Bread Lines in Egypt

As reported in an article titled “In the Breadline” by The Egyptian Gazette, the Egyptian government intends to scale back its bread welfare program. This is leading to all sorts of speculation about actual famine conditions occurring. It never ceases to amaze me how government interference in the economy can wreak such havoc.

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In the ancient world, Egypt was considered to be a bread basket due to its enormous agricultural productivity. Indeed, the rise of civilization in Egypt went hand-in-hand with increasingly sophisticated farming methods. As such, ruling Egypt became a very lucrative endeavor. This never escaped notice of neighboring peoples. Hyksos, Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, … all succumbed to the lure of the wealth created by productive agriculture and invaded Egypt.

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Augustus as high priest. Image from:

When Gaius Octavius defeated Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra VII and became Augustus, Egypt was proclaimed an imperial province, strictly off limits to any Roman senator. Augustus realized that the wealth extracted from Egypt was instrumental in consolidating his hold on the Roman state and instituting the principate. He also realized that its resources could be used by a would be usurper.

Fast forward to today. The Nile still provides the conditions for productive agriculture and modern technology has dramatically increased crop yields, yet government interventionism has so ruined the agriculture industry that the Egyptian people are facing possible starvation.

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