As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 14, 2008

World Food Crisis Update

It took the World Bank to raise the alarm for needing immediate food aid and panic across the globe for Bush to get the message. But he did get it, and so credit where due.

President George W. Bush on Monday ordered $200 million more in U.S. emergency food aid to be made available to help alleviate food shortages in Africa and elsewhere, the White House said.

Bush took action a day after top finance and development officials from around the world called for urgent action to stem rising food prices, warning that social unrest would spread unless the cost of basic staples was contained.

"This additional food aid will address the impact of rising commodity prices on U.S. emergency food aid programs, and be used to meet unanticipated food aid needs in Africa and elsewhere," the White House said in a statement. It said the assistance would be made available through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Good news. But, of course, this is a temporary fix which doesn't even fill immediate needs between now and May 1. The problem is largely structural and a consequence of rising prices due to a variety of factors, particularly the cost of oil to transport food. However, don't dare suggest something disruptive like price controls which might save a few lives.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned on Sunday that governments should resist temptation to try to control soaring food costs through price controls, which he said would likely make the situation worse.

In remarks prepared for delivery to the World Bank's development committee, Paulson said such measures were "generally not effective and efficient" at protecting people likely to suffer the most.

"They tend to create fiscal burdens and economic distortions while often providing aid to higher-income consumers or commercial interests other than the intended beneficiaries," Paulson said.

They tend to create food that people can eat, and I'm willing to take a little inefficiency in the short term. Anyway, Paulson has little credibility telling anyone about unnecessary intervention in the markets after propping up Bear Stearns. It's not like he particularly believes in unfettered capitalism, at least when it comes to bailing out his rich buddies.

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