Monday, June 20, 2011


Phobotherapy is the use of fear to effect a cure.

When you startle a person out of hiccuping that's phobotherapy.

In modern multilateral diplomacy phobotherapy has become a sophisticated art. It usually consists of issuing an expert report predicting something really scary. The report gets wide media attention because editors are patsies for anything that will frighten people into reading (or listening to) what they put out. Once that happens the phobotherapist's goal is achieved, for the experts who make government policy dare not ignore something widely covered in the media and will at least pretend to do something official to avoid the projected scary scenario.

The problem with these efforts to scare the world into particular courses of action is that they seldom push for balanced or appropriate responses to the problem.

Those who first sounded the alarm about the "population explosion" wanted "population control" imposed by governments through prevention and termination of pregnancies.

The environmental crises facing the world have brought forth policies to deal with symptoms: pollution standards, emission controls, and bidiversity preserves.

The problem of drug trafficking led governments to adopt prohibitionist policies that raised the prices of illicit drugs and made traffickers (and their government protectors) fabulously rich men.

In each case, the phobotherapists diverted attention from real problems and solutions to matters important to their own clientele. The population controllers were frank about their concerns that the poor dark skinned races were growing too fast. Those who prescribed the currently fashionable "environmental programmes" diverted attention from the fact that the basic problem is industrial civilization, and that no amount of norm-setting will make it sustainable. It must be fundamentally reoriented. The forces that have pushed a losing and futile "war against drugs" have quite successfully frightened people away from the only sensible option, to legalize drugs and treat it as a problem of addiction. That would remove the criminal engagement in drug trafficking and make the problem mainly medical.

Having painted in that background, let me come to the latest effort at phobotherapy. It is a joint report from the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome and the Brussels-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The two organizations warn of a 30 per cent increase in food prices -- by 2021. The causes? Slower growth in major food crops and continued growth of world population, expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050. (The use of different time horizons to present a magnified danger is typical of phobotherapists.)

The report wants action against speculators, and "strict rules" to govern factors that "distort" world food trade. The next meeting of the G-20 is expected to take those matters in hand and bring "regulation" to the world food market.

Now what could be the secret agenda of this particular bit of phoboherapy? It is, surprise, surprise, to protect the interests of transnational agrobusinesses. The report says nothing about the fact that the existing "global market" for food is a highly energy-intensive system that is enormously wasteful of food. Corporate farming of mega tracts is environmentally destructive and always less productive than family run farms. The treatment of animals subjected to "factory farming" is cruel beyond belief and also environmentally disastrous because so much consumption and waste are concentrated in such small areas.

Nor does the report mention that "speculators" would have no handle on the world's food economy if we cut out the big corporations and promoted the development of local, national and regional food economies. Such systems are far more efficient, would employ millions more workers and could easily feed the projected world population and more. At present, about a third of the world's agricultural production is not consumed; it is lost to rot, pests and other forms of wastage. Merely decreasing that percentage should take care of inflation.

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