Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The wages of sin is death, but the profits on sin are fantastic

When did home prices rising yearly become a good thing?  In the 70s, it was recognized that housing inflation led to inability for regular people to buy houses.  This was considered a bad thing.  Rising home prices were bad even for people who owned their homes, because property taxes rose with property value, even if the wages or Social Security income of the owners did not go up.   It is absurd to tax people on their homes, instead of their income, but in a system that is dependent on property taxes, rising home prices with stagnant income is obviously a bad thing.  Why are real estate speculators and home "flippers" admired instead of condemned?

But in an economy which depends on speculation and debt to function, there are fewer people speaking out against housing inflation than speak out against apple pie or the flag.   Now we get talking heads announcing that bailing out Fannie Mae would lead to a rising housing market!  Yay!  

Gas prices rising, on the other hand, makes the talking heads use frowny faces.  Why?  Why are high home prices good and high gas prices bad?    Not everyone has a car, but everyone needs a place to live.  And there are people who have cars they can't afford because they can't afford to live close to where they work. TV news goes to the gas stations and listens to the sob stories of people filling their SUVs.  Why not go to people who are living 2 or 3 families per house, and listen to their stories?  

Usury and gambling used to be sins, and illegal to boot.  Now we have payday check cashing on every corner, and the government uses the tax code to enforce legalized gambling with our retirement money.  I even got a note from my employer stating that the Federal government was telling them to increase my "contribution" to my 401K (which I think is a farce), unless I gave them written notice not to.  Now how many people are going to get around to turning in that notice? (I haven't yet.  Procrastination works for them).

In the 18th century, drugs were legal and Coca Cola had cocaine in it.  But they had debtors prison for those who couldn't pay their debts.   It seems that fashions in sin change as much as hemlines.

America has over 2,000,000 people in prison now, and over half are there for the victimless crime of drug use.  Can you imagine the explosion in the prison population if we started jailing debtors?   I probably shouldn't suggest it, or CCA will start lobbying for it.

In the 1970s, increasing the supply of money led to inflation, and the Federal Reserve tried to stimulate the economy without increasing inflation.  In the late 70s four things happened. (OK, lots more than that, but to make this point, say 4). Saving and loans were deregulated, computers became much more common, the dollar went from being backed by gold to being backed by oil and the ruling class decided to break the deal with the working class made after WW2 where they shared more of the wealth produced with the actual producers.   Wages have dropped since then, the manufacturing base has been moved elsewhere, and the bottom 80% of the American population has gotten poorer.   How have they maintained their standard of living?  Like the guy in the commercial says, "I'm in debt up to my eyeballs".

I'm no economist, but it seems to me that part of the way that they are able to keep increasing the money supply without causing the runaway inflation you saw in Weimar Germany is that they used computers instead of printing presses.   It's all pretend, but if we just believe in it, the system works.  The increase in money supply is done virtually, and we don't actually get the cash and then hand it over, we use cards and computers.  We go to work and they give us a paycheck, which we can exchange for food, clothing,  shelter and trinkets.  As long as every pretends that it works, it does.  The farmers produce the food, the carpenters build the homes, and the workers in China produce the clothing and the trinkets.

And the rest of the money, the money that the capitalist class siphons off of the rest of us, is gambled away.  They gamble in the stock market, the money market and other markets that are way above our heads to understand.   The important thing is that the money gambled is not real money, so it doesn't matter to us.

Until it does.   Apparently,  capitalists in other countries are tired of playing the American dollar game, and want to call a halt to it.  Uh, oh, we're in trouble now.  So the US government steps in and takes over Freddie and Fannie and announces that the full backing of the US government is now behind them and we will create as much pretend money as is needed to protect the investments.    Will it work?  Maybe, because it is to everyone's benefit to continue pretending and not bring the world economy down around all our heads.

I keep pointing out that if we can take care of our needs with pretend money, we can do it without it.   We can produce food for each other, and housing, clothing and trinkets, and exchange them between ourselves without the whole siphoning off and gambling part.  We can do it without invading Iraq or Georgia to keep control of the oil, and we can do it without having homeless people while others have 7 or 8 houses.  

We can use the productive forces of our society for good instead of evil, to use George's frame. 


Nader Enthusiast said...

I guess since people no longer believe in saving, the rising prices of homes took the place of money under the mattress or in the bank not only for the owners, but also for their banker. Actually I never understood why houses didn't depreciate like cars.

wagelaborer said...

Except that the rising prices of homes doesn't really lead to increased wealth, execpt on paper.
If you buy a house for $50,000, and after a few years you could sell it for $100,000, but you don't, are you really wealthier? Only on paper.
Especially if you ever did sell it and tried to buy a new one. You wouldn't be able to find a $50,000 house, so you aren't really wealthier.