A worsening drought in the U.S., a disappointing monsoon in India, locusts in Africa, the bacon shortage in Europe: world food prices are starting to rise as the bad news rolls in. While there’s not much to be done about the weather, there are calls on the G20 countries to convene an emergency summit to see if there are policy steps that could minimize the pain and the danger if the world harvest is poor.Regular readers know that Via Meadia thinks that the MSM hyperventilates about international talking shops like that G7, and its bigger and mostly even less effective cousin the G20. So they’d be forgiven for yawning at the news that the G20 is gearing up to tackle the specter of rising food prices largely caused by the droughts in the United States. The FT reports:
Leading G20 countries are “in favour of holding a meeting” as crop conditions continue to deteriorate in the US, one of the officials said.G20 officials emphasised the planned meeting was not a sign of panic. On the contrary, they said, it would be an attempt to avoid the kind of policies, including export restrictions and hoarding, that in 2007-08 transformed a shortage of agricultural commodities into the first full-blown food crisis in 30 years with riots in two dozen countries.
It’s not like the G20 will bring the price of bread magically lower. But even so, Via Meadia is making an exception to our usual scoffing and mocking policy toward useless summits to say that in this particular case, the call for a special meeting shows a change for the better in the international system.Any G20 meeting about food prices is likely to consist of the usual grandstanding, posturing and picture taking, but it’s a different kind of grandstanding. High food prices matter much more to the world’s poor than to everyone else. When food prices go up, most Americans, Europeans, and Japanese are inconvenienced, but life goes on. But for poor people in countries like India, when food prices go up, real hunger looms and even for the middle-class, high food prices take a major bite out of the budget.We don’t expect action, or solutions to come out of any G20 meeting, though it’s possible that politicians will take some useful steps. In addition to actions against food hoarding, we recommend dropping ethanol requirements. The chart above shows that the amount of corn not used for ethanol has remained essentially flat since the late 1980s even though corn production as a whole has increased steadily. Condemning poor people to starvation in order to help green gentry liberals feel better about themselves does not strike us as a good use of scarce food resources. And perhaps this is a good time for Europeans to drop their objections to the use of GMOs in desperately poor, agriculturally challenged developing countries. Some of these organisms are better at handling drought and other difficult weather conditions than normal crops and could help feed the poor at a time of great distress.On the whole, we don’t expect a lot of good policy to come out of any meetings. But that world leaders feel a greater need to at least look busy when poor people face starvation is a good thing, and it shows that the G20, for all its weakness and its incoherence, has brought world politics a little bit closer to the concerns of the world’s hungry billions. Adding countries like China, India, and Brazil to the G7 may not have made for a more cohesive political unit or increased the chances of action on important global issues, but it has given the world’s poorest and hungriest people a little bit more weight on the international scale.That’s a good thing, as far as it goes.