Chomsky: US Government’s Nonresponse To Climate Crisis Has Historical Precedent

Noam Chomsky

Coal baron Sen. Joe Manchin’s decision to block his own party’s clean energy program represents a huge setback in the fight against climate breakdown. It is even more dramatic considering that the U.S. is the only major economy in the world without a national climate policy. Of course, this sad state of affairs is not merely due to the likes of Manchin, but to the overall reactionary nature of the country’s political and economic landscape, as Noam Chomsky highlights in this exclusive interview for Truthout. Indeed, the dark forces at work in the contemporary United States are so powerful that they can stifle reform even when the future of the planet is at stake. But Chomsky argues that, as in the past, organized activism — engagement on the ground — can offer a way out even from the most exceedingly onerous conditions.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. One of the worlds most cited scholars and a public intellectual regarded by millions of people as a national and international treasure, Chomsky has published more than 150 books in linguistics, political and social thought, political economy, media studies, U.S. foreign policy and world affairs. His latest books are The Secrets of Words (with Andrea Moro; MIT Press, 2022); The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power (with Vijay Prashad; The New Press, 2022); The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Social Change (with C. J. Polychroniou; Haymarket Books, 2021).

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the United States, by all accounts, is doing a horrendous job at tackling the climate crisis. The Environmental Performance Index, developed by Yale and Columbia universities, ranks the U.S. 43rd among 180 nations on performance indicators covering climate change and environmental health, and ecosystem vitality. In fact, the U.S. is the only major economy without a national climate change policy, and Biden’s push for a clean energy program is all but dead, thanks to the determination of a single senator to protect his own portfolio investment over the future of the planet. On top of that, the Supreme Court has restricted the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, then, the U.S. is not going to meet the target of achieving a 50-52 percent reduction from 2005 levels of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030. So, the question of paramount importance, in my own humble view, is this: Why is the U.S. so uniquely bad in confronting the climate crisis? There has got to be more to the story besides the influence of the fossil fuel industry, no?

Noam Chomsky: A lot more. Some indications about what is underway were given in the Supreme Court EPA decision. In the first place, there was no reason at all for the court to take up this case, which had to do with a 2015 proposal that was never implemented and is not in force. Presumably the court went out of its way to select the case as part of a long-term campaign to undermine the “administrative state” — that is, to undermine public capacity to restrict rapacious and in this case destructive private power. Or to put it more vividly, the capacity to restrict what Adam Smith called the “Vile Maxim”: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people,” the maxim that seems to guide “the masters of mankind … in every age of the world.”

In his age, the masters were the merchants and manufacturers of England; in ours, the private institutions that have become increasingly concentrated and obscenely wealthy during the neoliberal assault against the global population. The fossil fuel companies are among them, but others in the economic stratosphere will be beneficiaries of dismantling of the administrative state, a substantial intensification of the neoliberal class war. That’s what we are likely to see in the days ahead if the GOP, with its extreme subordination to private wealth and corporate power, extends its already substantial hold over the society.

It will be a short-term victory, however. There are good reasons why in past years the business world regularly called for regulation and other forms of state intervention to protect itself from the ravages of uncontrolled markets. The not-very-hidden principle underlying the Vile Maxim is that you, the “unpeople” of the world, are to be thrown into the market to find some way to survive. We, the masters, demand and receive ample protection from the nanny state.

The need for a “visible hand” is vastly more urgent now as the world hurtles towards destruction of organized human life, with the narrow window for survival being closed by the masters and their servants in the political system, basking in the applause of the most enthusiastic proponents of the Vile Maxim.

That leaves unanswered the deeper question: Why is the U.S. so “uniquely bad”? It hasn’t always been so. That’s important to remember. What is happening today is chillingly reminiscent of the 1930s, when the global state capitalist system was collapsing, with many “morbid symptoms.” Gramsci’s phrase, writing in Mussolini’s prison cells. Then the U.S. was a beacon of hope. While Europe was descending into fascist darkness, the U.S. was paving the way to social democracy under the impact of a revived and militant labor movement, with a sympathetic administration.

