STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Uncharted territory / The Zamindars / Labor's performance / The Light on the Hill
, December 4, 2004
The elections just passed - viz. the US and Australian elections - could be ones which the US Democrats and the ALP were lucky to lose.
The international, political, military and security environments are changing in ways which few of us can confidently predict, while on the economic front we really are in uncharted territory.
Some of News Weekly
's writers have been sounding warning notes for some time and, although there is always the danger of crying wolf, Australia, for one, is throwing up statistics and revealing trends that are not, at least prima facie
To paraphrase an article in a recent Melbourne Age
- Five years ago, credit card debt was $11 billion - now it is $27 billion.
- Four years ago, total retail sales were $12 billion - now they are $17 billion.
- Total household debt has reached $700 billion.
- Traditionally, private spending was 10-12 per cent less than GDP, whereas now, and for the last four years, it is three per cent more than GDP (a change of 15 per cent).
Then there is the relentlessly rising foreign debt and what seems a periodically unimpressive trading account and, rather like the USA, few signs that the situations are going to be soon remedied. On the other hand, we are not into budget deficit spending, and certainly not of the magnitude of the Bush Administration. But it all adds up to uncharted territory.
But to return to Australia and look at the chronic indebtedness of so many people here.The Zamindars
When I was in primary school, I read a piece in the school reader (a publication regularly distributed to all schoolchildren) which told us of the Zamindars of India.
These Zamindars were a rich land-owning, landlord class with masses of tenant farmers who lived on small and often economically unviable plots of land from whom the landlords drew their rents.
The Zamindars were also tax-farmers, collecting taxes for the rulers or the government.
Lacking all capital - and there being no other avenues for obtaining credit - the small farmers would have to mortgage their crops, or part thereof, to buy seed and other agricultural necessities, while supporting their families until the harvest was gathered.
The vicissitudes of the weather and of commodity prices more or less guaranteed that, over a period, many farmers, after living in abject debt-ridden poverty, would be ejected by the landlord for unsustainable debt - or, if a small landowner, lose his farm.
Both groups would join the army of landless labourers - an army of itinerants. The landlords and village moneylenders got richer, year by year.
The school book said that the British were trying to break this debt culture and the misery and destitution that it caused by eliminating tax farmers and collecting the taxes themselves; by fixing interest rates at a bearable level; by investigating sources of cheap credit for farmers; and trying to check the rate of foreclosures.
They did succeed, up to a point: in many places Zamindars were cut back to size. But in parts of contemporary India, the de facto
(as opposed to de jure
) relationship between exploiters and exploited has hardly changed. But the British at least tried.
Many, many people in Australia have drifted, or been pushed, into situations rather similar to our Indians, although the façades and our media taboos on discussing the real situation here make people think they are different, better off than the debt-ridden little people before the Raj. Are they?
To contemplate a family with a 30-year house mortgage, one or more cars being paid off to a finance company, other household items really owned
by the lenders, an average sized credit card debt which is steadily rising, and the weight of taxes and charges bearing down ever harder (as they do) ... how different is the situation of our indebted citizens from those Indians in thrall to the landlords and money-lenders?
Whereas the British tried to stop or check the Indian situation, both our political parties support, with token qualifications, the same system here. Reason? If people cut back and started to save and not borrow, demand would fall and we would be staring at a slump. So, we must push on further into debt, personally, nationally and internationally.
Can this be a credible economic system that we are living under?
In a system such as this, everything has to go right. People don't lose their jobs or become sick, companies don't fold and interest rates stay low. And our trading partners remain viable. This is a most unlikely prospect - hence the general subliminal anxiety about money, security and the future.Labor's performance
I had spoken of Labor's contributions to any analysis of this situation and had speculated, along with the rest of us, as to how the ALP was going to perform as an opposition and as a contributor in the new parliament. We now know.
Day one started with a personal sleaze attack and media-orchestrated conspiracy stories.
We are back to the first days and months of the 1996 Howard Government, then forward to the boat-people and then the antics of the Senate committees before this last election.
There are many, many serious challenges facing Australia, but Labor has nothing to say, so divided and bereft of ideas it has become. Similarly with our collusive media. There is, therefore, a squalid prospect in store for us these next six months.Missing the Boat
Holland, Belgium and Germany are now, in their different ways, trying to slam the doors after the horses have long ago bolted.
With an eye on events unfolding in Holland and Belgium - two other founding members of the EEC and NATO - Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is expressing concern at the relations between Germans and the Muslims living in their midst - well, actually, in self-created enclaves.
There are three million Turks, half-a-million Kurds and 125,000 Palestinians in Germany, and they are not integrating says Schröder.
Their children are growing up not speaking German, going to Muslim schools where the classes are not taught in German, while the young (and not only the young Muslims) principally watch Arab television from the Middle East, of a fairly incendiary kind.
Germany must do more, says the Chancellor. But what?
One can understand Schröder's hands-off strategies in the Middle East: sell them guns (and, on the side, chemical weapons), but do not cross them!
Holland is going though a process of self-examination at the moment.
As Pim Fortuyn pointed out, Rotterdam already contained more non-Dutch inhabitants than Dutch and, in a few years, Amsterdam and The Hague would be the same.
He was assassinated for saying that. Now, a film maker, Theo van Gogh, has been murdered for making a film on Muslim mistreatment of women.
In the heightened tension, 20 mosques and churches have been torched. One Dutch politician, feeling that his party and the Government were not handling either immigration or integration problems with any courage, has set up a new party so as to push Pim Fortuyn's policies a good deal further.
He was immediately threatened with the same fate as van Gogh. (Incidentally, it is being said that his new party would gain 40 per cent of the votes if there were an election now.)
Belgium is suffering the same agonies and divisions as Holland: with an anti-immigration party, Vlaams Blok, getting 40 per cent of the vote in Flanders which contains 60 per cent of Belgium's population, making it the biggest political party in Belgium.
Nevertheless, Belgium's constitutional court has just declared it illegal, saying that it is racist and discriminatory. The party leaders say they want to create a party with policies like those of Jorg Haider in Austria, expected this treatment, and are simply going to reproduce a new party with some softened policies, but the same intent.
All of this adds up to a serious situation, politically and socially, for more and more of Europe. It is difficult to see a Europe with problems such as these and with divisions which are now permanent and growing, presenting a united front on anything. Unless it be a united façade.The Light on the Hill
Over the Atlantic - where, our media tells us, the superstitious and racist rednecks live - a negress, Condoleeza Rice, has just succeeded Colin Powell (of Jamaican descent) as Secretary of State.
No-one in the US has raised an eyebrow anymore than they did at the suggestion that an African-American or Latino (or female) could one day become President.
So what is happening here? How have the Americans been absorbing hosts of non-Americans so efficaciously? By insisting that the newcomers become American - love America - respect its way of life, and don't double-dip with other national allegiances.
People's religion and culture are their own business - but not supporting any outside country of their choice while enjoying the hospitality and citizenship of America.
Seems simple, doesn't it? In fact, we used to practice this strategy and hold to this philosophy with considerable success.
But that was before multiculturalism, and our "we hate the West and Australia" movement took over the Establishment and media. This is where the bodies are buried, here and in Western Europe.