The Law of Unintended Consequences

MANILA, April 11 — More than anywhere else in Asia, the soaring price of rice has become a good-vs.-evil drama in the Philippines, one of the world’s largest importers of rice.

Traders who fiddle with the price of the nation’s all-important staple now face life in prison. Police are raiding warehouses in search of hoarders. Soldiers and police have been mobilized to help sell government-subsidized rice to the poor.

Philippines Caught in Rice Squeeze, By Blaine Harden, Washington Post Foreign Service,Saturday, April 12, 2008

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Peace Corps in the late 1980s; in fact, this story was brought to my attention by the discussion list started last year by the organizers of our 20th anniversary reunion.

I keep thinking about how they used to dry the rice on the roads. I’d go for bike rides and have to go around these patches of grain laid out to dry. The farmers had an incredible sense of balance, too, walking over these slippery, mud-covered ridges that separates one rice field from another.

I hate to invoke the old adage of the right-wing economists, but it is ironic that these farmers are now suffering exactly because their crops are suddenly so valuable. Even more ironic, the scarcity of rice seems linked to the demand for ethanol in the west. Maybe the appropriate saying is some variation on ‘feed the fever, starve the cold.’

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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