Would it be possible for a person, or group of people, to take legal action against their government for failure to protect them — and future generations — against a threat they acknowledge in their own publications is a serious one, but about which they are taking no practical action?
Time and again over the past few months I’ve found myself in discussions (both in person and online) with highly intelligent, articulate and well-intentioned people with whom I was completely unable to find a common ground. On a variety of topics… from economic policy to Climate Change, creationism to group psychodynamics, sustainability to local politics, the credit crunch to the oil industry… I find myself totally isolated and end up doubting myself… wondering if maybe I haven’t got it wrong after all.
At the same time, I made a promise to myself when I started studying psychoanalysis and group psychodynamics that I would follow my own research and conclusions wherever they led… even if they led to unpopular or unfamiliar places.
Even so, and I’ll only say this once to get it off my chest and I’ll then shut up about it, lest I appear like I’m whinging (though what else is a personal blog for, if not for whinging?)… I have reached the stage where I’m finding it incredibly frustrating and disheartening that everyone I speak with finds my views wrong-headed or mystifying or objectionable or silly. It’s almost like the only person in the entire world who agrees with me is Gregory Bateson.
And he’s dead.
George Monbiot has written an excellent piece in The Guardian about the unsustainable nature of the modern fishing industry and the destruction it is wreaking on our oceans (Trawlermen cling on as oceans empty of fish – and the ecosystem is gasping).
The comments that follow the article are fairly predictable and fall into two broad categories. The first — and largest group — expressing their agreement with Monbiot and adding their voice to a collective lament about the stupidity of humanity. The second, smaller group, grudgingly admitting that Monbiot has a point (his article largely states obvious truths and refrains from making too many value judgments of the kind that provoke the typical Monbiot-backlash) but bringing up “the tragedy of the commons” to nip in the bud any notion that the reason for this ecological destruction might be free markets, capitalism or the profit motive. In fact, they reason, it’s only happening because we’re not capitalist enough!
The argument is a simple one. Because the fishermen don’t own the oceans, they have no incentive to take care of it. The answer, therefore, is to privatise it. So long as it’s just some indefineable collective thing… “nature”, for want of a better word… people have no interest in protecting it. As soon as it is turned into property, on the other hand, it becomes important enough for the owners to preserve.
Tim Worstall‘s comment sums this position up succinctly:
Yes, it’s the Tragedy of the Commons and as Garrett Hardin pointed out the only way to solve it is to apportion property rights. We can see that the bureaucratic apportionment of quotas doesn’t work for public choice reasons. We thus need to move to the alternative system, direct ownership for the long term of the fishing rights by the fishermen.
I’ve gone over that comment maybe half a dozen times, and I state without exaggeration that it is one of the most depressing statements I’ve ever read. Partly because of the sentiment it expresses and the profound disrespect for nature as a thing in itself that it accepts without resistance — indeed appears to embrace — but mostly because it may well be true. At least in the context of modern civilisation.
To me, the real tragedy of the commons is that we have come to think in such terms.
Unlike almost every other human culture that has ever existed (unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the few exceptions are the “civilised” or “city-building” cultures), we no longer have a sane relationship with nature. The Hopi people didn’t need to apportion property rights to know it was a bad idea to shit in the stream they drank from. There was a basic but very deep understanding that nature — the environment — was a large system of which they were merely a part. This leads to the, I would have thought, blindlingly obvious conclusion that any activity which is clearly destructive to the larger system, is almost inevitably going to be destructive to the culture… the people… the person carrying out the destructive act. And this is the case even if the impact is not immediately apparent. With cities (or perhaps it was large-scale agriculture, it’s hard to know) came the tendency to see a separation between humanity and nature.
To me this represents nothing less than a collective psychosis. A “psychotic break” in as literal a sense as that term could ever be used.
A simple analogy
It’s not at all difficult to follow. Just as an individual human being is part of a wider system (society), so our culture is part of a wider system (the environment*).
Now, imagine an individual who suffers from a delusion which convinces him or her that they are not part of society; that they exist separate and distinct from it; and in fact, it exists simply to satisfy their demands. This belief is so strong that they view and treat all of society, including the very people themselves, as personal property to be exploited as they see fit and without regard for any consequences to that society.
Such a person may well treat others acceptably because they do not wish to damage their property, but this isn’t an indication that they’re not psychotic. And nor is it a guarantee that they won’t cause a considerable amount of suffering with their actions if given free rein. I would certainly question the wisdom of anyone who felt the best thing for all concerned would be to provide them with the tools to act out their delusion and treat society as personal property.
