Food riots

The cause of riots and the price of food

If we don’t reverse the current trend in food prices, we’ve got until August 2013 before social unrest sweeps the planet, say complexity theorists…

WHAT CAUSES riots? That’s not a question you would expect to have a simple answer.

But Marco Lagi and buddies at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, US, say they’ve found a single factor that seems to trigger riots around the world.

This single factor is the price of food. Lagi and co say that when it rises above a certain threshold, social unrest sweeps the planet.

The evidence comes from two sources. The first is data gathered by the United Nations that plots the price of food against time, the so-called food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The second is the date of riots around the world, whatever their cause.

This clearly seems to show that when the food price index rises above a certain threshold, the result is trouble around the world.

This isn’t rocket science. It stands to reason that people become desperate when food is unobtainable. It’s often said that any society is three square meals from anarchy.

But what’s interesting about this analysis is that Lagi and co say that high food prices don’t necessarily trigger riots themselves, they simply create the conditions in which social unrest can flourish. “These observations are consistent with a hypothesis that high global food prices are a precipitating condition for social unrest,” say Lagi and co…..

MIT Technology Review: Read more

Ref: The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East