The Canary in the Coal Mine

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Recently by Simon Black: Countries That Can Weather the Age of Turmoil

     

Laos is a small, landlocked economy in Southeast Asia that’s often overlooked in favor of its neighbors: Thailand, China, and even Cambodia. But there are a few important factors that set Laos apart and lead me to believe that, when it comes to inflation, the country is the canary in the coal mine.

First, Laos is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Asia; with just 6.3 million people, its numbers pale in comparison to regional neighbors such as Burma (50 million), Thailand (67 million) and Bangladesh (162 million).

The other thing that’s important about Laos is that the country is home to some of the most fertile soil in the world: more than 20% of its land mass is ripe for agricultural use. This is an astounding number, and it’s no wonder that agriculture makes up the preponderance of the Laotian economy.

Put another way, Laos, with its vast resources and small population, might loosely be considered an agricultural version of Kuwait. But Laos is nowhere near as wealthy, since oil is much pricier than rice, soy, and fish.

Given its resources, it certainly seems ironic that the prices of staple foods in Laos, including rice, have soared in recent months, and that the Laotian government is now under intense pressure to “do something” about it.

You expect this sort of thing to happen in Algeria, where the population is 35 million, where only 2% of the land is cultivated, and where agriculture makes up but a tiny percentage of the economy… but in Laos? This is akin to finding Kuwaitis unable to afford filling up their cars due to high gas prices. It’s unthinkable.

Thing is, it’s not that there are food shortages in Laos; this isn’t an issue where supply has failed to keep up with demand (thus resulting in rising prices). The price hikes are simply another indicator of monetary inflation causing severe price inflation, particularly in the developing world.

How does this happen? The trillions of new currency units being compulsively manufactured by central bankers are finding their way to developing countries. This surge heats up local markets, causing prices to rise.

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