Furthermore, such a person is almost certainly not well-qualified to judge the amount of damage they are doing and, therefore, cannot even be trusted to know when they have begun to threaten their own survival. Self-destructive behaviour is hardly unknown amongst those experiencing psychosis.
A way out?
I’m pretty much convinced that we’ve passed the point where we can simply “reinject” some sense of reality into modern civilisation — at least within the required timespans. Relearning an appreciation of nature as part of us, and of us as part of nature, probably can’t be done quickly enough.
On the other hand, we have actually developed a system, imperfect though it is, which allows us to regulate our collective behaviour with a degree of success… the law. See, when Tim Worstall insists that “the only way to solve” this problem is to apportion property rights, he is clearly mistaken. It would be theoretically possible to declare the oceans to be… oh, I dunno, a Vital Element of Our Survivial? (VEOS? Someone can come up with a better term). A sustainable fishing strategy would be developed (erring always on the sustainable side) and society would employ fishermen to carry it out.
And when Tim speaks of “public choice” being the primary reason why such a strategy might fail, then he may, in practice, be right. But it is clear to me that it’s wrong to allow a psychotic individual to seriously harm themself out of respect for their choice. We understand that there is a high enough probablility that they aren’t currently capable of sound judgment, to warrant intervention out of concern for their well-being.
Likewise, if the public demand fish at an unsustainable rate, then we’re not acting in sound (collective) mind. We need to make it clear to everyone that demanding resources at an unsustainable rate represents a collective madness. We need to make it clear that insofar as morality is linked with the prevention of human suffering, such demands are deeply immoral. We need to make it clear that while such ways of thinking may well be ingrained, we can no longer allow them to dictate our behaviour in the world. We need to ensure that everyone knows new rules — a kind of imposed collective super-ego, if you will — are now required to govern our interaction with the environment.
And yes, those found acting outside the rules would be viewed and treated the same way we would treat anyone who seeks to endanger the survival of millions.
Justin at Chicken Yoghurt has made some suggestions as to how the British Labour Party might reconnect with the electorate in the wake of the sound kicking they received in the local elections this week. His ideas are good ones in my opinion, but they wouldn’t save Labour even if the party was far-sighted enough to implement them. Which it’s not.
In reality, nothing’s going to prevent a Tory victory at the next general election. Well, nothing beyond the wildly implausible. Britain is fed up with Labour. And what’s more, Britain doesn’t like Gordon Brown. The poor bloke is on a hiding to nothing; he’s got no charisma and he’s leading a government that people don’t feel they can trust. In our ultra-mediated world, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Plus the economy won’t be kind to him between now and the next general election. Every Labour soundbite that followed the meltdown this week insisted that the poor result was due to a downturn in the economy. I have news for them… no it wasn’t. The electorate gave you a thrashing because they don’t like you any more. Get your heads around that and you may not spend quite so many years in the wilderness after the next election. That said, the economy will be a major factor at the general election. And not in a good way.
Smart Labour strategists (I assume there are a couple) are already thinking about how best to exploit the predictable mess of 2010 from the opposition benches.
The tragedy of all this is the fact that the electorate don’t have the imagination to look beyond the tories when it comes to choosing a replacement. And they certainly don’t have the imagination for what’s really needed… to look beyond party politics entirely.
I’ve just realised that, despite the title of this post, none of this is very constructive really. But the trouble is — as Burroughs says in Interzone –
We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures, and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decisions [...] The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident; inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.
… and I really don’t see much room for constructive improvement until we’ve shrugged off this foolish way of running our affairs.
All the same, in the spirit of constructivism in its broadest sense, and having already ruled out any real likelihood of saving the British Labour party, here’s some ideas that I believe should be implemented by the people of all industrialised nations (and if they insist on going through the party-political system to do so, then so be it). Oh, and I don’t vouch for the popularity of these policies, merely their urgent necessity…
- The fundamental philosophy that public transport needs to be given priority over private car ownership should inform all relevant policies. Car ownership should be made more expensive and less convenient, while public transport should be expanded.
- All new buildings must be built to passivHaus standard, or equivalent. Profits from fossil fuels should be heavily taxed* and the revenue used to upgrade the energy efficiency of current building stock.
