I read an interesting article today about how financial speculators may have contributed to a spike in world food prices in 2006/2007: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-how-goldman-gambled-on-starvation-2016088.html.
While none of these ideas are particularly new to me, the article brings together many issues in one place that underlines the horrible state that our global food system is in. Export crop pricing, government agricultural subsidies around the world (that really only benefit large agrifood corporations), trading of crops as derivatives in the market. This article mostly addresses that last bit, which I think is the scariest, because do we really want the price of food to be determined by speculation in the stock market??? Of course, we're all complicit in this whether we like it or not, because our bank deposits, pension plans, RRSPs, etc. all have their fingers in stock markets and we as individual investors have no real say, other than the biggest say of all...our demand for increased returns. So let's not demonize these institutions without considering how our own demand for high returns continues to push them to squeeze profits from any product they can find.
And that's really the clincher...if we want to earn interest on our bank deposits (little as it seems) and invest in mutual funds, index funds, etc., then our money is being invested by financial institutions who care little, if at all, for the nature of what's making the money (commodity speculation, derivatives, esoteric instruments, etc.) and only that the returns are worthwhile. Certainly, there are socially responsible investment funds and financial institutions out there (more local credit unions come to mind), but even they hold 'blue chip' and 'safe' stocks like those for the big 5 Canadian banks and other such institutions, which in their turn, profit from morally blind investing. What's the alternative? Back to stuffing the mattress or some other hidey hole with cash? Or maybe gold bars ;P
If I thought government had the power or the competence to regulate some of the sketchier investment schemes out there, I'd be all for increased regulation, but if there's one thing I hope I'm not naive about, it's that money makers will always come up with products that either fool or fly under the radar of government regulation.
Really, the only way these products won't be bought and sold is if we weren't greedy and didn't want to make high returns on our investment dollar. I wonder what a world of minimal savings but high circulation of available cash would look like...wait, I think that's how most farmers live! With the addition of high debt. A large proportion of farmers only make enough cash flow to pay down interest on their debt and can't repay capital until they retire and sell their farm land, which is valued by banks more at their development value than farm productive capacity. This means farmers are leveraged to the hilt based on high land value, but can't actually make enough money from farm products over the years to actually re-own their farmland. Again, the banks win.
Anyway, I certainly don't have the answers to all these issues. The last thing I expect is for humanity to become less greedy. Luckily, I get to spend the majority of my time managing growing plants and bringing great vegetables to people. Maybe after I've finished paying off my debts over the years, I can start saving up to buy some gold ingots to bury somewhere on the farm. Or maybe I'll find a man, get married, have kids and make them support me in my old age ;P That is how things used to run before retirement and RRSPs became the norm!