Feast and famine

As the world is hit by a food crisis, the markets see nothing immoral in skimming off a profit

Published on The Guardian, by Zoe Williams, 12 May 2010.

The price of cheddar is going to go up by 10% over the next six months. This is quite a rare food story, now, in terms of price rises: it’s localised; it pertains directly to British weather conditions (too wet – cows don’t like it); it feels containable, finite. This makes it a marked contrast to the general run of agricultural stories, which foretell total disaster. The UN this week made its report, tangentially about food, foreseeing price hikes, shortages and wars, all plausible consequences of the world’s failure to halt biodiversity loss … // 

… It’s been de rigeur since 2008 to talk about “greedy bankers”. That doesn’t really do it, though – greed is a broad and inadequate explanation for the bizarre spectacle of a cohort that is proud of its own unscrupulousness, amused by its own hysteria and yet self-righteous and unshakeable in its demands for political influence and respect. Even greedy people value consistency: very few people have no scruples at all.

I’ve come reluctantly to the conclusion that the problem is not the busted humanity of the people themselves but the process of engaging with financial markets. It divides people from themselves. It voids their sense of shame, and even the magazines that serve them are shameless. The pursuit of money has to be undertaken with no rules: if you want to be a human being afterwards, fine, give the money away – but in the making of it, you’re basically a wolf. The whole business is not dissimilar to stepping into a driving seat. The bonds of community and etiquette dissolve. That’s why we have a Highway Code. You don’t need to be told not to ram into the back of people when you’re walking.

Item one, then, for a Market Highway Code: when people across the world are struggling to keep up with the spiralling cost of staying alive, maybe try not to skim some money off the top. Maybe this is something Vince can sort out. (full text).

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