence as they continue to profit from money lending.

G8 first ladies and pope

July 8, 2009

Pope Proposes New Financial Order

According to the Associated Press, Pope Benedict XVI has called for a new world financial order guided by ethics, dignity and the search for the common good in the third encyclical of his pontificate.

July 7, 2009

Pope: Economy Needs Ethics

Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function. And today it is this trust which has ceased to exist, and the loss of trust is a grave loss.” According to the Vatican, the economy needs ethics in order to function correctly, just as the implementation of ethical financing and systems of micro-credit and micro-finance indicate. In development programs, the principle of the centrality of the human person must be preserved, while international organizations might question the actual effectiveness of their bureaucratic and administrative structure. This is one of the central messages of Benedict XVIs new encyclical Caritas in Veritate that was published July 7th and signed by the Pope. If you have been following this blog, you know what is up right now. I don’t need to say another word. ~ E. Manning

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