- The building of new fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants should be halted. The question must cease to be “how do we supply our demands with renewables?” And it must become “how do we modify our demands to meet the supply from renewables?”
- Airport expansion projects should be halted. Aviation fuel, like all fossil fuels, should be heavily taxed. Plane tickets should be taxed and the money used to subsidise train tickets.
- An examination of the food production and distribution system should be carried out. This should be done with an eye to optimising it based on two priorities; (a) the physical health of the population, and (b) the environmental impact of that system. Financial profit is not to be considered a priority, and questions of raw production efficiency (units per hectare, for instance) should not over-ride health and environmental concerns.
Oh, and there’s plenty more where that came from. Stuff about limiting property ownership and about fundamentally restructuring the way political decisions are made. It’s real nightmarish fringe stuff, I guess, when viewed from the modern political mainstream.
But that can change too, you know. And sometimes faster than you’d think.
“The modern free market as manifestation of a collective pleasure principle”. That’s an idea that may well feature prominently in my thesis. I’ve got a self-imposed deadline of April 2nd to finalise the title. Right now I’m essentially researching three different thesis topics, which is fascinating and all, but not too efficient. Mind you, I’ve whittled that down from about six. The most recent to fall by the wayside was the idea of writing on Freud’s notion of compulsive repetition, via an analysis of the films of Takeshi Kitano. Sadly, I realised that despite my familiarity with his films, I’m not nearly familiar enough with Japanese culture to really do justice to the subject (though it’s definitely a paper I’d love to read).
But “the modern free market as a manifestation of a collective pleasure principle”? What the hell does that mean, right? Oh, and what’s the pleasure principle again?
Well, last question first I guess; a few paragraphs on Freud’s second topography wouldn’t go amiss.
The ego and the id
During Freud’s early work, he used a theoretical model of the mind / psyche now known as ‘the first topography’. This divided the psyche into three parts / processes; the conscious, the unconscious and the preconscious. However, he later revised this significantly into the second topography. There are still three parts / processes but now they are the id, the ego, and the super-ego*.
The ego is a conflation of the conscious and the preconscious of the first topography. By and large, it’s that part of the mind that we are aware of (though there are elements of the ego of which we are unconscious, confusingly enough). And it’s more than just awareness; the ego, for most of us, is where we locate our identity.
The id relates, more or less, to the unconscious of the first topography. It’s the part of the human psyche that contains the thoughts and memories of which we are currently unaware (including, though not limited to, those which are the subject of repression). Perhaps more importantly, to psychoanalytic theory at least, the id; the unconscious mind; is also home to a cauldron of desires and drives which motivate us as much as, if not more than, those desires and drives of which we are conscious.
In Freudian theory, the ego and the id are generally in conflict. The id is governed by “the pleasure principle” which is regularly misunderstood as being an instinct to seek out pleasure. In fact, Freud pointed out that the drive behind the pleasure principle is at least as much about the desire to avoid “unpleasure”. It’s what drives us to seek food when we are hungry. The ego, on the other hand, is governed by “the reality principle”. This is, in simple terms, an awareness of the appropriate way to interact with the external world.
So, for example, a hungry person who passes a market-stall containing fresh bread will be driven, by the pleasure principle, to consume it and so escape the hunger. The primary biological / unconscious / id imperative is a simple “eat that bread”. An infant in this position will consequently reach out and grab the bread (Freud believed that the ego, and therefore the reality principle, is acquired through development, while the id is innate). Someone who has developed a relatively normal ego, adequately governed by the reality principle, will — on the other hand — understand that the appropriate behaviour is to first buy the bread and then eat it. This is why, in Freudian terms, the primary tool deployed by the reality principle to keep the pleasure principle in check, is known as “postponement”.
Often seen as the poor cousin in Freud’s topography, the super-ego is usually of less interest to Freudians. Probably because they already have their hands full dealing with the id. All the same, it’s a fascinating part of his work and plays a pretty important role in my mapping of Freud’s topography onto groups rather than individuals. I’ve written before that “the super-ego is where culture lives”. I still believe that to be a true statement (albeit at the poetic end of truth), but it’s a very incomplete picture. I wrote it when discussing culture, not the super-ego.
Indeed, because parts of it are conscious and parts unconscious, the Freudian super-ego can be a little hard to pin down. Rycroft writes that the super-ego is that part of the psyche “where self-observation, self-criticism and other reflective activities develop” (guilt is a big weapon in the arsenal of the super-ego). Meanwhile, according to the bible, “Super-ego is the product of an internalisation of, and identification with, parent and parental authority, including prohibitions and values associated with that authority. Insofar as parental authority reflects the broader social context, the super-ego can be seen as the indirect product of the internalisation of society’s demands and values”.
