Take the highest stakes, riskiest economic behaviour ever devised, and marry it to the most fundamental basic need of humankind, and you have the subject of this report.
Over the past decade, the world’s most powerful financial institutions have developed ever more elaborate ways to package, re-package and trade a range of financial contracts known as derivatives. A derivative is not based on an exchange of tangible assets such as goods or money, but rather is a financial contract with a value linked to the expected future price movements of the underlying asset. Derivative contracts are traded on a growing number of underlying assets, from share prices, to mortgages, bonds, commodity prices, foreign exchange rates, and even index of prices.
Derivatives trading has been one of the most lucrative parts of the financial industry, but it is the increasingly complex, opaque and disconnected nature of these and similar products that ultimately triggered the collapse of the banks and the worst financial crisis in human history.
Of course, the financial crisis has been an economic disaster of seismic proportions for millions around the world, plunging many countries into recession causing millions to be thrown out of work, soaring public debts and cuts in vital public services.
But while betting on the value of sub-prime mortgages or foreign currency values undoubtedly leads to disastrous consequences, there is another area where the speculative behaviour of the world’s largest banks and hedge funds represents a threat to the very survival of people: food commodities.
In The great hunger lottery, World Development Movement has compiled extensive evidence establishing the role of food commodity derivatives in destabilising and driving up food prices around the world. This in turn, has led to food prices becoming unaffordable for low-income families around the world, particularly in developing countries highly reliant on food imports.
In the report we describe how the current situation came to pass, the risks of another speculation induced food crisis, and what specifically can be done by policymakers here in the UK as well as in the US and EU to tackle the problem.
But at its heart, The great hunger lottery carries a very straightforward message: allowing gambling on hunger in financial markets is dangerous, immoral and indefensible. And it needs to be stopped before any more people suffer to satisfy the greed of the banks.