food prices

Living the American Dream is a Nightmare

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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In Plato’s little-recognized prediction of the Age of Television, slaves chained to their couches watch reflections of events, while philosophers struggle up to the sunlight to see what’s really going on.

In Plato’s little-recognized prediction of the Age of Television, slaves chained to their couches watch reflections of events, while philosophers struggle up to the sunlight to see what’s really going on.

First published at The Daily Impact  January 12, 2014

 

Plato asked us to imagine a group of people chained to a wall in a cave in such a way that they could not see what was going on around them, only reflections cast on the cave wall opposite them by firelight. He invited us to consider how skewed the prisoners’ understanding of the world would become over time, and to value the contributions of philosophers who go out into the sunlight and see things as they really are. It’s easy for us Americans of 2015 to grasp the first part of his allegory, because it’s a perfect description of us watching TV (remarkable that he nailed that prediction 2,000 years ago, don’t you think?). It’s the second part that mystifies: what would a philosopher, stumbling out of the cave of shadows on the wall, make of our realities?

The shadows on the cave wall are dancing in eternal, unrelieved, twitching ecstasy: gas prices are down, the government-calculated unemployment rate is down, job creation is up, the stock market is setting altitude records, and because of the happiness of the shadows on the wall, the prisoners chained to the wall are feeling better about their futures than ever.

So, prisoners. What’s really out there? The philosopher has returned from a brief sojourn, wherein he found that the American Dream has become a nightmare.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics — the agency responsible for the “good news” that America has created 605,000 low-paying jobs in the last two months, reported at the same time that the total number of American employed was in December only 182,000 more than the October total. So where are the other 423,000 jobs that were “created?” Shadows on the wall.
  • Also note that in December alone, 451,000 people left the labor market — they joined the 93 million adult Americans who have given up and stopped looking for work (and thus are not counted when the “unemployment rate” is calculated). Quick, another chorus of “Happy Days are Here Again.”
  • Since the last time America was doing okay, 2007, we have added 16 million people to our adult population, and we have subtracted 2 million full-time jobs. Thus we have a situation that (to hear the shadows on the wall tell it) has improved every year for seven years but is now worse than it was seven years ago.
  • Two recent surveys have found that well over half of adult Americans have no savings – none — and do not have enough cash in their possession to cover a sudden expense ($400 in one survey, $1,000 in the other).
  • In contrast to the shadow land where there is no inflation , the philosopher finds that real Americans are struggling with an inflation rate for food of more that 20%. Ground beef has just hit a national average price of $3.88 per pound, an all-time record high. But food prices are not included in the government’s calculation of the rate of inflation. More than 50 million American households — not people,  households full of people – last year experienced what is politely referred to as “food insecurity”. That’s the term the shadows use, out in the sunlight we call it “hunger.”
  • 46 million Americans are on food stamps, 20 million more than were enrolled in 2007, before the Great Recession started. And in nearly three-quarters of large American cities, requests for emergency food aid were up sharply in 2014 and are expected to skyrocket in 2015.

So out here in the sunlight, we see rising hunger, poverty, unemployment, sea levels, desertification and collapsing energy and stock markets. Who can blame us for preferring the cave, where at least somebody sees to it that the fire is kept burning?

 

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

Don’t Like Global Warming? How About Global Rioting?

Off the Keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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Ukraine-riot

First published at The Daily Impact May 29, 2014

The boiling point of a country is 210; not degrees on a thermometer, but points on a scale of food prices devised by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Reach that mark, and your population, on the brink of starving, will be in the streets kicking ass and taking heads. Pundits natter on about masses yearning to be free, loving democracy, spurning Islam, suddenly intolerant of dictators they were fine with for decades. In reality, the flame that lit the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War and the Crisis in Ukraine was a food price index of 210; and the same torch is spreading the flames around the world. The outbreak, according to Dr. Nafeez Ahmed (a security expert and writer for the Guardian of London), is a tsunami of civil unrest  “on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone [February] has seen riots kick-off in VenezuelaBosniaUkraine,Iceland, and Thailand.”

The Fahrenheit 210 hypothesis, to coin a phrase, was posited not by FAO but by the New England Complex Systems Institute. Its concerns were based on two things; the diversion of staple crops to biofuels production, and manipulation of staple-food prices by speculators. As useful as the index has been in explaining and predicting social unrest, there are additional factors that it does not take into account, and that cause it to underestimate the danger.

One is energy. As the costs of heating, cooling, transportation and production increase, the ability of families to buy food is diminished. At the outbreak of the current difficulties in Ukraineaverage income was about $185 a month and food took half of that, energy and housing another quarter. Ukrainian oil and gas production peaked in 1976 and the country now imports 80 per cent of its needs.  The price of natural gas, most of which comes from Russia, has quadrupled since 2004. If Putin succeeds in taking over this country he will find, as the Egyptian army has found, that victory can not only be hollow, it can blow up in your face.

Climate change is, of course, exacerbating the high costs of staple foods, with its associated floods, droughts and storms. But if the effects of climate change vanished tomorrow, the problem would persist and continue to get worse, because industrial agriculture can trash this planet without any help from greenhouse gases. A study out if the University of Nebraska last year concluded that despite increases in investment, expansions of acreage and applications of all the latest chemicals and hybrids, the output of industrial agriculture over much of the world has either flattened or started to decline. It’s a major reasons the FAO index has hovered around 209 for the past 18 months.

Global food prices spiked in 2008, 2011, and are expected to jump seriously in the year ahead. In 2008, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India ignited. In 2011, it was Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania and Algeria. Flames are visible now in China, Venezuela, Thailand, Syria, and elsewhere. After slow declines since the all-time high of August 2012, food prices have jumped four per cent this year. This according to the World Bank, which in its current issue of Food Price Watch worries openly about food riots.

Americans thus far are not much discomfited by the fact (most would not likely agree that it is a fact) that someone else’s end of the boat is on fire. But now, in this favored nation, pork (because of the deadly virus epidemic) and beef (because of the drought) and produce (ditto) and dairy products (ditto, again) are going through the roof. Yesterday an unemployed workman told me he’s eating nothing but salads now because he can no longer afford a pork chop.

Temperature’s rising. Can Fahrenheit 210 be far away?

See also: Peak Food. It’s Here.

USDA Report Foresees Collapse of Agriculture. 

Top Hedge Fund Guy Sees Worsening Global Food Crisis.

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

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