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Wall Street, Not the Kremlin, Is Primarily to Blame for Rising Commodity Prices

By Rupert Russell

'On July 5, the markets admitted they made a mistake. Despite betting for months that the war in Ukraine would produce a global shortage of wheat, speculators now believe that the hostilities will have had no meaningful impact on supply. That’s why the news that Russia will allow Ukraine’s Black Sea wheat exports to resume has barely registered. By the time that the belligerents came to this agreement on July 21, prices had already been “corrected” sharply downward to prewar levels. Then on August 4, oil prices also sank below their prewar price, marking a second admission by the market. Right now, just as much oil flows into the veins of the global economy as it did before the war began.

The Kremlin’s war did not create a Malthusian nightmare of too little food and fuel for too many people. But financial speculators in Wall Street and the City of London bet that it would, causing global prices to boom — and now bust. This speculation led to months of eye-watering prices based not on economic fundamentals but perception.

Soaring food and fuel prices pushed 71 million of the world’s most vulnerable people into extreme poverty. The high prices triggered protests in Argentina, Chile, Cyprus, Greece, Guinea, Ghana, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Lebanon, Palestine, Peru, Sudan, and Tunisia. In Sri Lanka, the prices sparked protests, toppled the prime minister, created a debt crisis, and last week deposed the president. Commodity driven inflation also hit the United States, hammered Joe Biden’s approval ratings, and despite now falling gas prices may have already condemned the Democrats to humiliating defeats in the coming midterms.

Why did the markets get it so wrong? As the Nobel laureate Robert Shiller has shown, behind every price move there is a narrative. In the weeks following the war’s outbreak, headlines issued dire warnings of crippling sanctions, embargoed oil, stranded wheat rotting in silos, blocked Russian ports, and Black Sea blockades. All of these stories were, in a literal sense, true. But the question is whether these “facts” justified the skyrocketing prices that followed...'

Read Rupert's full article on Jacobin.


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