“Undesirable side effects of the market”
From Der Spiegel:
The room in which the world’s food is distributed looks everything but appetizing. Bits of paper and disposable cups litter the trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). Sweaty men in bright yellow, blue or red jackets walk around, seemingly oblivious of the debris beneath their feet, waving their hands, shouting and scrapping over futures contracts for soybeans, pork bellies or wheat.
Here, in the trading room of the world’s largest commodity futures exchange, decisions are made about the prices of food — and, by extension, the fates of millions of people. Those decisions affect both hunger on the planet and the wealth of individual investors.
For Alan Knuckman, there is hardly a nicer place than the CBOT trading floor. “This is capitalism in its purest form,” the commodities expert raves. “This is where millionaires are made.” The 42-year-old’s face shines with a boyish glow — perhaps because he has never stopped playing.
Knuckman refers to the fact that the poorest of the poor can no longer pay for their food as “undesirable side effects of the market.” Halima Abubakar, a 25-year-old Kenyan woman, is experiencing these supposed side effects at first hand.
She is sitting in her corrugated metal hut in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum, wondering what to put on the table this evening for her husband and their two children. Until now, the Abubakars were among the higher earners in Kibera. The family managed to feed itself adequately with the monthly salary of €150 that Halima’s husband earns as a prison guard.
But that has suddenly become difficult. The price of corn meal, the most important food staple in Kenya, is now at a record high after increasing by more than 100 percent in only five months. Potato prices went up by a third, milk is also more expensive, and so are vegetables.
Abubakar doesn’t know why this is the case. She only knows that she suddenly has to pay close attention to how she spends the family’s meager daily food budget of about 300 shillings (€2.30). Her first step was to switch to a cheaper brand of corn meal. It doesn’t taste of much, but at least it fills one’s stomach. She sometimes goes without her own lunch so that her children can have enough to eat.