cover image Price Wars: How the Commodities Market Made Our Chaotic World

Price Wars: How the Commodities Market Made Our Chaotic World

Rupert Russell. Doubleday, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-54585-3

Documentary filmmaker and sociologist Russell debuts with a harrowing look at the disastrous consequences of financial speculation. Contending that recent political and social turmoil in Iraq, Ukraine, Venezuela, and other countries has been triggered by irrational price shocks that don’t correspond to actual issues of supply and demand, Russell details how small market movements are amplified and manipulated by hedge fund managers and commodities traders seeking to deliver consistent profits regardless of real-world conditions. Among a plethora of disturbing case studies, Russell describes how oil wealth generated by market speculation fueled corruption and then caused ruinous hyperinflation in Venezuela; explains how artificially low coffee prices, climate change, and agricultural debt led to a surge in migration from Guatemala toward the U.S.; notes that the terrorist organization al-Shabaab drove down cattle prices in Somalia during a 2010–2011 drought in order to compel desperate farmers to join their ranks; and contends that Western governments suspending “the rules of the game” to prop up their economies during the Covid-19 pandemic only underscores how much arbitrary control markets and prices have over the global economy. Deeply reported and thoroughly accessible, this investigation into the far-reaching consequences of economic speculation deserves a wide readership. (Feb.)