To be sure, much of the business world was strenuously opposed to these developments, biding its time for the opportunity to restore the business rule that has been unusually strong in the U.S., for historical reasons that we have discussed before. World War II put the conflicts in the background. When the war ended, the campaign to dismantle social democratic heresies was undertaken with vigor, but didn’t become triumphant until the neoliberal years, aided by neoliberal ideologues fresh from their service in Pinochet’s vicious dictatorship.

The fate of Biden’s energy program carries lessons as well. While nowhere near sufficient, the program was a long step beyond anything that preceded, as a result of major activist campaigns and the Sanders movement. The final blow was indeed delivered by coal baron Joe Manchin, who had been chipping away at the program steadily and finally declared that he’d accept nothing meaningful.

Manchin gave reasons: his concern over the deficit and inflation. Hardly credible. On the deficit, one way to address it is by reversing the radically regressive tax cuts of the neoliberal years, culminating in Trump’s one legislative achievement: the Donor Relief Act of 2017, as Joseph Stiglitz called it, a huge gift to the very rich and corporate sector, stabbing everyone else in the back. For the GOP, that is a red line that can’t be touched (along with funding the IRS to enable it catch wealthy tax cheats). Manchin goes along. No taxes on the rich. We have to preserve one of the great achievements of the neoliberal programs: For the first time in a century, billionaires pay taxes at a lower rate than workers.

What about inflation? There’s no credible argument that relates Biden’s climate program to the worldwide inflation. And if Manchin had concerns about this, he’d be calling for a windfall tax on corporate profits, cutting the bloated Pentagon budget, reversing the sharply regressive tax changes of the neoliberal years, and lots more.

Most Democrats are deeply dissatisfied with Biden’s overall approach to the climate crisis, according to a Pew Research Center report released just last week. This is especially so among young Americans, which leaves room for hoping that the course of the country can change in the near future. In any case, couldn’t the case be made that the Democrats’ sweeping plan to tackle the climate crisis was destined to fail if they tried to accomplish this through backroom deals rather than taking the cause directly to people and communities across the land?

Biden is unfairly blamed for this and other failures of his legislative program. The prime reason for the failure is the Mitch McConnell strategy: Block anything that might help the country, blame the harsh outcomes on the Democrats, retake power and intensify the harm for the population while enriching still more the constituency that counts. It works.

A popular-based party committed to the common good would have organized throughout the country, at the grassroots. That’s not the modern Democratic Party. Would it have made any difference? It’s hard to say. Could it, for example, have touched the Republican voting base, now in thrall to their denialist leadership and the divine Trump? Recall the recent polls that show that given a choice of 29 issues of concern for the coming election, moderate Republicans picked climate change as 28th, the rest 29th. That’s not easy to break through.

Not easy, but not necessarily impossible. It’s useful to recall the Yellow Vest slogan: You privileged people are worried about the end of the world, we’re worried about the end of the month. When people are concerned about how to survive in their precarious lives, there’s not much use telling them that scientists, who they distrust anyway, are predicting dire consequences down the road.

Certainly, that message should never be suppressed. People care about their grandchildren. But it should be accompanied by showing how you can get a better life and better jobs right now by shifting from destruction of the environment that sustains life to creating a better one. Right now. I can refer again to Bob Pollin’s outstanding work, both scrupulous analysis and direct engagement on the ground. Read more

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Op de Dam

Zaterdag toch maar even gekeken bij die demonstratie op de Dam. Voor een opknapbeurt is het Nationale Monument ingepakt. Hopelijk zijn de oren goed afgeplakt zodat de onvervalste retoriek van de nieuwe bruinhemden en aanhang, de complotlandwacht, aan het Monument is voorbijgegaan.

Aldus mijn tachtigjarige buurman vanochtend in een lange e-mail.

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The Future Of The Planet Is In Our Hands—Effective Activism Is Essential

CJ Polychroniou

Building long-term progressive power is key to bringing into force a comprehensive climate change policy

The United States is a global outlier on multiple fronts. It is the only country in the developed world without a universal healthcare system. It ranks number one in firearms per capita and has the second highest firearm homicide rate in the world. The U.S. is also a childcare outlier (developed countries contribute an average of $14000 on childcare for 2 and under, compared with $400 in the U.S.) and now a global outlier on abortion rights.

