Australian Economy

Inflation, cost-of-living, supply chains, declining wages, climate impacts and inequality are leading us towards global unrest

Bob Marley said it best: a hungry man is an angry man.

Hungry people have driven revolution. Economic strife is a harbinger of unrest.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 was triggered by many things but not the least was people hungry and angry. Peasants had been conscripted into the army to fight World War One. There was a labour shortage and that disrupted supply chains. Workers were crippled by runaway inflation. Living conditions deteriorated.

By the time the 300-year Romanov dynasty was toppled the Russian economy had collapsed. The Bolsheviks didn’t make things any better. Inflation continued to spiral out of control.

History tells us inflation is dangerous and now it is back.

Bob Marley performing in Adelaide in 1979.
Bob Marley sung to us decades ago that “a hungry mob was an angry mob”. (Supplied: Eric Algra)

There is a link between hunger and unrest

The Arab Spring of a decade ago was described as the “hunger revolution” and was triggered by a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire when his fruit cart was seized.

An article this week in Foreign Policy magazine pointed to data reminding us that “the number of food riots globally jumped a whopping 250 per cent above their average over the 2005-2011 period”.

This generated conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Yemen and, Foreign Policy points out, contributed to the rise of Islamic State.

We are seeing hungry angry people again. In Sri Lanka shortages of food and fuel have sparked violent unrest. It defaulted on its foreign debt in May and there are warnings that other countries like Pakistan, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Ghana and El Salvador could follow.

South Africa, Jordan, Mozambique are all bracing for economically driven social unrest.

A cost of living crisis has UK authorities on alert. Police numbers are being bolstered fearing more disturbance.

There are warnings of a return to Thatcher era riots of the explosive summer of 1981 in the wake of recession.

POliceman stands near a pub called The Atlantic with a row of riot police behind shields next to him people walking on road
Riots broke out across Britain in 1981 in the wake of recession.(Wikipedia/Kim Landis)

The world is in the grip of a perfect storm. Food prices have been rising for two years after the impact of the COVID pandemic and disruptive weather patterns.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added to the crisis. Supplies of grains and fuel have been hit. Ukraine is considered one of the world’s breadbaskets, its farmers produce enough grain to feed hundreds of millions of people. The war has choked off those supplies.

Inflation is skyrocketing into double digits in many countries.

The head of the United Nations World Food Programme, David Beasley, said this week that “if people can’t feed their children and their families, then the politics unsettles”.

Beasley said the UN has already had to start rationing food supplies. Harsh choices are being made to divert food from hungry people to starving people.

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