Who Moved My Pork?

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It’s always a good idea to pay attention to pork, and I say that not just because it’s so tasty. In China pork is a leading economic indicator. It’s the most consumed meat, especially among the poor, and when prices have gone up over the past year consumers have squealed. The biggest complaint among foreigners and well-off Chinese I’ve heard this year has been about air pollution, but among common folk it is always the cost of the other white meat. When prices spiked over the summer, one of my Chinese neighbors kept track of how many days it had been since he had a taste. Reports out of south China indicate that in recent days the city of Guangzhou has seen its highest swine prices so far this year, indicating the worst may not be over.

Some economists I talked with earlier this year said that the 6.5% increase in the consumer price index that was posted in August—the biggest rise in more than 10 years—was temporary and the government would get prices under control by fall. Price increases contributed to the Tiananmen protests in 1989 and public discontent in the mid-90s, something that surely crossed their minds. But then the CPI for October also came in at 6.5%, and suddenly it seems like those high prices aren’t going to fade away or even ease. The Chinese-language Information Daily reported that in recent days the southern city of Guangzhou has seen its highest prices for pork this year. Given people’s focus on the subject in Beijing, my neighbors will soon declare whether the trend has spread to the capital.

In other pork news, the Southern Metropolis Daily reports on large-scale pig rustling in Guangdong province. The paper also lists some thefts going back to March, so it’s hard to draw a direct connection between the recent prices and the recent crime. Still, the latest case was particularly brazen–armed robbers making off with 85 animals. If prices keep up, no swine will be safe.