The U.S. is also doing a horrendous job when it comes to climate and the environment. In the 2022 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which uses 40 performance indicators and ranks 180 countries “on their national efforts to protect environmental health, enhance ecosystem vitality, and mitigate climate change,” the U.S. is ranked 43rd, behind shining democracies like Bulgaria, Hungary, North Macedonia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Indeed, speaking of the U.S. as a global outlier, the country is also the only major economy in the world without a national climate policy. So, what if it is the biggest carbon emitter in history and the climate crisis represents one of the biggest existential threats facing humanity? In a political system where the interests of the rich and powerful take precedence over the common good, it should not be surprising that the planetary environment is treated as an afterthought. The forces of reaction have no interest in protecting the planet for future generations. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin may be the villain of the day, the monster of the week, but the perpetual problem in the U.S. is the dark forces that shape the nation’s economic, political, and cultural landscape and have the ability, through support of the likes such as Manchin, to stifle reform even when humanity is close to the edge and the future of this planet is at stake.

So, what can be done to turn the situation around? Surely, climate organizers have been thinking long and hard about how to create and maintain strong momentum on climate change action. Periodic climate protests and acts of civil disobedience may raise public support for climate action, but surely much more is needed in a country like the United States where change comes very slowly, and the views of average citizens have little or no impact on public policy.

Building long-term progressive power is key to bringing into force a comprehensive climate change policy. The Sunrise Movement, probably the primary organizer of climate activism in the U.S., came to the realization of the importance of political power and changed its strategy accordingly. In a recent phone conversation, Sunrise national spokesperson John Paul Mejia told me that the organization now focuses on three pillars of change: (1) People Power, which is essentially engaging and training young people to become organizers and using the collective voice of people to demand climate action; (2) Political Power, which is basically influencing policymaking by endorsing progressive candidates running for office and helping them get elected; and (3)  People’s Alignment, which is the task of creating a “New Common Sense” in the fight against global warming by promoting the Green New Deal project through the development of strong relationships with labor, climate, and indigenous organizations.

This is an ambitious undertaking on the part of a grassroots youth organization that was created just six years ago. Of course, it’s hard to judge how influential the organization has been so far in radically changing public opinion in the U.S. about the need for climate action, and, more specifically, from steering the debate about climate change away from “pathetic incrementalism,” in the words of its co-founder Varshini Prakash, to a growing demand for a radical transformation of the existing economic system.

The truth of the matter is that the public in the U.S. continues, amazingly enough, to treat the climate crisis as a rather trivial issue. For instance, in the recently released study of public opinion on major issues by the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication, out of 29 major issues posed to subjects, “registered voters overall indicated that global warming is the 24th most highly ranked voting issue.”

One would be hard pressed to identity more depressing news coming out of mainstream America than what is captured in the above-mentioned study. “It is only the most important issue that has ever arisen in human history alongside nuclear weapons,” Noam Chomsky quipped in a recent interview.

Moreover, ditching incrementalism in favor of an all-or-nothing attitude is hardly common sense, and surely bad politics. When Sunrise Movement labelled last fall’s bipartisanship infrastructure bill the “Exxon Plan,” it may have scored points with some activists, but it is highly doubtful that it made inroads with average voters. Moreover, in a capitalist environment, securing concessions from those that hold the reins of political and economic power is no small matter.

In addition, one has to wonder to what extent engagement with political and ideological issues beyond the climate crisis, such as the Palestinian cause and defunding the police, is helping the cause of making the transition to a post-fossil fuel economy.

Be that as it may, the Sunrise Movement’s new strategic orientation is a major step in the struggle to create a mass movement and alter the balance of political power. Working closely with local hubs and facilitating community-led climate action while offering support at the same time to candidates willing to fight for the Green New Deal in the corridors of power is the mark of an activist organization coming of age.

Climate action has suffered a huge setback after coal baron Joe Manchin’s decision to oppose legislation that could have been a turning point for tackling global warming. As such, the U.S. remains a country without a federal climate policy, but all is not yet lost. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, human agency is not finished.

The struggle against the forces of reaction continues, and our only hope for a sustainable future lies with organized and effective activism.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His latest books are The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Social Change (A collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky; Haymarket Books, 2021), and Economics and the Left: Interviews with Progressive Economists (Verso, 2021).

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Noam Chomsky: Biden’s Middle East Trip Contains Echoes Of Trump’s Policies

Noam Chomsky

After 18 months in office, President Joe Biden decided to pay a visit to the Middle East region. Oil is most likely what is dragging him back to the Middle East, and why for months now he had been warming up to Saudi Arabia, despite having said as a presidential candidate that he would make the Saudis “pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are,” while saying that there was “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.”

As Noam Chomsky notes in this exclusive interview for Truthout, Biden is carrying on a U.S. tradition: Relations with Saudi Arabia “have always proceeded amicably, undisturbed by its horrifying record of human rights abuses, which persists.” Security also likely figures in the equation of Biden’s trip, particularly with regard to Israel. He will also visit the West Bank and meet with Palestinan leaders, but it’s hard to say what he hopes to accomplish there. As Chomsky points out, “Palestinian hopes lie elsewhere.”

Chomsky has been, for decades, one of the most astute analysts of Middle Eastern politics and a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights. Among his many books on the Middle East are Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians; Middle East Illusions; Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy (with Gilbert Achcar); On Palestine (with Ilan Pappé); and Gaza in Crisis (with Ilan Pappé). Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT and laureate professor of linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona.

C.J. Polychroniou: U.S. foreign policy under Joe Biden is barely distinguishable from that of Trump’s, as you pointed out just a few months after Biden took office. Indeed, as a presidential candidate, Biden had called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but as president he is warming up to its de facto and murderous leader Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). What do you think is the purpose of his visit to Saudi Arabia?

Noam Chomsky: It is surely a mistake to carry out a sadistic assassination of a journalist for the Washington Post, particularly one who was hailed as “a guardian of truth” in 2018 when he was chosen as Person of the Year by Time Magazine.

That’s definitely bad form, particularly when done carelessly and not well concealed.

U.S. relations with the family kingdom called “Saudi Arabia” have always proceeded amicably, undisturbed by its horrifying record of human rights abuses, which persists. That’s hardly a surprise in the case of “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history … probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment,” as the State Department described the prize in the mid-1940s, when the U.S. wrested it from Britain in a mini-war during World War II. More generally, the Middle East was regarded at a high level as the most “strategically important area in the world,” as President Eisenhower said. While assessments have varied over 80 years, the essence remains.

The same is true with regard to countries that do not rise to this impressive level. The U.S. has regularly provided strong support for murderous tyrants when it was convenient, often to the last minute of their rule: Marcos, Duvalier, Ceausescu, Suharto, and a long string of other villains, including Saddam Hussein until he violated (or maybe misunderstood) orders and invaded Kuwait. And of course, the U.S. is simply following in the path of its imperial predecessors. Nothing new, not even the rhetoric of benevolent intent.

The most revealing examples are when the intent really is benevolent, not unconcealed Kissingerian cynicism (“realism”). An instructive case is Robert Pastor’s explanation of why the Carter Human Rights administration reluctantly had to support the Somoza regime, and when that proved impossible, to maintain the U.S.-trained National Guard even after it had been massacring the population “with a brutality a nation usually reserves for its enemy,” killing some 40,000 people.

The Latin America specialist of the [Jimmy Carter] administration and a genuine liberal scholar, Pastor was doubtless sincere in voicing these regrets. He was also perceptive in providing the compelling reasons: “The United States did not want to control Nicaragua or the other nations of the region, but it also did not want developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect U.S. interests adversely” (his emphasis).

We sincerely want you to be free — free to do what we want.

It’s much the same with Saudi Arabia. We wish they were more polite, but first things first. Read more

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Noam Chomsky: Humanity Faces Two Existential Threats. One Is Nearly Ignored

Noam Chomsky

We live in dangerous and disconcerting times. Humanity is facing two existential threats that could end civilization as we know it — as well as other life on Earth. Yet, in the case of both global warming and nuclear weapons, international cooperation is sorely missing. What is even worse with regard to nuclear weapons is that since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is a growing trend toward normalizing the idea of nuclear war. In fact, as Noam Chomsky argues in this exclusive interview for Truthout, dismissals of the true threat of nuclear annihilation have grown to highly dangerous levels and “the means for reducing the threat of terminal war are being cast out the window.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Human agency has not ended,” Chomsky points out. “There are realistic ways to protect humanity from the existential threat that nuclear weapons pose.”

Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the department of linguistics and philosophy at MIT and laureate professor of linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. One of the world’s most-cited scholars and a public intellectual regarded by millions of people as a national and international treasure, Chomsky has published more than 150 books in linguistics, political and social thought, political economy, media studies, U.S. foreign policy and world affairs. His latest books are The Secrets of Words (with Andrea Moro; MIT Press, 2022); The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power (with Vijay Prashad; The New Press, 2022); and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Social Change (with C. J. Polychroniou; Haymarket Books, 2021).

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered several unexpected and unintended consequences. One of them, which is not as widely discussed as it should be, is that the use of nuclear arsenals, perhaps with lower yields, has been almost normalized. Indeed, in the course of this war, we have heard of several scenarios for how Russia might use nuclear weapons, and, in the early days of the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin even ordered his country’s nuclear forces on a higher alert. And, just last month, he said that Russia will use nuclear weapons to defend its sovereignty and stressed that the “era of the unipolar world” has ended. On the other hand, we have people like Francis Fukuyama saying that the possibility of a nuclear war “is not something anyone should be worrying about” because there are many stopping points before we get to that point. How did we get to a stage where people are having such a nonchalant attitude about nuclear weapons?

Noam Chomsky: Before turning to the important issues raised, we should keep firmly in mind one overriding concern: The great powers will find a way to cooperate in addressing today’s critical problems, or the wreckage of human society will be so extreme that no one will care. All else fades alongside of recognition of that fundamental fact about the contemporary world, very possibly the last stage in human history. It cannot be reiterated too often or too strongly.

In the Toronto Star, the veteran journalist and political analyst Linda McQuaig wrote that she had just heard “what struck me as possibly the most foolish remark ever uttered on TV. And I know that’s a high bar.”

McQuaig was referring to “the celebrated U.S. political scientist Francis Fukuyama” and the comment of his that you just quoted. Put simply, “there’s no need to be concerned about nuclear war. Take my word for it.”

In defense of “possibly the most foolish remark ever uttered on TV,” we might argue that it is not only commonly voiced, but in fact is implicit in official U.S. policy. Last April, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Washington’s goal in Ukraine is “to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” He was reprimanded by the president, but “officials acknowledged that was indeed the long-term strategy, even if Mr. Biden did not want to publicly provoke Mr. Putin into escalation.”

The long-term strategy, then, is to keep the war going in order to weaken Russia, and to a degree considerably harsher than the treatment of Germany at Versailles a century ago, which did not succeed in the proclaimed goal.

The long-term strategy was reaffirmed clearly enough in the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, providing a new “Strategic Concept” based on a core principle: no diplomacy on Ukraine, only war to “weaken Russia.”

It takes no great insight to see that this approximates what may be the most foolish remark ever uttered. The tacit assumption is that while the U.S. and its allies are proceeding to weaken Russia sufficiently, Russian leaders will stand by quietly, refraining from resorting to the advanced weapons we all know Russia has.

Take our word for it. Read more

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Stagflation And Global Hunger Are On The Horizon. Neoliberalism Needs To End

Shouvik Chakraborty – Photo:

The capitalist world economy is facing major challenges today: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused damage to most economies around the world, skyrocketing inflation is disproportionately affecting poor and working-class people, and even stagflation (a combination of high inflation and stagnant economic growth) looms on the horizon. In addition, there is a global food crisis fueled by the war in Ukraine. The current food crisis has its roots in neoliberal policies in agriculture in developing countries, according to radical political economist Shouvik Chakraborty.

None of the current global economic problems can be solved without massive changes to the workings of the world economy to counter the harms caused by neoliberal capitalism over the last 40 years.

Is neoliberalism dying? And what are the alternatives? Is socialism a viable option for developing countries? Chakraborty addresses these questions in an exclusive interview for Truthout below. Chakraborty is research fellow at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and author of scores of academic articles in macroeconomics and political economy.

