Monday, May 26, 2008

It's Not Supply & Demand, It's Speculation & Greed

I have long believed that folks who speculate in vital commodities such as food and fuel OUGHT to have more at risk than other people's money. When other people's lives and livelihoods hang in the balance, and the speculator bids up the price, just because they can, I think what they risk ought to be higher, including perhaps family members' members and/or lives.

Der Spiegel has lately paid a little attention to the matter:
The Role of Speculators in the Global Food Crisis

By Beat Balzli and Frank Hornig

Vast amounts of money are flooding the world's commodities markets, driving up prices of staple foods like wheat and rice. Biofuels and droughts can't fully explain the recent food crisis -- hedge funds and small investors bear some responsibility for global hunger.....

Not only is there talk that investors have profited from desperate hunger in Honduras, the Philippines and Bangladesh; critics also wonder if commodity speculators are making the crisis worse.

On Tuesday in Washington, DC, a regulatory body called the Commodity Futures Trading Commission held public hearings on this very question. Farmers and food producers argued that the market was "broken," suggesting that the steep rise in the price of staple crops was hurting everyone -- farmers as well as the people they feed. "The market is broken, it's out of whack," said Billy Dunavant, head of a cotton-producing firm in the United States, at the Tuesday hearing.

Regulators on the commission warned against government intervention, and no doubt fund managers like Anderson would, too. But the crisis keeps deteriorating. India and Vietnam have imposed export bans on ordinary rice. Indonesia is following suit. According to the United Nations, North Korea is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. After unrest shook countries from Egypt and Uzbekistan to Bangladesh, thousands of South Africans took to the streets of Johannesburg last Thursday to protest high food prices. In Haiti, the prime minister was fired after riots over the price of rice.

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