Bernanke Distances Himself from Rising Food Prices

Is the world finally cracking up? It certainly seems so…at least in that fiery patch of land claimed by the world’s three major monotheistic religions. This is serious stuff. Are you paying attention, Fellow Reckoner? Are you looking at the situation closely? In any case, here’s a freebie:

“Warning: Riots may be closer than they appear.”

Every day we sit down at the computer to read stories of chaos, government overthrow and “anarchy” (as incorrectly defined by the news media) breaking out across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Here are a few headlines the Associated Press led with this morning:

“Egypt: Death toll put at 365 as strikes continue…”

“Anti-government protests spread to Libya…”

“Thousands of police confront protesters in Yemen…”

“Bahrain protesters urge more pressure…”

What are these people so angry about? So they’re oppressed, under the thumb of the state and barely able to earn enough to feed themselves. But so what? Tunisia’s ousted thug, Ben Ali, held sway over his countrymen for some twenty-three years before finally being given the proverbial boot. In Egypt, the poor, unwashed masses endured three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s disastrous policies. In fact – and perhaps not coincidentally – Egypt was the birthplace of the state. A dubious accolade, indeed. For 6,000 years they’ve suffered the experiment of state-sponsored aggression. So why rise up now? What makes 2011 so special?

Well, for one thing, it’s getting more and more expensive to live from hand to mouth, as the overwhelming majorities in these countries do. More than 40% of the Egyptian people live on $2 per day or less. A whopping 70% rely on food subsidies and handouts. A few percent increase in the price of milk and honey may not break the bank for the average American or European (at least, not yet)…but for those living in Egypt and her surrounding states, it’s the difference between eating and going hungry. These people, it may fairly be said, are quite literally starving for change.

“Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions of poor people,” World Bank chief Robert Zoellick announced yesterday. “It’s poor people who are now facing incredible pressure to feed themselves and their families.”

Chimes Addison Wiggin in today’s edition of The 5-Minute Forecast, “The World Bank’s latest data on food prices reveals an overall 15% increase from October through January. Its index now sits just 3% below the 2008 record, although a separate index maintained by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has already surpassed 2008 levels.”

According to the World Bank’s own data, global wheat prices have doubled between June and January. The price of corn – which is used to feed the cattle, hogs and chickens that populate the meat shelves at your local grocery store – has surged 73% in the same period. Prices for sugar and edible oils have also risen “sharply,” the bank said.

“Zoellick acknowledges rising food prices were ‘an aggravating factor’ behind the downfall of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia,” writes Addison.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Not even close. And here comes our second free tip of the day:

“Warning: Inflation may be closer than it appears.”

In fact, according to some measures, it may be so close it’s already here.

Back in the good ol’ US of A, continues Addison, “Wholesale prices jumped 0.8% in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The producer price index has now jumped 3% over the last four months. And no, that’s not an annualized figure.

“Note that the PPI headline number is for ‘finished goods’ – stuff that’s ready to be sold direct to consumers. In the category of ‘crude goods,’ the figures are far worse – up 3.3% in January, and up a staggering 15.8% over the last four months.”

For his part, the man printing all the money chasing these commodities, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, flatly denies any wrongdoing. The trillions of dollars he has injected into the world’s economy have nothing to do with the escalating price of commodities, he contends; commodities coincidentally priced in those very same dollars. Instead, Bernanke blames the “two-speed recovery” – where emerging markets are, shall we say, “out-recovering” developed economies – and a failure of these emerging markets to tackle their own inflation.

To blame the increase in dollar supply for the soaring prices of items measured in dollars is “entirely unfair,” complained Bernanke. Again, are you listening to all this, Fellow Reckoner? Are you paying attention?

We wonder how long it will be before we wake to read news of uprisings and riots at the source of the world’s central fiat currency supply. Can’t be long now…

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning