In a previous post, I introduced this extended discussion on the economics of food. More specifically, my purpose is to begin to unpack what we mean by ‘national security’ – a sign, in the Nietzschean sense – in a neoliberal age. Food availability as the most basic material condition for social order provides an interesting case study through which we can begin to understand the potential meanings of this sign.
While it may seem obvious that national security is utterly dependent on citizens having access to food at reasonable prices, our runaway capitalism becomes schizophrenic with regard to this basic political relationship, in large part because of the influence of capitalist markets.
Globalizing the food markets and concentrating production of certain crops to key geographical areas creates conditions whereby the disruption of food production in one major supplier reverberates around the globe. This degree of interconnectedness combined with futures trading, a now-integral part of finance culture, drives prices higher than would be expected according to supply and demand. This is especially apparent in situations where production drops dramatically, such as last year’s floods and drought that damaged wheat crops in Australia, China, and Ukraine, among others.
These financial effects, however, are not realized equally around the world. It is poorer countries that are affected most by the cost increases, countries in which we traditionally recognize food access (and government corruption) to be a systemic problem. And in addition to an initial price jump, wealthier producing countries also tend to export less food, ensuring enough for their own populations. At the same time, shortages and decreasing global supply are amplified in their scope and effects – Positive Feedback Loop 101. But a positive feedback loop that has tragic consequences.