Friday, February 04, 2011

They Still Have To Eat

Spengler at Asia Times makes a very good point about how Asian prosperity is hurting Muslim countries lacking exportable resources.

It wasn't the financial crisis that undermined dysfunctional Arab states, but Asian prosperity. The Arab poor have been priced out of world markets. There is no solution to Egypt's problems within the horizon of popular expectations. Whether the regime survives or a new one replaces it, the outcome will be a disaster of, well, biblical proportions.

The best thing the United States could do at the moment would be to offer massive emergency food aid to Egypt out of its own stocks, with the understanding that President Mubarak would offer effusive public thanks for American generosity. This is a stopgap, to be sure, but it would pre-empt the likely alternative. Otherwise, the Muslim Brotherhood will preach Islamist socialism to a hungry audience. That also explains why Mubarak just might survive. Even Islamists have to eat. The Iranian Islamists who took power in 1979 had oil wells; Egypt just has hungry mouths. Enlightened despotism based on the army, the one stable institution Egypt possesses, might not be the worst solution.
It all depends on what proportion of the total family budget is devoted to food. In the US it runs under 10% (in 1900 in the US it was around 30%). If food prices double in the US it is an inconvenience - especially since so much of the food dollar goes into transport and processing. If food prices double in Egypt the number of calories consumed pretty much has to decline by 50% - at least among the poor. Which are quite numerous in Egypt.

When the oil runs out (or some technology replaces it) the Middle East is going to be a very sorry place.

Cross Posted at Classical Values

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