We’ve all seen the recent news reports of civil unrest and violent protests spreading to many nations in the Arab/Muslim world: the Middle East, northern Africa, Afghanistan. Less prominent in the news are the violent protests in China, resulting from a controversy with Japan over disputed islands. And last year, in summer of 2011, there were a series of riots in the U.K. caused, at least in part, by serious economic problems. But here at Prep-Blog, we avoid getting too political; we mainly write about emergency preparedness, not international relations or socio-political controversies. So this prepping and survival post will focus on one question: Will civil unrest come to the U.S.?
The U.S. is not immune to the problem of civil unrest. Despite a culture that promotes freedom of speech, accepts pluralism, and is tolerant of controversy, we are subject to many of the same problems as the rest of the world. But I suggest that the most likely cause for any possible civil unrest in the U.S. is not religion or politics, but economics. Unemployment has been above 8% for many months. The U.S. deficit has skyrocketed to over 16 trillion dollars. The federal budget continues to exceed revenue by over a trillion dollars per year. But even if we get our financial house in order, our economy is tightly interwoven with the world economy, more so than ever before. Economic failure in another nation or region of the world could quickly have harmful effects on our economy, effects that would be largely out of our control.
Then there is the summer of 2012 drought. Our food economy has not yet seen the results of that disaster. Usually, when disaster strikes, everyone notices right away: earthquakes, hurricanes, snow storms, power outages. But the worst effects of economic and agricultural disasters are often delayed by many months. The USDA Economic Research Service says this in their Farm and Food Impacts report:
“The most severe and extensive drought in at least 25 years is seriously affecting U.S. agriculture, with impacts on the crop and livestock sectors and with the potential to affect food prices at the retail level…. We will likely see impacts within two months for beef, pork, poultry and dairy (especially fluid milk). The full effects of the increase in corn prices for packaged and processed foods (cereal, corn flour, etc.) will likely take 10-12 months to move through to retail food prices. The drought has the potential to increase retail prices for beef, pork, poultry, and dairy products first and foremost – later this year and into 2013.”
Commodity prices for corn (maize) have doubled in less than 2 years, and prices could go even higher.
Soybean prices have increased 95% (almost double) what they were less than 2 years ago. How does this affect prices for other foods? Corn and soy are the main sources of cattle feed in the U.S. So food prices for meat and poultry will likely be adversely affected in the coming months.
But the drought is also affecting other nations. The food economy is a world economy, just as the financial economy is. Higher corn and soy prices in the U.S. will affect food prices in other nations, including nations with far greater economic problems than we have. A drought has been going on in Russia, parts of the EU, and some other areas of the world since 2010. As a result, grain supplies for wheat are low. Corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans represent over 70% of the food calories produced by the world agricultural system. With production quantities of corn, wheat, and soy substantially reduced by the drought, the world food supply is under severe pressure. Some nations could see food rationing. Most nations will see higher food prices.
If civil unrest were to come to the U.S., my opinion is that economics would be the most likely cause. High unemployment and high food prices might not be enough, but these factors put us ever closer to the brink of civil unrest. An outbreak of war in the Middle East, such as an eventual U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program, could cause oil prices to skyrocket. Higher oil prices means higher prices, not only for fuel and home heating oil, but also for products transported by truck, in other words, nearly all retail goods. Inflation would then spike, interest rates for credit cards and mortgages would increase. Businesses might start laying off employees en masse. It would not take much for economic disaster, and subsequently civil unrest, to strike the U.S.
What can we do to prepare for possible civil unrest? That is the subject of a future post. But I’m open to your suggestions.