I’m aware that the super-ego sounds a bit like the reality principle. But they are quite distinct, one being a regulatory function of the ego based upon both an awareness of the immediate environment and circumstances as well as an understanding of consequences and appropriate behaviour. The super-ego is — in part — where that “appropriate behaviour” is stored within our psyche. The reality principle is guided both by the ego and the super-ego with the goal of modifying the pleasure principle so that it doesn’t get us into trouble.
Applying this to groups
As I’ve discussed elsewhere, there are problems with trying to scale up Freud’s topography as a tool to analyse groups, organisations or cultures. But at the same time, there can be merit in doing so. Gregory Bateson is my main guide in this territory, and he has explained why this approach is both legitimate and useful. In Morale and National Character (1942), Bateson demonstrates that the relationships between sub-groups within larger groups are subject to analysis, contrast and comparison so that something we could rightfully consider “national character” begins to emerge. It’s worth pointing out that this analysis can be applied not merely to nations, but to any large group that adheres to a specific set of cultural norms.
For the sake of clarity, allow me to pause and provide examples of what I mean by “the relationships between sub-groups within larger groups”. Bateson’s essay is comparing the national character of Germany and England and does so by examining the culturally determined relationships that exist between (for example) men and women, parents and children, upper-class and lower-class, and so on. The essay is not an exhaustive case-study, and is largely about promoting the (at the time heretical) idea that western cultures and civilisations are just as open to anthropological and psycho- analysis as are the “primitive” cultures of Bali and Papua New Guinea where he did revolutionary work. Along the way, however, he convincingly demonstrates how pronounced character traits can emerge within large groups of people due to specific commonalities in their individual development, which are themselves culturally determined by, and specific to, those groups.
So when Bateson’s work is read in the context of Hostadter and Dennett’s theories about “mind” emerging from organised complexity, and even Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious, it doesn’t seem illegitimate to suggest that large groups can indeed by “psychoanalysed” (to use the term in it’s most broad sense) despite the apparent lack of an identifiable “psyche”.
The modern free market as manifestation of a collective pleasure principle
So let’s return to the original theme, and answer the first of those questions: “The modern free market as manifestation of a collective pleasure principle”… what the hell does that mean?
Well, a part of my hypothesis is the idea that there now exists a global civilisation that transcends national borders** but which can be defined largely by American cultural and economic influence. I’m not suggesting that this civilisation originated in America, merely that those cultural norms which have historically been embraced and promoted by American society, help define it. And thanks to US (and US-influenced) mass-media as well as global movements like feminism, the equal rights initiatives and multiculturalism, we have entered a period where the developmental experiences of American, Irish, British, German, Greek or Australian individuals are becoming far less distinct, opening the way for a collective analysis.
As part of that analysis, it is my suggestion that… you guessed it… the modern free market is a manifestation of our collective pleasure principle. It represents the demands (quite literally) of the collective. When those demands are repugnant or unreasonable then the market gets modified and restricted by laws (the passing of such laws being an example of our collective reality principle at work).
To take an unambiguous example, upon which I suspect we can all agree that a level of market intervention is required; much to our dismay, there exists a demand for — and market in — child pornography. Leaving aside the abstractions of “simulated child pornography” (as clearly there is a demand specifically for the non-simulated variety), we have passed laws making the sale or possession of such material illegal. This is noteworthy, because we have done so despite already having laws that outlaw its production. As a culture, we have understood that the market for this material is in itself problematic. We work, therefore, not merely at outlawing supply but also at attempting to curtail demand.
The basic analogy
An individual who allows their behaviour to be guided by an unregulated pleasure principle is likely to be both destructive to himself and his immediate environment (along with anyone who shares that environment with them). It is clear that we, as a civilisation, are capable of regulating our demands of the world. We possess the tools to do so. I would suggest, however, that we are guilty of significantly under-using those tools, and that the almost-unregulated demand for natural resources is resulting in behaviour both destructive to ourselves and to our immediate environment.
* It’s an interesting historical note that Freud did not use those words, and they are in our common lexicon thanks to his translators. In the original German, the id, ego and super-ego are the es, ich and über-ich, or literally, the it, I and over-I. It was his translators who decided to latinise them.
