Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Are you enslaved? Is your country enslaved? Here's why it feels like that, and why it's true.

Sometimes it can feel like you're trapped. Trapped so that you have to go to work, and no matter how unpleasant the work is, you can't not go, or throw in your job, or tell the employer to be more reasonable. You have no power, and no freedom to say no, no matter how bad the conditions. Indeed sometimes it seems as if you are subject to a kind of bullying. 

And yet you are not enslaved to your employer. You applied for the job, and you signed a contract voluntarily. So why does it seem as if you are enslaved?

Part of the reason is that most people are enslaved, but not to their employers (though the employers may also be taking advantage of the situation). People are enslaved not directly to the people they work for, but to the banks and other financial institutions, as a result of which their labour is not free but is bound over to the institutions to whom they signed away the rights to the fruits of their labours, usually by so-called "buying" a house. Mrs Thatcher thought it was a great idea that the council house tenants would "never pay rent again but instead would own their own home." Doubtless many thought that she meant that they would not be paying for the house they lived in any more, because they would own it and need pay no rent to anyone. Sadly, in fact they would have had to take out a loan, and for the rest of their working life they would not just be repaying the loan, but interest too. In fact many would only be able to pay interest and never expect to repay the loan, unless they had also paid a premium to guarantee a lump sum at the end. But in reality that lump sum for which they had saved so much would often be too small.

A case in point, for example, is the sad story of the first owners of 39 Amersham Road, the flagship council house sale where Margaret Thatcher went to tea to celebrate with its new owners in 1980. The story, as told by the Telegraph on 9th April 2013, is a telling one:
Having lived in the property for 18-years, the Pattersons qualified for a 40 per cent discount and, after putting down a deposit of just £5, they purchased the house in August 1980 for the sum of £8,315. The Patterson’s marriage broke down amid the financial pressure of meeting the mortgage payments, which were rocketing due to high interest rates. Mrs Patterson, who was working at an old person’s home, struggled with the bills for sometime on her own, before eventually being forced to sell up and move into a mobile home. Speaking in 2002, she said: “If I’d foreseen the end of my marriage I’d never have bought. I got trapped there without enough cash to cover bills. “The mortgage was about £250 a month and after my husband left I survived only because my sons gave me board-and-lodging. I was desperate in a house I couldn’t manage and wished I’d never bought. “It broke my heart when I had to sell. It went for £57,000 and when I’d paid off the mortgage I had only enough left to buy a mobile home so I’m back down the property ladder.
"Owning a home" was not owning a home. It was assigning your entire working life to paying interest on an impossible debt, which meant you would never own your home and could lose it at any time. The mortgage company had bought your home and your life's savings and your labour. You might  be working for someone else, but it was to pay interest to the bank. That is why you feel trapped, because however bad your job, the threat to your home is too great to risk leaving it, unless jobs can be had two a penny. But since everyone is desperate, being in the same boat, everyone is insecure, and no one can stand up to the employers or threaten to leave if the job is unpleasant, or the pressure too great. Exploitation of the labour force becomes easy. So not only is the so-called home owner's labour enslaved to the mortgage company, but the employer for whom the labour is demanded is also able to increase the demands, and provide inadequate pay , because the employee lacks freedom and is powerless to demand better conditions (unless there is a trade union... but that is another story).

Was the money borrowed from the mortgage company real money? No. The mortgage company does not need to have any money, in order to generate this life-long debt and interest payments. All they do is operate the right to write a certain number on your mortgage statement, to which you then put your signature. This number then gets transferred into your bank statement, and is then transferred to the bank statement of the previous owner from whom you are buying your house (or car or whatever else you are borrowing "money" for). What you are actually doing is signing up to pay interest to the company. They do not need to have any money to do all this. All they need is the power to manipulate their incoming and outgoing numbers to match up. And the more people they enslave in this way, the more interest is coming in, so that although they keep you enslaved, because you have never paid back the capital and never will (if they can help it) they have the right to take your daily income as interest payments, and this is what constantly drives you to work at the job you hate, so as to feed their demands. If you ever earn enough to have some left over, you will want to pay off the capital to get shot of this slavery, but this leaves nothing for actually spending on the good things in life. Slavery is where all you do is work, for someone else, and never get left with anything. And you depend upon your masters for even the accommodation you live in. So you can never tell them to get lost, and just go. You are in chains, when you thought you were being set free by "getting onto the property ladder". How different from the freedom offered by the council housing, where a good level of spacious and well -maintained housing was carefully provided with rents set at an affordable level and paid to the council. Once you were in your "own" house, the chances are you would then need to take further loans to repair it! 

