Bushs dis-ownership society

“The Ownership Society” is George Bush’s campaign promise: Support me, and you can own your own home, your own pension plan, personal health plan, even your retraining program after you lose your job. He’s out-promising Newt Gingrich.

“Let’s see how we can more thoroughly dispossess you,” is what Bush’s Wall Street masters really mean. “Trust us to plunder your wages, savings, homes, pensions, small businesses, schools, Social Security.”

A deepening systemic crisis lies behind Wall Street’s plundering scheme. Production is outrunning demand. Four million new cars sit unsold on dealer lots. Thirty-five percent of U.S. productive capacity remains unused three years into an economic “recovery,” according to highly detailed but little-publicized studies by the Commerce Department. Capacity use has barely risen since the 2001 recession. Massive investments are idle. The picture in Europe is even worse. Losses inevitably ensue.

So Wall Street turns to weakening and cheapening labor, to speculation, war and plunder. The forms vary domestically and internationally, the content is the same.

“What has emerged in New York City is a kind of default and foreclosure belt snaking through predominantly black neighborhoods of southeast Queens and central Brooklyn,” the New York Times has reported. “‘It looks to me like the American dream is, for some people, becoming the American nightmare,’ said Dolores Martin, a homeownership counselor.” That was in March 2002, when home prices were rising, interest rates falling, and fuel prices half their present level.

Fast forward to the battleground state of Ohio. “The number of foreclosure auctions in Ohio shot up 26 percent last year,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported a few weeks ago, “as troubled homeowners grappled with job loss, predatory loans or other financial woes. Sheriffs across the state offered more than 36,400 properties up for sale at auction in 2003. ... That’s an increase of 26 percent from 2002 and a 57 percent leap from 2001.” With home prices leveling, interest rates climbing, and fuel prices skyrocketing, the stage is set for more foreclosures.

For all of Bush’s talk of rising homeownership, most home “buyers” mainly acquire massive debts that require steady or rising payments, while jobs are anything but steady, and wages often declining. “The number-one reason [for the foreclosures] is people who lost their job and were forced to take a job with lesser pay,” a credit counselor told the Enquirer.

Yet capitalists drowning in “too much” capital eagerly pushed the loans. Banks also fanned speculation in house prices, which increased their fees and interest income. And regressive property taxes skyrocketed, as local aid was cut by federal and state governments, themselves deep in debt. The result is a population more indentured than ever, “forced to take a job with lesser pay.”

Total U.S. household mortgage debt jumped 40 percent between 2000 and 2004, and now exceeds $7 trillion — over $60,000 per household. With credit card obligations, household debt has soared from 85 percent to 118 percent of disposable income in a decade, according to a Merrill Lynch study. Add federal, state and local debts, which households also collectively “own,” and the average household debt exceeds 300 percent of income.

Now Bush is proposing that everyone “own” their personal pension plans and medical coverage!

So, you invested your life savings in Enron, which was on Fortune’s “Top Ten” list in 2000 to “Retire Rich”? Sorry! In your next life, be sure not to put all your eggs in one basket. Oh, you also invested in WorldCom? Too bad!

Enron and its chairman, “Kenny Boy” Lay, were among the biggest contributors to the Bush campaign in 2000. Behind Enron, WorldCom and similar plundering ventures was Wall Street capital, led by Citibank and Chase.

Bush’s “ownership” plan is actually a Wall Street expropriation, foreclosure-and-indenture scheme. It depends on further atomizing of the population and weakening or destroying of unions and the labor movement. It promotes ugly competition of each against all.

Labor’s interest lies in cooperation and common ownership. “If you own something,” Bush explains on the trail, “you have a stake in it.” How true. Never have so many people in the U.S. “owned” so much debt. Labor’s stake lies in defeating Bush, canceling that debt and expropriating his masters, the real expropriators.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.