World upheaval is imminent?
There’s a disturbing piece by Michael Klare in today’s Salon on the ramifications of the worldwide economic crisis, namely economically fueled upheavals. It’s not for the faint of heart.
The author notes it’s already begun; Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Vladivostok (Russia) have all experienced violent demonstrations in recent months. Huge non-violent protests have recently occurred in Reykjavik, Paris, Rome, Zaragoza, Moscow and Dublin.
Every outbreak of violence has its own distinctive origins and characteristics. All, however, are driven by a similar combination of anxiety about the future and lack of confidence in the ability of established institutions to deal with the problems at hand. And just as the economic crisis has proven global in ways not seen before, so local incidents — especially given the almost instantaneous nature of modern communications — have a potential to spark others in far-off places, linked only in a virtual sense.
Mr. Klare notes that while a U.S. economic recovery might typically be on the order of several years, developing countries may face a far worse fate, particularly if major world powers are financially unable to assist them.
“Should credit markets fail to respond to the robust policy interventions taken so far, the consequences for developing countries could be very serious. Such a scenario would be characterized by … substantial disruption and turmoil, including bank failures and currency crises, in a wide range of developing countries. Sharply negative growth in a number of developing countries and all of the attendant repercussions, including increased poverty and unemployment, would be inevitable.”
In 2008, riots over the availability and the rising cost of food occurred in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Rising fuel costs and dedicating land once used to grow food to biofuel production will only exacerbate the problems.
Combine these two World Bank findings — zero economic growth in the developing world and rising food prices — and you have a perfect recipe for unrelenting civil unrest and violence. The eruptions seen in 2008 and early 2009 will then be mere harbingers of a grim future in which, in a given week, any number of cities reel from riots and civil disturbances that could spread like multiple brush fires in a drought.
Just in case you were thinking that all sounds terrible but at least it’s not affecting the U.S., consider the problems already beginning to emerge in China, our largest investor.
Economically driven clashes also erupted across much of eastern China in 2008. Such events, labeled “mass incidents” by Chinese authorities, usually involve protests by workers over sudden plant shutdowns, lost pay or illegal land seizures. More often than not, protesters demanded compensation from company managers or government authorities, only to be greeted by club-wielding police.
On Feb. 2, a top Chinese party official, Chen Xiwen, announced that, in the last few months of 2008 alone, a staggering 20 million migrant workers, who left rural areas for the country’s booming cities in recent years, had lost their jobs. Worse yet, they had little prospect of regaining them in 2009. If many of these workers return to the countryside, they may find nothing there either, not even land to work.
The U.S. government recognizes the danger this unrest would pose to American interests. CIA Director Leon Panetta acknowledged the other day the President is now being briefed daily not only on any terrorist threats to the U.S., but on economic problems around the world as well. In testimony before a Senate Intelligence Committee, Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the new director of national intelligence, said “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications … Statistical modeling shows that economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period”
This is going to be a shaky, scary, hold your breath ride.