C.J. Polychroniou: The world economy is projected to experience feeble growth and high inflation in 2022, and there are even concerns about stagflation. What are the major challenges facing the world economy in 2022?

Shouvik Chakraborty: The world economy entering a stagflation phase genuinely concerns the working class across the globe. However, given the income disparity among the advanced and low-income economies, the challenges faced by the workers under such a stagflationary scenario are different. The concerns in the former are more focused on the continuation of a particular lifestyle — whether they would be able to purchase a single-family home, afford a vacation or continue driving their private vehicles. At the same time, the fear in the lower-income countries is related more to the necessities of life — whether they would be able to put food on the table, a minimum supply of clean and safe water, and access to some minimum level of electricity and cooking fuel. Given the lack of income support such as food stamps, social security benefits and unemployment benefits, the marginalized sections in these low-income countries are acutely vulnerable to the coming economic crisis. The advent of neoliberal policies over the last four decades led to the retreat of the state from even the basic forms of welfare measures in these low-income countries like providing food through fair price shops, price-controlled health care through primary care facilities, supply of clean water, etc., which were once part of the dirigiste regime, and, thereby, exposing these vulnerable sections now to the vagaries of the market forces.

The pandemic made things worse for these poorer sections of society, especially the women who have been disproportionately impacted. During the pandemic, these marginalized sections have already faced an economic blow to their income and in sustaining their livelihood. With the unequal distribution of income globally and inequality within nations accentuating further during the pandemic, the more affluent sections globally were less affected by the recessionary conditions and could shield themselves. However, the marginalized sections, especially those in the low-income countries, were the worst impacted. Therefore, it is true that the fears of an economic recession combined with an inflationary situation concern the global economy. Still, their extent and nature differ based on the current levels of income and development of those economies. Additionally, for the developing countries, repaying their debts at higher interest rates in a reduced growth rate environment would pose additional macroeconomic challenges.

There is a global food crisis going on, and many accuse Russia of using food as a weapon of war. Yet, there are many governments around the world that are imposing food-export restrictions that not only drive food prices up but also squeeze food supplies. So, what is actually causing the global food crisis, how bad is it going to get, and what ways are there to solve the current food security crisis?

The global food crisis will be acute, and it will be most felt in the countries that are already food-insecure and suffering from hunger. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has already issued dire warnings. Although one can point to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, export restrictions, supply-chain issues and climate change-related disruptions accentuating the global food crisis, it is not the entire story. During the neoliberal era, one sector that mainly got ignored by the policy makers, especially in the developing world, is agriculture and its allied sectors. According to the OECD Agricultural Statistics, the total budgetary support to the agricultural sector as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the emerging economies declined from 1.25 percent to 0.81 percent over the last two decades.

As a consequence of negligence to this sector, the average annual growth rate of agriculture, forestry and fishing sector worldwide, according to the World Development Indicators, declined from 3.7 percent in the 1980s to 2.9 percent in the 2010s. It is starker in the case of the lower- and middle-income countries. Over this same period, while the overall growth rate of low- and middle-income countries increased from 3.6 percent to 4.7 percent, agriculture and its allied sectors’ growth declined from 3.9 percent to 3.4 percent. The point of citing these statistics is that much before the Russia-Ukraine war and pandemic, the agricultural sector was already suffering, and the food supply was impacted.

Historically, agricultural prices are volatile. With the underlying crisis of this sector and the recent events accentuating it, global food prices increased last year, and that trend continues. The two other factors contributing to the rising prices, as a direct fallout of the neoliberal policies, are the increased profiteering of the major multinational agribusinesses and the speculative activities on the futures commodity market. The increased speculative activity is recently confirmed by a critical study that tracked the movements of financial investors (investment funds in particular) in commodity markets. Both profiteering and speculation need to be immediately regulated.

The production of agricultural commodities is usually price-responsive (although with some lag), and it is possible that other agrarian economies (assuming the Russia-Ukraine war continues) would probably respond by increasing their production level and improving the supply chain. However, to do so, the governments in those economies need to support the sector by increasing public investments and total budgetary support. This would, however, be an anathema to any state adhering to neoliberal policies and its obsession with balanced budgets; hence, the political challenge should be to do away with the neoliberal order. Read more

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