I read some very good articles this morning about immigration, the economy and the current demonisation of the poor.
All good articles, all making sensible points, all entirely ignoring the very predictable course of history.
One was by Jon Cruddas, wrestling with the confusion over the rise of immigration as an issue, rumbling through, late in Labour's third term. It is and became an issue as our financial models failed. Just as it always does. We can call it housing, or education or health, but it's real name is iniquity. This from the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, written over 100 years ago might have been taken directly from the Daily Mail as middle England sips coffee over the Sunday papers this morning,
"Wy, even 'ere in Mugsborough (note the Dickensian name)...We're overrun with 'em! Nearly all the waiters and the cook at the Grand Hotel where we was working last month is foreigners."
"Yes," said old Joe Philpot, tragically, "and then theres all them Hitalians horgin grinders an' the bloke wot sells 'ot chestnuts: an wen I was goin 'ome last night I see a lot of them Frenchies sellin hunions an a little wile afterwards I met two more of 'em comin' up the street with a bear"
As the ruling classes at the turn of the century faced the financial collapse of their own mismanagement, papers of the day quickly rushed to blame immigration and an over-reliance on imports for the dire "Friscal Policy" of the day. In fact, then as now, as the history books report, it was basic, out-of-control greed, an out of touch and elite government and a rush to protectionism that was crippling the country.
In 2000, my husband and I crossed America on a motorbike. From New Orleans to San Francisco, we saw America as few are able. The vast emptiness of the country is impossible to convey until you spend endless days, riding a long, straight road through the plains of Oklahoma, the long corn grasses bent to the wind, unfettered by 1000s of acres of emptiness.
On through the arid deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, as days of emptiness became weeks of emptiness. a ghost town here, a redneck with a big old gun there. We rode and we rode and we rode, through the Bayous of Louisiana to the mountains of Colorado.
As we rode into and out of cities with names redolent with whiskey fumes and oil, the pattern was always the same. The beautiful Antebellums and sprawling ranches gave way to the suburbs, each mile leading further into poverty. Shanty towns shaming the myth of a Land of the Free. Vast wealth turning, in the blink of an eye, to desperate social decay. Burnt out liquor stores, heroin dens in the 5 and Dime, corrugated roofs and children playing in the street with no shoes. White to brown to black.
As we rode weary and educated into California, two vast billboards lined the way;
"Don't let the Immigrants Take our Jobs" "This Country cannot take any More Immigrants"
In a continent where I'd just seen for myself how easily Greece, Italy and Spain could all comfortably be dropped with a negligable impact on clean air or resources, it was not the environment these billboards were safeguarding. It was the endless miles of empty lives and empty towns between the California state line and the glitz of Frisco. The Mexican minimum wage workers, the Hispanic waitresses working for tips in corporate style chain restaurants, stuffing the wallets of Mr MacDonald and Mr Taco-Bell with ever increasing profits were living hand to mouth for hundreds of miles in either direction. Poverty, greed and exploitation bred what they always breed. Resentment. That resentment turned cleverly on the very people the most exploited, the most poor, by the most greedy.
I read articles this morning, mulling over our economic crisis.
But it is the same crisis that finished off every empire from Rome to Victoria. It is the crisis of greed, unfettered, destroying itself as it has throughout history. Greed and Corruption, consuming the very resources it needs to grow.
The Roman Empire, The Florentine Renaissance, The Tudor Enlightenment, The French Revolution, The Boston Tea Party, World War 1 - every time the same story, an effete and bloated ruling class, turned mad through greed and corruption. Every time as the people starved, every time as they died in vast numbers, every time, in the end, they finally saw the truth and a new order was formed.
We can argue on a pinhead, rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic, but in the end, we are doing what so many did before us. We have all the ingredients of a deep, dark crisis : Our media are not reporting it in anywhere near the detail they are aware exists. We have great pockets of displacement as the Arab world rocks on it's axis and Europeans flee austerity measures starving their children. We read daily propaganda - every scrap of evidence tells us that it is so - turning neighbour on neighbour, rich on poor, white on black, sick on healthy, few daring to put the blame where it belongs, for what will take its place? If we blame the very people that own the financial world, they will destroy us. "For each man kills the thing he loves".
We know without doubt that we are living in a time in which those in control, those tasked with the enormity of leading a world through crisis are inadequate to the task. They took the wrong path. They made the wrong decisions. they chose austerity when the world desperately needed nurture. Worse, they convinced us that there was No Alternative and now we believe them. We ignored the history books, we succumbed to the oldest arrogance in time.
We knew that austerity would not work because we tried it in the 1930s. We tried it in every one of the Revolutions and Power Swaps this world has ever known. We always do, because the owners of wealth demand it. But it always fails. It always fails because it demands that those with the least pay the most. That poverty becomes destitution, that we turn our backs on the vulnerable and learn to hate them instead. We watch our neighbours in Greece face death and starvation, watch fascists become a political force as they always do when the social fabric falls away.
It always reaches the point where those asked to starve to support the decadence of the banquet hall have no more left to give. Usually there is war. At the very least there is civil unrest and despots fall - we have seen it in the middle east and North Africa for a few years now, across Europe too.
We are seeing the world start to realise, the devastating realisation start to dawn, that after all, they could not re-write history. The IMF admit they were wrong, the OBR that they were far too seduced by the forecasts of optimistic austerity junkies with an axe to grind.
We see Europe start to attempt to slam the brakes on an austerity tanker that may just be too big and too burdensome to turn around. The depression may be too deep, the lost jobs and lost futures and lost hope may never return. We see corruption exposed in every high office and still they stick to the well rehearsed lines, as every civilisation has from the beginning of time
"We must not spend on you. You are too populus, too lazy, too undeserving, you have bought this on yourselves, you scroungers and feckless, drunken thieves."
And as every civilisation from the beginning of time, the people bear all that they can bear until they can bear no more.
Our government knows it. Europe knows it. The Middle East knows it.
And they are all desperately hoping that we live in the eye of the storm for as long as it takes.