Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Recession? Oh goody!

Economics is wierd isn't it?
If we talk about recession and try and guard against it, we precipitate it. If everybody dismissed the idea of recession and spent well then...
Will Hutton, who I respect, often talks about the need for government to intervene in the market economy. His comments often attract vitriol for, it seems, daring to suggest that the market may not always work.
Well, I'm pretty clear that the Market works. But the capital letter is there to denote a particular market which dominates out thinking - it even dominates the thinking of politicians on the left.
I've just been reading Bourdieu on politics (chapter 8 of his book Distinction) and what struck me most of all was the emphasis he puts on being able to talk of politics.
Bourdieu points out, in brief, that many people are excluded from having an opinion, or from expressing anything other than the dominant 'logic' of politics, because of their position. Those who are least equipped (largely through education) who are in a dominated position often feel unable to give a response to even an apparently simple question.
Moreover, political questions use the language of politics expressly to exclude; they are expressed in abtract, technical language in expectation of understanding only by those 'qualified'.
The kinds of questions people feel able to respond to vary, often correlating with their 'distance' from the domestic, personal experience.
Questions of economics, which are essentially political, are often disguised as apolitical (appeals to 'common sense' are a dead giveaway!) but also have significant personal ramifications.
One might want the economy to slow down, but you certainly don't want it to result in your house being worth less than you owe on your mortgage.
That we can entertain this possibility, without being struck by the peculiar logic of this 'market' says much about its pervasiveness. How can a company (a mortgage lender) assume no risk (that is to say, a predictale and predicted, therefore accounted-for risk turned into an overhead) whilst individuals (borrowers) assume complete responsibility for the loss (they cannot spread their risk)? The simple answer is; those are the rules of the game.
Occasionally, however, it is interesting to step outside of the game and consider what is just.
I might suggest that it is unjust that landlords can keep properties empty whilst people cannot afford to rent or buy a home. For that matter, it would seem unjust that people must impoverish themselves to have a basic necessity - a permanent dwelling.
The nature of the Market is that it will always arbitrate between competing sources of profit pursued by those with stocks of economic capital. But is is also in the nature of markets that they do not run smoothly and that generating (big) winners inevitably generates (a lot of small) losers.
Even those who see recession as inevitable must agree that for people to lose their homes as a result can, and perhaps should, be ameliorated. That requires intervention on the side of justice, not just to support the myth of the market. And that demands that we acknowledge the voices of those who are unable to speak because they are not shareholders - they are only bit players in the market game.

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