We Are Now One Year Away From Global Riots, Complex Systems Theorists Say

Riot PoliceBrain Merchant writes at Motherboard:

What’s the number one reason we riot? The plausible, justifiable motivations of trampled-upon humanfolk to fight back are many—poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement, etc—but the big one is more primal than any of the above. It’s hunger, plain and simple. If there’s a single factor that reliably sparks social unrest, it’s food becoming too scarce or too expensive. So argues a group of complex systems theorists in Cambridge, and it makes sense.

In a 2011 paper, researchers at the Complex Systems Institute unveiled a model that accurately explained why the waves of unrest that swept the world in 2008 and 2011 crashed when they did. The number one determinant was soaring food prices. Their model identified a precise threshold for global food prices that, if breached, would lead to worldwide unrest.

The MIT Technology Review explains how CSI’s model works: “The evidence comes from two sources. The first is data gathered by the United Nations that plots the price of food against time, the so-called food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The second is the date of riots around the world, whatever their cause.” Plot the data, and it looks like this:

Pretty simple. Black dots are the food prices, red lines are the riots. In other words, whenever the UN’s food price index, which measures the monthly change in the price of a basket of food commodities, climbs above 210, the conditions ripen for social unrest around the world. CSI doesn’t claim that any breach of 210 immediately leads to riots, obviously; just that the probability that riots will erupt grows much greater. For billions of people around the world, food comprises up to 80% of routine expenses (for rich-world people like you and I, it’s like 15%). When prices jump, people can’t afford anything else; or even food itself. And if you can’t eat—or worse, your family can’t eat—you fight.

But how accurate is the model? An anecdote the researchers outline in the report offers us an idea. They write that “on December 13, 2010, we submitted a government report analyzing the repercussions of the global financial crises, and directly identifying the risk of social unrest and political instability due to food prices.” Four days later, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire as an act of protest in Tunisia. And we all know what happened after that.

Read more here.

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  • DeepCough

    A year? But I can’t wait that long!

  • DeepCough

    A year? But I can’t wait that long!

    • Miracles

      I know, right?  I’m bored as fuck right now and there’s nothing on TV except for this lame boring “presidential debates”

    • Miracles

      I know, right?  I’m bored as fuck right now and there’s nothing on TV except for this lame boring “presidential debates”

    • Miracles

      I know, right?  I’m bored as fuck right now and there’s nothing on TV except for this lame boring “presidential debates”

    • Jin The Ninja

       facetious or not, i’m in agreement.

    • Jin The Ninja

       facetious or not, i’m in agreement.

      • DeepCough

        In case of future prosecution, that, for the record, was purely facetious.

      • DeepCough

        In case of future prosecution, that, for the record, was purely facetious.

  • Neoclassic

    “For billions of people around the world, food comprises up to 80% of routine expenses”
    Neoclassical yeconomist: Those billions of people around the world obviously prefer food, because they get higher utility from it, than from cars or computers. If those people are unemployed, it is because  they prefer leisure or they ask for too high wages. Higher prices on food will attract producers to produce more and price will be driven down till equilibrium will be restored. Those countries should save more, as our solow model says. That is how our models predict and how normal people behave everywhere, except those stupid billions of people. Obviously those billions of people don’t live in my  world. I live in imaginary world, get my real wage from student debt, I don’t spend 80% of routine expenses on food, because I prefer gold watches and luxury cars. Of course, not imaginary. I don’t know what is hunger. If those  billions of people around the world don’t want to be hungry, they should spend less on food, because our models say that who spent less on food are usually rich. Simply don’t eat and you will be rich.   

  • Neoclassic

    “For billions of people around the world, food comprises up to 80% of routine expenses”
    Neoclassical yeconomist: Those billions of people around the world obviously prefer food, because they get higher utility from it, than from cars or computers. If those people are unemployed, it is because  they prefer leisure or they ask for too high wages. Higher prices on food will attract producers to produce more and price will be driven down till equilibrium will be restored. Those countries should save more, as our solow model says. That is how our models predict and how normal people behave everywhere, except those stupid billions of people. Obviously those billions of people don’t live in my  world. I live in imaginary world, get my real wage from student debt, I don’t spend 80% of routine expenses on food, because I prefer gold watches and luxury cars. Of course, not imaginary. I don’t know what is hunger. If those  billions of people around the world don’t want to be hungry, they should spend less on food, because our models say that who spent less on food are usually rich. Simply don’t eat and you will be rich.   

  • Honu

    A year away?  Aren’t we already there?  Greece, Occupy WS, London student riots.  Or is this talking about a thorough social breakdown here?  I’m all for it.  Anyone who doesn’t see which way the wind is blowing is a f-cking ignoramus. Can’t wait to see what we come up with out of the rubble of this global breakdown.

  • Honu

    A year away?  Aren’t we already there?  Greece, Occupy WS, London student riots.  Or is this talking about a thorough social breakdown here?  I’m all for it.  Anyone who doesn’t see which way the wind is blowing is a f-cking ignoramus. Can’t wait to see what we come up with out of the rubble of this global breakdown.

