The matter of rice shortage is becoming increasingly mainstream. The warning of possible shortage and dangerous increase in price had been around for a long time, and unusual price hike of rice in major exporters like Thailand had been reported in (relatively) mainstream media about three to four months ago. In fact, major United Nations advisers and IMF personnel had been giving warnings since mid 2007 in mainstream sources. I myself remember scoffing at a particular warning given by a United Nations forecaster, warning of possible food shortage and criticizing the rapid increase in biocrop cultivation as a major player. I guess such is the evanescence of appealing to mainstream media, where the specific sources and logistical data to support novel claims are frequently invisible or simply unavailable.
The warning was in place, and the back-up system for possible shortage in each of the nations most heavily affected had been more or less in place. So why do we have a developing crisis at hand with reported casualties? The answer I believe, lies in the lack of distribution network in the world today. Of course, with the advent of the technology the world itself is ever more networked than before. As each second passes it is predicted that the network of the world will become thicker and wider, someday possibly encompassing every single member of humanity in direct and accessible way. But that is the network of information. What about the physical network, the infrastructure, the ones we use to ship the things we order through the virtual spaces of the net? The airlines, the shipping lanes, the railroads and the expressways. I have on reliable sources that the actual range and volume of physical shipping across the world had remained at similar or lower levels since the height of the age of imperialism so long ago (the specific source I can’t find at the moment, if someone knows otherwise please correct me). It is somewhat unlikely that there is an actual shortage of food (at least not to the degree that some sensationalist media would have us believe). What we have at hand is more akin to the lack of distribution network, so that the flow of resources are channeled into the most readily available physical network without regards to economical balance, or even, the need. In the type of eschewed free market system we have in place at the moment, there is virtually no incentive for tapping into parts of the world without pre-built infrastructure. And without the resources of the world available at hand, popular discontent is bound to rise, leading to further instability.
Living in New York city, I am physically and mentally insulated from most of such problems plaguing the world. Hipsters in fashionable clothings walk into fashionable restaurants and eat a plateful of vegetables, supposedly crafted from fashionable ingredients, possibly grown in fashinable dirt, as they clutch their fashinable laptops while hoping someone sees them writing down a ‘novel.’ In the subway a woman so bloated that she has to take up two sits and a half holds onto her third bucket of KFC. Is there something wrong with this picture? I do not particularly think so. Of course, the scene I’ve just described is certainly distasteful, but I do not believe people should be judged and criticized for utilizing the resources made available to them by the environment. The physical network of the world is configured in such a way that massive amount of cheap resources and resources expensive beyond their actual value exist hand-in-hand, composing the greater fabric of the market system.
We are all cogs reinforcing the current system of the world. And this system of the world, this world-wide system of ‘free-market’ seem to be suffering from some sort of bug. A free market system without proper physical distribution network for the market to take place on is fundamentally oppressive and exploitative, even without malice, even with good will of the individual members of the system. Perhaps it is possible to speculate that the fiasco experienced by certain biocrop based national economies are very similar to that experienced by planned and enclosed economies of the old communist nations. There had been a few novel attempts at readjusting the system of the world through various means, like freer access to information network from poorer places of the globe allowing development of a market system based on information and knowledge, but outcome of such works-in progress are unpredictable at the moment.
All I can say is, I think the problems like the kind we are seeing right now seem to stem from certain inadequacy of the global network itself, and will persist in different forms so long as that inadequacy continues to plague the system of the world. And the developed nations of the world are making a huge mistake in allowing such unbalance to continue, as such difference in network-system tend to cluster individual components into groups sharing similar traits, which in this case would be poverty and isolation of economic and cultural nature.
This reminds me, how about donating some rice to the UN? It won’t cost you a dime and you’ll probably have fun doing it.