The Bush in Mouth Syndrome

Ladies and Gentlemen, according to George W Bush, ‘people eat more as they earn more’. So, Mr Bush, now that you are earning more, you eat more than what you did previously? I am not an economist, so I cannot tell you if there is any direct link between people’s eating habits and their income. However, I can definitely say that Mr Bush’s assertion that almost borders on an accusation is not only incorrect, but also extremely absurd.

Following up on comments made by his Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice, the US President has iterated that one of the major factors behind the global food crisis, its shortages and the consequent rise in its prices is increasing demand in China and India. These two fast growing economies, according to Bush, are spawning a huge middle class, which, with increasing prosperity, is striving to improve its quality and quantity of nutrition.

Before holding the Indian and Chinese middle class responsible for the current food crisis, Mr Bush should have contemplated some aspects of US policy. First is the matter of biofuels. The US and other countries, pre-eminently Brazil, have been increasingly diverting land for the cultivation of crops that can be converted to biofuels as also setting aside food crops for the same purpose. Economists throughout the world have pointed out that this is unwise in the extreme and is responsible to a large extent for the food shortages that are currently being experienced.

Despite this, Mr Bush iterated, after the comments on Indian and Chinese responsibility, that he remained committed to his biofuels policy. Then, of course, we have the small matter of US subsidies for agriculture. The US presumes to lecture the whole world on the benefits of the free market and the multilateral lending agencies controlled by the White House impose, among other policies, relentless subsidies to its farmers. It will not budge from its position, which is why the WTO Doha round of talks failed and still remain deadlocked. Closer to the point, cheap food from the US is driving out many small and marginal farmers from their occupations with farming becoming an unprofitable and unviable way of making a living. As a result, in many countries food production is rising at a rate lower than that of population growth. This is one of the major reasons for the food shortages and rising prices. Besides, the US still remains, per capitia, the biggest consumer of foodstuff.

Mr Bush and Ms Rice may well be right, but the bluntness of their statements has left many fuming. The ‘we-know-all’ US administration and Bush, in particular, did not dwell on the fact that because of the problem of plenty, Americans waste more food than could feed the poor of an entire continent. The real reason for this latest ‘Bushism’, which as usual does not stand substantial statistical data, seems to be a manifestation of his disappointment with the Indian administration. The nuclear deal is hanging; no quick orders for 126 multi-role combat aircraft and to top it all, India has welcomed someone Bush despises – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The President’s reputation is that of a simple man, who is so transparent that he cannot cloak his real feelings in political correctness. His latest faux pas is in line with many others, which have already filled at least two volumes of books.

Anupam Dhar

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