Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I know most of you probably saw the news headline last week that said approximately 45% of the world's wealth had been wiped out - this according to the CEO of the Blackstone Group. That is not just shareholders' wealth. Actually the rich are doing a spectacularly good job of defending themselves, shoring up their wealth and bonuses. They are dipping into national treasuries on the premise that governments will happily steal or sell the deferred wages (pensions mainly) of the working class to repay the debt. And believe me - whether it is under Obama or Brown/Cameron, they are coming for your pensions. It is the wealth by and large of those who in America are called "middle class" (what is it they say about being divided by a common language?). A huge part of what has been wiped out has been the wealth of those who depended on their house price soaring so that they could borrow against it. The value of one's house, for a lot of people, made up for stagnant or barely rising wages. Now, in the UK alone, nearly four million homeowners are in, or close to, negative equity. These people do have a pot to piss in, admittedly: they just won't be able to make the payments on it. (And some investors, nostrils filling with the whiff of carrion, are swooping in to take advantage of the collapse in prices, buying up the housing while it's cheap.)
Unemployment is rising faster than expected, as well, which means that income as well as wealth is being rapidly wiped out. We have just seen the fastest increase in the claimant count in the UK since records began. By the end of next year, unemployment is expected to be higher than it was even in the horrible recession of the early 1980s. In the US, the job market continues to deteriorate at an ever-increasing pace. It isn't going to get any better either. Those countries most dependent on the financial sector are about to suffer more, because even the banks that have so far weathered the storm are feeling the pinch. Santander, for example, which has depended on solid investments in Latin America, is about to feel the pinch as the Brazilian economy stagnates. HSBC, hitherto untouchable, has recently had to announce a rights issue. It is all turning to shit, and the last people to suffer from this will be the ruling classes who got us here.
Various left campaign groups are springing into existence in the US and UK, to pressure governments for palliation, with sensible measures like socially-affordable housing, job protection, union rights, etc. They are filling a void created by the absence of an upsurge in working class militancy, and the absence of a left-wing party capable of hegemony. In the US, there is a campaign to lobby the Obama administration from the left (I say 'left', but this includes the ACLU and Moveon.org). In the UK, the latest is the People's Charter, supported by trade unionists, left-wing Labour MPs and campaigning lawyers. This is a positive development, and I encourage people to sign up. Still, I wish it said something about tumbrils. I wish it said, in a word, that the rich are to blame for this crisis and that, as they have benefited most from the circumstances that led to this state of affairs, they ought to pay. We need to tax those bastards, take their businesses into public ownership, close their little tax loopholes, and criminalise their offshore havens. We ought to be resentful about it, too. And petty: let's make them clean the toilets at Spar while we're taking their shit. Enough with the gentrified conventions of bourgeois politics - I demand vengeance.