** This isn’t to suggest that individual nations do not still retain a national character, though I believe that an increasing homogenity is making them less prominent.
It’s a busy night for coded government announcements. This time it’s the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who has revealed much with her choice of language. We all know by now that late-capitalism has reduced us all, in theory, to mere consumers; units of potential economic exploitation. But when our own governments begin to see us, treat us, and overtly describe us in those terms then perhaps it’s time to man the barricades.
The story in this case is the rather predictable news that the British government is back-tracking on ID-cards (via Garry). This was inevitable, and I predicted as much the day I heard the project announced. The logistics of the proposed system meant that any due-diligence will have highlighted the near-impossibility of rendering it secure, or even of getting it to work properly. And the cost was always going to be prohibitive given the sheer pointlessness of the scheme. After all, if ID-cards were truly a necessary weapon in the fight against terrorism, any British Home Secretary who announced that “by 2015, 90% of foreign nationals will have identity cards” would be immediately fired from the position (and possibly charged with treason for leaving the nation dangerously unprotected. That’s surely aiding and abetting terrorism, even if only through rampant incompetence).
But of course, everyone knows the real reason for the scheme was to allow the government to build a central database containing detailed information on as many people as possible. Or “consumers” as they’re now known.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said students would also be encouraged to get identity cards from 2010, as part of plans to let “consumer demand” drive take-up.BBC News | Rethink on identity cards plans
Firstly, I’m dubious about the notion that there’s any real “demand” for the things. Are British students really clamouring to be fingerprinted by the government? But it’s the phrase “consumer demand” that really caught my attention. Unless you are deliberately going out of your way to mangle the English language, there’s no way you could describe ID-cards as being “consumed” by those who are issued them. So the phrase “consumer demand” is being used in the sense of “being demanded by consumers”.
Perhaps I’m just being over-sensitive to the language of politicians these days, but it sounds sinister as hell to my ears, and gives a clear indication of the belief-system behind it.
On a good day, this blog receives about one hundred and twenty unique visitors. On a slow day, that drops to about sixty. A little over half my visitors arrive via google searches (and it is almost exclusively google these days; other search engines fall a long way behind) and read a single page before leaving, never to return. Without doing too much statistical analysis, I believe I probably have 50 or so regular readers; people who either have me saved to an RSS reader, or who visit a couple of times a week to check for new stuff. In other words; my readership is tiny.
So I have absolutely no illusions about the influence of my occasional witterings. If garnering a wide audience was my goal then I’d have given this blogging lark up as an abject failure years ago. And the fact that it has been years and I’m still trundling along with a readership that has remained eerily consistent (excluding that week I got linked from Joss Whedon’s blog and my visitor numbers saw an almighty spike to several thousand per day until the link dropped off the front page of whedonesque, at which point the numbers plummeted just as suddenly) suggests that on some level I’m perfectly happy posting the occasional message here to be read by a handful of people.
I dearly hope that none of you fifty lovely, discerning, cultured (and outrageously good-looking) people feel you’ve wasted your time after visiting, but I must shamefully confess that you’re probably not reading my best writing. My quality control here isn’t always the highest, and certainly there’s very little here that I’d feel happy charging someone money for. This is why, for instance, I felt so uncomfortable when a couple of my pieces were included in last year’s Blog Digest (I could have just said ‘no’ of course, but that would have been too fucking precious for words).
Nonetheless, despite the fact that I don’t give quite as much care and attention to a blog entry as I might to a chapter of a novel, or a poem, or an academic essay; and despite the fact that I’m not charging anything except a few short moments; I’d still like to think that, at the very least, I’m not guilty of foisting complete shit on my readers. This is why I find myself increasingly frustrated with mainstream journalism and the lazy, dreadful writers who seem more than willing to serve up a steady diet of ill-informed garbage.
Take (via Chicken Yoghurt) this reaction from Benedict Brogan of the Daily Mail to the Climate Change protest at the British Houses of Parliament this week: Having picked up one of the paper aeroplanes being thrown by the protesters from the roof of parliament, he revealed it to be…
… a photocopy of an email from someone at BA to a Dept of Transport official about something complicated that I can’t be bothered to read.
