Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We Are Now One Year Away From Global Riots, Complex Systems Theorists Say

Always reminding ourselves that just as using the tools of markets (bid/ask etc.) does not make cap-and-trade* market-based, using the tools of science (maths) does not make sociology a science.
Economists can use a lot of math and the great majority failed to forecast the recent unpleasantness.

Still we remain hopeful that we can make a buck or two from the Complex Systems Institute's output.
Plus, the NECSI faculty seem pretty credentialed and could probably get away with an actual argumentum ad verecundiam rather than the fallacious type.

From Motherboard:
What’s the number one reason we riot? The plausible, justifiable motivations of trampled-upon humanfolk to fight back are many—poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement, etc—but the big one is more primal than any of the above. It’s hunger, plain and simple. If there’s a single factor that reliably sparks social unrest, it’s food becoming too scarce or too expensive. So argues a group of complex systems theorists in Cambridge, and it makes sense.

In a 2011 paper, researchers at the Complex Systems Institute unveiled a model that accurately explained why the waves of unrest that swept the world in 2008 and 2011 crashed when they did. The number one determinant was soaring food prices. Their model identified a precise threshold for global food prices that, if breached, would lead to worldwide unrest.

The MIT Technology Review explains how CSI’s model works: “The evidence comes from two sources. The first is data gathered by the United Nations that plots the price of food against time, the so-called food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The second is the date of riots around the world, whatever their cause.” Plot the data, and it looks like this:

Pretty simple. Black dots are the food prices, red lines are the riots. In other words, whenever the UN’s food price index, which measures the monthly change in the price of a basket of food commodities, climbs above 210, the conditions ripen for social unrest around the world. CSI doesn’t claim that any breach of 210 immediately leads to riots, obviously; just that the probability that riots will erupt grows much greater. For billions of people around the world, food comprises up to 80% of routine expenses (for rich-world people like you and I, it’s like 15%). When prices jump, people can’t afford anything else; or even food itself. And if you can’t eat—or worse, your family can’t eat—you fight....MORE
HT: naked capitalism
*For new readers: I've adopted the carbon-tax-and-100% rebate as the only method that would have some effect on global temperature (vs. Kyoto's 0.07 °C [you read that right]) and doesn't put fortunes into the oligarchs pockets.
This view is informed by the something on the order of 100,000 pages on alt-energy, economics, science, finance and poliSci that I've read over the twenty years since the Rio Summit.

Combined with being at the market for pretty much my entire adult life, focusing on energy and ag, and thinking that Alan Sokal's "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" was hilarious, I end up with plenty of solitude at parties.

It's a view that aspires to pragmatism, exemplified by the choice of the first recipient of the Climateer Our Hero award back in April 2007:

The 26th Secretary of War, the Democrat and Republican (!) Senator from Pennsylvania, Simon Cameron:

Our Hero
Simon Cameron
"The honest politician is one who 
when he is bought, will stay bought."