Inflation, cost-of-living, supply chains, declining wages, climate impacts and inequality are leading us towards global unrest – ABC News

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Inflation, cost-of-living, supply chains, declining wages, climate impacts and inequality are leading us towards global unrest
Bob Marley said it best: a hungry man is an angry man.
Hungry people have driven revolution. Economic strife is a harbinger of unrest.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 was triggered by many things but not the least was people hungry and angry. Peasants had been conscripted into the army to fight World War One. There was a labour shortage and that disrupted supply chains. Workers were crippled by runaway inflation. Living conditions deteriorated.
By the time the 300-year Romanov dynasty was toppled the Russian economy had collapsed. The Bolsheviks didn't make things any better. Inflation continued to spiral out of control.
History tells us inflation is dangerous and now it is back.
The Arab Spring of a decade ago was described as the "hunger revolution" and was triggered by a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire when his fruit cart was seized.
An article this week in Foreign Policy magazine pointed to data reminding us that "the number of food riots globally jumped a whopping 250 per cent above their average over the 2005-2011 period".
This generated conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Yemen and, Foreign Policy points out, contributed to the rise of Islamic State.
We are seeing hungry angry people again. In Sri Lanka shortages of food and fuel have sparked violent unrest. It defaulted on its foreign debt in May and there are warnings that other countries like Pakistan, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Ghana and El Salvador could follow.
South Africa, Jordan, Mozambique are all bracing for economically driven social unrest.
A cost of living crisis has UK authorities on alert. Police numbers are being bolstered fearing more disturbance.
There are warnings of a return to Thatcher-era riots of the explosive summer of 1981 in the wake of recession.
The world is in the grip of a perfect storm. Food prices have been rising for two years after the impact of the COVID pandemic and disruptive weather patterns.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has added to the crisis. Supplies of grains and fuel have been hit. Ukraine is considered one of the world's breadbaskets, its farmers produce enough grain to feed hundreds of millions of people. The war has choked off those supplies.
Inflation is skyrocketing into double digits in many countries.
The head of the United Nations World Food Programme, David Beasley, said this week that "if people can't feed their children and their families, then the politics unsettles".
Beasley said the UN has already had to start rationing food supplies. Harsh choices are being made to divert food from hungry people to starving people.
Ukraine's war with Russia is exacerbating an already alarming global food crisis.
"If we're not there with a safety net program, then the political extremists or whatever the case may be, will exploit that," Beasley said. "Next thing you know, you've got riots, famine, destabilisation and then mass migration by necessity."
He warned that in 2023 the world will see mass food shortages. Beasley said five years ago around 80 million people were "marching toward starvation" that number nearly doubled during COVID now the number of people facing critical food shortage has doubled again to over 270 million and tens of millions are facing famine.
It all puts our own travails in Australia into perspective. We may complain about a shortage of lettuce and having to make do with cabbage on our burgers, but we are not starving.
Beasley is calling on rich countries to do more. But of course everything is relative and wealthy countries are dealing with their own angry people.
Here Australians are being warned to brace for spiking inflation, ever higher interest rates and falling asset prices.
We are being told to wind back expectations of wage rises.
The Reserve Bank Governor expects inflation to crest at 7 per cent by year's end, before gently easing in the new year after a series of interest rate rises. A recession will be avoided and employment will remain strong. At least that's the plan.
And it is the most vulnerable who will be hit the hardest. Inflation is a tax on the poor who are already facing mortgage stress or rental crisis.
The rich have a buffer. They have been stashing away cash. Economists say there is a global savings glut. Wealthier people have been hoarding money rather than spending or investing.
The savings of the richest 10 per cent in the United States have far outstripped the savings of the remaining 90 per cent.
The savings glut has forced down interest rates and pushed up housing prices. But now interest rates are on the move upwards, the rich can divest or cushion the blow, poorer people will be left with harder choices.
Resentment is inevitable. In a place like America, that will feed into politics. This is fertile ground for political populism, a resurgence of "Trumpism".
Inequality is a cancer on American democracy. Growing inequality has fractured America, with the working poor left behind while power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of what has been dubbed an "American meritocracy".
The financial crash of 2008 left the country poorer and deeply scarred: ordinary Americans lost their homes and their jobs, while rich bankers got bailed out.
Economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton reveal a lost generation of poorer, sicker, Americans chronicle in their book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. It is an America of "haves and have nots"; an America of meaningless or no work, of declining wages and shattered families.
There is no faith in American capitalism, which, Case and Deaton write, "looks more like a racket" to make the rich richer.
The world has been battered by decades of terrorism, war, financial collapse, a pandemic and now when people were hoping for a reprieve from years of lockdown, death and despair we face a world of war in Ukraine, food shortages, spiralling prices and social unrest.
Rising inflation is not just a question of whether we renew our television streaming subscriptions; it is a question of whether millions of people have enough food to eat. It is life and death.
It will lead to more desperation, more disruption, more mass movement of people and inevitably anger.
Political opportunists will exploit this for their own ends. And governments desperate to appease people – or quite rightly try to soften the economic blow – may pursue short term policies that only prolong or exacerbate inflation and economic stress.
We are only half way through 2022 and already we are looking ahead to darker days in 2023.
Bob Marley warned that "them belly full, but we hungry", the poet William Blake cast it in even more apocalyptic terms: "A dog starved at his master's gate predicts the ruin of the state."
Stan Grant is the ABC's international affairs analyst and presents China Tonight on Monday at 9:35pm on ABC TV, and Tuesday at 8pm on the ABC News Channel, and a co-presenter of Q+A on Thursday at 8.30pm.
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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