  • Unknown

    Are they talking about next year…or what?…If not lets just go start this shit now! ;) hahaha…

  • Unknown

    Are they talking about next year…or what?…If not lets just go start this shit now! ;) hahaha…

  • alizardx

    First World readers shouldn’t feel left out. It’s only a matter of time before this problem spreads out of the Third World. The industrial agriculture of today depends on cheap oil.

  • alizardx

    First World readers shouldn’t feel left out. It’s only a matter of time before this problem spreads out of the Third World. The industrial agriculture of today depends on cheap oil.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    Interestingly, unlike most third world and developing countries, 30% of Americans engage in small scale gardening and many know how to do this without petrochemical farm aids. Additionally, Americans are more rural and usually have more personal land for growing than developing countries. Plus, Uncle Homeland subsidizes the food industry with farm subsidies and food stamps. And Americans are the most obese on the planet.

    So I don’t see food based riots in the US for quite some time. But I can see Uncle Homeland using this situation as a weapon.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    Interestingly, unlike most third world and developing countries, 30% of Americans engage in small scale gardening and many know how to do this without petrochemical farm aids. Additionally, Americans are more rural and usually have more personal land for growing than developing countries. Plus, Uncle Homeland subsidizes the food industry with farm subsidies and food stamps. And Americans are the most obese on the planet.

    So I don’t see food based riots in the US for quite some time. But I can see Uncle Homeland using this situation as a weapon.

    • InfvoCuernos

       Except for all those hip urban dwellers who can’t grow anything but black mold.  Those people are fucked.  Coincidentally, they’ll be the ones in position to do the most damage when its time to riot. 
      If you look through history, starvation always brings war as well as riots.  If you want to bring war, the easiest way is to starve your populace.  Nobody grabs a gun quicker than a father watching his kids go hungry. 

    • InfvoCuernos

       Except for all those hip urban dwellers who can’t grow anything but black mold.  Those people are fucked.  Coincidentally, they’ll be the ones in position to do the most damage when its time to riot. 
      If you look through history, starvation always brings war as well as riots.  If you want to bring war, the easiest way is to starve your populace.  Nobody grabs a gun quicker than a father watching his kids go hungry. 

    • alizardx

      Where does just about everyone get seed? An increasing number of food crops are hybridized in such a way that even those who know how to save seed won’t get anything useful. There’s the heirloom seed community, but only a small percentage of people who garden know anything about this.

    • alizardx

      Where does just about everyone get seed? An increasing number of food crops are hybridized in such a way that even those who know how to save seed won’t get anything useful. There’s the heirloom seed community, but only a small percentage of people who garden know anything about this.

  • Heath

    Fuck really? So I have to sit in this bunker full of food for a one more year. Well back to watching Fox…

  • Heath

    Fuck really? So I have to sit in this bunker full of food for a one more year. Well back to watching Fox…

  • Vittu

    Looking forward to it.

  • Vittu

    Looking forward to it.

  • Monkey See Monkey Do

    time-wave zero food.

  • Monkey See Monkey Do

    time-wave zero food.

  • JaceD

    It’s funny… More and more people across the world feel this imminent sense of revolution / change / a major event about to happen. I believe it stems from a greater source than economics and a simple acknowledgement of current global events. I wonder what it means.

  • JaceD

    It’s funny… More and more people across the world feel this imminent sense of revolution / change / a major event about to happen. I believe it stems from a greater source than economics and a simple acknowledgement of current global events. I wonder what it means.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Miller/100000952005408 Bruce Miller

    With the Obama/Romney elections America is at a cross-roads – both leading to economic disaster. China admits to Thorium power by 2017, giving that nation and the Pan Eurasian Alliances freedom form oil, freedom form enriched Uranium reactor wastes and the outstripping of the American economy in very short order. American “rut” only growing deeper daily with even more loans from China and more “Money Printing” without goods production by the Feds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Miller/100000952005408 Bruce Miller

    With the Obama/Romney elections America is at a cross-roads – both leading to economic disaster. China admits to Thorium power by 2017, giving that nation and the Pan Eurasian Alliances freedom form oil, freedom form enriched Uranium reactor wastes and the outstripping of the American economy in very short order. American “rut” only growing deeper daily with even more loans from China and more “Money Printing” without goods production by the Feds.

  • http://www.paranoidwriter.com/ paranoidwriter

    Reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson writing about how Ilya Prigogine’s Dissipative Structures/Systems theory applies to individuals and society as a whole: how such complex structures are always teetering between breakdown and breakthrough; but that even when they breakdown they usually reform into a system of higher cohesion.

  • http://www.paranoidwriter.com/ paranoidwriter

    Reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson writing about how Ilya Prigogine’s Dissipative Structures/Systems theory applies to individuals and society as a whole: how such complex structures are always teetering between breakdown and breakthrough; but that even when they breakdown they usually reform into a system of higher cohesion.

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