This isn’t some junior reporter on work-experience. This is the paper’s political editor! I mean, none of us expects much from the Daily Mail, and while Brogan’s candour is refreshing if nothing else, it still boggles the mind. Correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t the job of political editor of one of the largest circulation newspapers in Britain entail — oh, I dunno — bothering to read and understand the events of the day prior to writing about them? Is it really too much to ask? (Obviously)
And nor is it restricted to the complicated issues, or even to the crappier papers. The Guardian has just published a piece by one of their music writers (ex-NME hack Steven Wells) which, in essence, defends the right of journalists (music journos at least, but there’s a strong implication that Wells would go further than that) to simply lie to their readers when they can’t be arsed to research the facts. I can’t see how this is anything but a spectacularly ill-judged piece for any newspaper to publish (albeit in the Arts Section of their online edition).
To explain briefly, an American magazine has been forced to apologise to The Black Crowes (an uninteresting rock band) for publishing a review of their new album by a reviewer who — it transpires — didn’t listen to it. The Guardian, as represented by Steven Wells, believes that Maxim Magazine should not have apologised; that it’s perfectly acceptable for a journalist to lie to their audience and write a review based on nothing more than their own personal prejudice.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the reviewer should have forced himself (or herself) to listen to the entire thing (in this case, bizarrely, they couldn’t have done as they didn’t have a copy — merely a promo of a single), just that they should be honest… “having listened to one track from the forthcoming album by The Black Crowes, I was unable to bear any more. I guess if you’re a fan of dull, generic stoner-rock then this might interest you, and you’ll probably want to check it out if you liked their previous stuff. Me? I’m going to boil my head instead”.
Y’know…? Isn’t honesty the very least we should expect? I don’t care that Steven Wells is not a particularly good writer, as I can simply choose not to read him; but I do care that the mainstream media is willing to employ writers who clearly put far less time and care into their pieces than I do an off-the-cuff blogpost, and who simply appear incapable of performing the job they’re paid to do (whether that’s a political editor who can’t be bothered to understand an important issue prior to writing about it, or a music writer who doesn’t see a problem with dishonesty in journalism and is presumably happy to submit a review of something he hasn’t heard).
It goes without saying that I’ll be avoiding the writing of Steven Wells from now on (any music writer who can write: “If a band are any good at all they’ll play their best toon first. And that toon will deliver a killer hook in the first 30 seconds…” clearly doesn’t have the faintest idea about music, no matter how many singles he reviewed for the NME). And I’m unlikely to encounter Benedict Brogan again until the next time his drivel is highlighted by a decent writer. But between them, they’ve dragged the reputation of mainstream journalism even further into the pit of filth in which it’s been wallowing. And I’ll be reading The Guardian’s Arts Section with a little more scepticism in future. Can we assume their book reviewers bothered to progress past Chapter 1? Did the film critic walk out after the first five minutes? Seems like it doesn’t really matter anymore.
UPDATE 29-02-08 Uncanny!
I was reading an article and stumbled across the phrase “a $1.5 trillion war in Iraq”. One and a half trillion dollars, in essence, pissed down the drain. And very little to show for it except a shitload of murder and mayhem.
It struck me that in terms of cold dollars alone, that spectacular blunder has pretty much caught up with Dubya’s $1.6 trillion tax-cut (implemented a few months prior to September 2001 and now a forgotten, minor footnote in a dire presidency).
But lately I’ve also been reading a bit about the US sub-prime credit crisis that’s been giving the global economy a serious kicking. It turns out everyone’s in a tizz about a 600-800 billion dollar hole in a total housing debt of 1.9 trillion.
You see where this is going, don’t you?
I may as well make it explicit… while it’s throwing trillions around, why doesn’t the US government declare a Housing-Debt Amnesty? How about this… the treasury pays 100,000 dollars off every single mortgage*. No means testing, no favouritism, just a flat payment. For most low-income homeowners (i.e. the ones currently defaulting in large numbers), 100k will cover the entire loan leaving them outright owners of their property. For everyone else, it’ll ease the burden. What a gift to the poor homeowners of America! The president who did that would end up on Mount Rushmore.
I’m sure a passing capitalist can explain why it’s a bad idea.
Incidentally, I’m well aware that the really poor people aren’t homeowners at all, and this doesn’t help them. I’m not suggesting this is a solution to poverty. I’m just suggesting it’s a better way to spend a trillion and a half dollars than blowing up another country, or tax breaks for the wealthy. Oh, and before you complain about banks getting paid public funds… I’m making a value judgement here: it’s better to give public money to banks in return for houses for poor citizens, than to give public money to Blackwater in return for killing foreigners.