Ownership of this kind is not a freedom "never to pay rent". It turns everyone into a bondsman, working to pay the feudal landlord his dues. Only it doesn't look like it, to the one who has been led into this ideology by the rhetoric of "ownership". The "home owner" is told that she should be proud to be the possessor of property. She is supposed to think of herself as free, so that she shall not notice the chains. And in many cases we are taken in. No one tells us what has happened, and we are puzzled that we find ourselves enslaved. As the Mrs Patterson (whose story is told above) said afterwards, when she had slaved all her life and lost everything including the house:
“But I don’t blame anyone. It was my decision to make that investment. I still remember the day Mrs Thatcher came to tea. I am still committed to right-to-buy.“She was an icon to me. She was a lovely guest. I gave her a guided tour and she said, 'This is not just a house – it’s a home’. I was so proud. She had Downing Street and Chequers but No39 was just as special to me.”
The reason for the feudal effect is because you take a loan from a private bank or credit institution whose purpose is to rake in money by lending money for interest, and the interest payments are going not to the state (as the social housing rents were) but to the bankers. So they do not then return in infrastructure and funding for civilised projects like museums and libraries and care for the elderly. The profits from the loans go to the bankers and their share holders. Private funding in the form of loans draws away the wealth from the poor, who can only work but never have the money, and it benefits the rich, who need not work but can draw the interest on money loaned, because the poor are working. And the same goes for private rents on privately owned property. And yet, because the poor have no money to spend, in this system, and there is not enough money coming into the state in taxes or rents, none of the important features of a civilised society can be afforded. And no one spends any money on the good things in life. So no businesses can thrive, and no income can be generated from private enterprise. So the middle classes get squeezed too, and more money ends up in the hands of those who take interest on loans.

Now this, roughly speaking, is also the situation that has been set up in Europe to manipulate the Eurozone. By running the Eurozone as a system of loans from one country to another, of from a central bank run not for but against the interests of the borrowers, with compound interest to repay, you can also enslave a whole country, and the more you dole out loans to "help" it, always for repayment with interest, the more you can enslave it. This is not a way of helping the country in question. It is a way of exerting power over it without declaring a physical war and without an invasion. This is the modern way of doing warfare in Europe: it is done by exercising financial control, imposing sanctions and conditions in return for "investment" or loans, and effectively by starving the people into submission and removing their will to resist, on account of the punitive destruction of their entire infrastructure. All this is done on the basis of apparent agreements and voluntary commitments, just as the mortgages seem to be taken voluntarily—only that when you are starving you sometimes sign for loans that you know you can't afford to repay or even pay the interest on. Anyone can sell themselves into slavery if they are led to believe that it is a kind of freedom, or if they are too hungry to care.  

Setting someone free from slavery is normally a noble and just thing to do. You don't expect the slave to pay the ransom. In fact, you expect the person who held them enslaved to pay them compensation, and let them off free, and return the property extorted from them, and preferably house them and give them enough to start back up in life. Nothing less than that is reasonable. And that is true even if, when they first entered the deal, they thought they were doing what was best for them. For getting you to sign your rights away is typical of the corrupt manipulator, and it is no defence to say that the person entered voluntarily into the enslavement, under the illusion that it was going to be for the best. Indeed you often need a certain level of intelligence to realise who is your friend and who is your enemy. 

You also need to be confident in your economic analysis. 

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