Feb 14, 2011
Forget Egypt for a moment. Skip the water crisis in China. Look past angst on the streets of Bangladesh. If you want to see how extreme the effects of surging food prices are becoming, look to wealthy Japan.
So big are the increases that economists are buzzing about them pushing deflationary Japan toward inflation. Yes, rising costs for commodities such as wheat, corn and coffee might do what trillions of dollars of central-bank liquidity couldn’t.
Yet the economic consequences of food prices pale in comparison with the social ones. Nowhere could the fallout be greater than Asia, where a critical mass of those living on less than $2 a day reside. It might have major implications for Asia’s debt outlook. It may have even bigger ones for leaders hoping to keep the peace and avoid mass protests.
What a difference a few months can make. Back in, say, October, the chatter was about Asia’s invulnerability to Wall Street’s woes. Now, governments in Jakarta, Manila and New Delhi are grappling with their own subprime crisis of sorts. This one reflects a toxic mix of suboptimal food stocks, exploding demand, wacky weather and zero interest rates around the globe.