What Makes America Immune to Food Rioting Contagion
Veronika Dolar and Panos Mourdoukoutas??
America seems to be immune to the food rioting contagion, and for a good reason, obesity. As evidenced by the size of their waist, Americans are better positioned to withstand rising food prices than the people of countries like Tunisia where the contagion started. According to World Heath Organization (WHO), 22.03 percent of American are overweight and 1.35 percent underweight-that is starvation is virtually non-exist. By contrast, 8.69 percent of Tunisians are overweight and 7.59 percent underweight-that is starvation is an existing problem that leaves people little choice but to take the streets.
Obesity further makes America immune to public that is usually associated with rising income inequalities that support and re-enforce social unrest. Economists have been pointing out for some time now that income and wealth inequality, by many measures (e.g. wages, jobs, taxes), is now greater than it has been since the 1920s. However, American people seem to be oblivious of this situation. A recent survey shows that on average Americans grossly underestimate how unequal the distribution of wealth in this country and want the distribution to be "even more" equal than their gross underestimate (see Building a Better America - One Wealth Quintile at a Time by Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely). In addition, in the recent elections the American voters opted for more republican and tea party candidates, whose policies are obviously against redistribution and more egalitarian policies. Historically, high income and wealth inequality have been associated with poor and starving masses that were driven by their desperation to take to the streets and overthrow the regime. The hunger has historically been an instigator of revolutions and civil wars. In fact "Bread and Games" became the solution in Rome between 200 BC and 300 AD when it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the people happy and keeping them from starting the revolution against the system, against repression and exploitation.
Fortunately, this hasn't been the case in the advanced capitalist world, as technological advances have lowered the cost of food, especially the cost of fats and sweeteners used in high calorie prepackaged snacks and drinks. Today, the average American spends significantly less income on food as compared to 50 years ago. Food is cheaper, especially government subsidized packaged food (syrup used in snacks comes from heavily subsidized corn) that is purchased in bulk and stored in large garages and basements. This isn't the case in less developed countries, where people still spend a large proportion of their income on food, and high-calorie prepackaged food is still expensive, especially for those in the "bottom of the pyramid," who lack the credit and the storage space to purchase food in bulk.
?Low price high-calorie food has been the main cause for the recent obesity epidemic. And it is due to the expanding waist that Americans are not more outraged by the income inequality in this country. As long as our bellies are full, and our direct survival is not threatened, there is no need to revolt against the status quo.??
Americans are not only full; they are stuffed. How can we complain about income inequality and unfairness when at the same time our bellies are getting bigger by the minute? How can we complain that we don't have enough, when it is obvious, that we have more than enough money to buy food, way too much food???
Recent studies have also linked obesity to the depression and lethargy. Our full bellies and food induced stupor can very easily spill over to apathy in politics where we no longer care who is winning the local and national elections and what policies they pursue. As long as the average American waist grows, our politicians do not have to worry about riots and revolutions. American capitalism is safe.??
Veronika Dolar and Panos Mourdoukoutas are Professor at the Economics Department of the C.W.Post Campus of Long Island University. They are currently working on a book, The Six Rules of Intelligent Dieting: Wisdom from Economists on Living the Healthy and Fit Life