Dark Futures: Super-Rich Farmers and Derivatives Markets in an Unstable World
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This chapter considers the domestic and international ramifications of the financialization of US agriculture. It finds that the wave of uprisings in the Middle East from 2010 to 2011 coincided with a period of heightened prosperity for farmers at the very top of the US income hierarchy. We argue that the dynamics of financialization link these two phenomena together. On the one hand, financialization has generated significant benefits for super-rich farmers relative to other agricultural producers. On the other hand, it probably exacerbated food price volatility. Sharp food price rises, in turn, accentuated long-standing political grievances in the Middle East and helped catalyse a wave of protests that has variously resulted in revolutionary upheaval, consolidated authoritarian rule and bloody civil war. We predict that during the next upsurge in agricultural prices, weakly regulated futures markets may once again compound market instability and trigger further social turmoil.
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