Stephen E. Arnold: Predictive Analytics, Food Prices, Revolution

Commercial Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold

Civic Predictive Analysis Proving Accurate

We find the field of predictive analysis fascinating (see here, here, and here, for example), and now we have more evidence of how important this work can be. Motherboard reports on “The Math that Predicted the Revolutions Sweeping the Globe Right Now.” The key component: high food prices. Writer Brian Merchant explains:

“There’s at least one common thread between the disparate nations, cultures, and people in conflict, one element that has demonstrably proven to make these uprisings more likely: high global food prices.

Just over a year ago, complex systems theorists at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned us that if food prices continued to climb, so too would the likelihood that there would be riots across the globe. Sure enough, we’re seeing them now. The paper’s author, Yaneer Bar-Yam, charted the rise in the FAO food price index—a measure the UN uses to map the cost of food over time—and found that whenever it rose above 210, riots broke out worldwide. It happened in 2008 after the economic collapse, and again in 2011, when a Tunisian street vendor who could no longer feed his family set himself on fire in protest.”

Bar-Yam’s model forewarned about the Arab Spring and the Tunisian self-immolation. Well, not those specific ways unrest would manifest, but that something big and ugly was bound to happen. Similarly, the same model divined that there would be conflicts around the world this year—as we have seen in the Ukraine, Venezuela, Brazil, Thailand, Bosnia, Syria, Spain, France, Sweden…. Last year’s global food prices were the third-highest on record; this is no coincidence. See the article for more on Bar-Yam’s methods as well as specific links between food scarcity and some of the conflicts currently shaking the world.

What can this technology do, besides hand a few of us a big bucket of “I-told-you-so”? Armed with this information, policymakers could take steps to modify the way the global marketplace is run and stop (at least some, possibly most) food shortages before they start. This means powerful people from many countries would have to work together to make major changes on a global scale for the good of humanity. With money involved. Hey, anything’s possible, right?

Cynthia Murrell, March 19, 2014

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