In accounts of the political unrest sweeping through the Middle East, one factor, inflation, deserves more attention. Nothing can be more demoralizing to people at the low end of the income scale—where great masses in that region reside—than increases in the cost of basic necessities like food and fuel. It brings them out into the streets to protest government policies, especially in places where mass protests are the only means available to shake the existing power structure.
About the only one failing to acknowledge a problem seems to be the man most responsible, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. In a recent question-and-answer session at the National Press Club in Washington, the chairman said it was "unfair" to accuse the Fed of exporting inflation. Other nations, he said, have the same tools the Fed has for controlling inflation.
Well, not quite. Consider, for example, that much of world trade, particularly in basic commodities like food grains and oil, is denominated in U.S. dollars. When the Fed floods the world with dollars, the dollar price of commodities goes up, and this affects market prices generally, particularly in poor countries that are heavily import-dependent. Export-dependent nations like China try to maintain exchange-rate stability by inflating their own currencies to buy up dollars.
Greenspan is still killing, but I think Zimbabwe Ben will easily exceed Greenspan's Body Count with the latest middle East violence and the less visible, but far more widespread, third world hunger.