Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Toxic Debt" and other lies...

The image is of Winter in Glen Etive, Glen Coe by courtesy of D W Roberston Gallery and is an illustration for Tales of Travel (see below)

As I write news is coming over the radio about the resue plan put together in the US to save international markets from melt down, or whatever other thermodynamic metaphor is appropriate for this jolt out of the consensus trance we've all been in for the last thirty or so years, or longer.

I have the powerful feeling that the explanations we're being given for what has happened to the 'markets', and what we need to patch things up, is another deliberately administered dose of anaesthetic. The problem, we're being told, is that banks are no longer willing to lend each other money, and this 'freeze' is the cause of the problem.

At the heart of the crisis, allegedly, is "toxic debt", debts built up by poor people who were bamboozled into mortgages they couldn't afford, and can't repay. This level of "toxic debt" has "infected" the global financial system. I find it outrageous, but perfectly in keeping with the evil tenets of capitalism, that this language of poison and contagion should be used to define the heart of the problem; to denigrate and scapegoat the hapless undeserving poor, those who wanted to house their families, low-paid workers, single mothers, people from ethnic minorities.

The implication of what we're being told seems to be that banks actually have lots of money, but they don't trust anyone enough to lend it, including each other, because toxically infective "sub-prime" borrowers have contaminated the system, defaulted on loans, and infected the system like a type of rabies, paralysing it like 'lock-jaw'. So the banks are are sitting helplessly on the money they have left. The result is that no-one can borrow any more, so they have none to spend or 'invest'. There is, or soon will be, no money in circulation. Money has somehow congealed, clotted up.

The proposed solution seems to be that Governments will give a very large amount of money - "taxpayer's money" - to the banks. This is called "injecting liquidity" into the system to "lubricate it" or "free it up" or some other inane slogan borrowed from hydraulic engineering. This money will somehow, miraculously unblock the clogged-up system, and money will once again flow.

Presumably this borrowed money will be used to lend to other people, so that banks will "regain the confidence they need" to begin "lending money to each other", re-establish "confidence in the system" and everything will be AOK again. Except that you and I will be expected to pay for it through taxation, the privatisation of services, and the life-long indebtedness of our children.

Does anyone believe this anaesthetic nonsense? That the banks have money but are too mistrustful to lend it? That they need to be given money to steady their palsied nerves?

Well, I believe that in truth there is no money. The money that the banks and building societies have been lending to people doesn't exist, and never has. The money on your mortgage statement, or in your deposit account, the "equity" in your house, or the figure on your ISA certficate is just a mirage. Since the "Big Bang", money has just been an illusory row of noughts on the computer screen, from which people in the City and on Wall Street have been regularly helping themselves to huge tranches in currency bills, to buy or build mansions, Rolex watches, Maseratis and diamond encrusted crystal skulls as gee-gaws.

It seems to me that what is proposed is the launch of another illusory capitalist spree, a re-instatement of the status quo ante, business as usual in Wall Street and the square mile, a short term boom in the High Street as consumers "regain the confidence" they need to put a spring in their step in the long run-up to Christmas (expect the tinsel, toys and mince pies to greet you in Tescos, Wal-Mart and Sainsbury's soon enough). And the directors (and highly paid non-Execs like Tony Blair) will laugh all the way to their non-dom banks and off-shore Cayman Island havens.

What has this got to do with Buddhism? Well, as I said in an earlier post on the Social Care Green Paper, perhaps it's about seeing the world, or not seeing the world, from any perspective, but recognising that this is what we always do and recognising this, opening ourselves to the possible emergence of another way of being. As Ray Wills used to say "There must be another way". He didn't define what that other way might be because the Way doesn't have a destination in mind: it's a point of departure, an open road. What we can do (but it's hard and calls for energy and resolve) is to allow ourselves to open to another way of being, not adopting it or 'trying to' follow it, but rather becoming it.

A howl of outrage? An intemperate polemic? Well, yes, perhaps. But I'm human, and it's part of my way of opening up to another way being, and perhaps helping you, who knows. So I'll let it stand, and finish on a quieter note with the words The Vagabond, part of a song-cycle of verse (Songs of Travel) by R L Stevenson, set to music by a favourite composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and with the cool illustration of Glen Coe (above) as backdrop:

Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway nigh me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river -
There's the life for a man like me,
There's the life for ever.

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around
And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
And the road below me.

Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger.
White as meal the frosty field -
Warm the fireside haven -
Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.


Dennis Sibley said...

Hi Peter

Just wanted to say thanks for the lovely Glen Etive/Glen Coe photo. I have visited both on several occassions in years gone by and love going to the highlands whenever I can (I'm off to Glen Nevis next spring for a holiday and will no doubt visit again!).

The DW Robertson Gallery was a real delight, Peter, so thanks for the link!


Anonymous said...

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