Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Canada gets nastier

Yesterday, someone pointed me to a recent G & M article observing that Canada is becoming, well, in the words of the article, a lot less like Ken Dryden and a lot more like Don Cherry. I found this interesting because I'd read/viewed a couple of things in the last few days that had me thinking along the same lines.

1) The first item was a blog post by Tasha Kheiriddin argues that much of the blame for the "present crisis" lies with "the 99%". She argues that "when people think it’s perfectly OK to take out mortgages they can’t afford, ... , you reap what you sow."  And there follows the obligatory tale of how she pulled herself up by her bootstraps so screw all those greedy lazy people who could make it work if only they'd try. Ultimately, according to her, everyone is equally responsible for our present crisis. The criticism is flawed for a few reasons, let me note a couple.  For one thing, it misrepresents the mortgage crisis. Yes, by definition almost, many people took on bad mortgages, but to present this as a reflection of pure greed or indolence or stupidity completely ignores the context. As a matter of fact, it was the actions of the banks that created a huge price bubble, a bubble that was downplayed by many experts including Greenspan and every mortgage broker in the country. People were regularly being reminded that housing prices were historically incredibly sound. It was the price bubble, not simple greed or stupidity that caused people to take on bad loans. People were led to believe that housing was becoming increasingly unaffordable and were willing to grasp at straws because of concern that they'd lose the opportunity forever as house prices continued to appreciate and that they were likely to be able to soon refinance on better terms. This is exactly the BS that mortgage brokers and realtors throughout the country were pushing, backed up by a plethora of financial experts. This isn't to deny personal responsibility; but to present this as simple greed or thoughtlessness is to completely ignore what was going on. Secondly, the crisis in which we find ourselves isn't just a simple matter of greed by everyone. In fact, the point that these people are making is that wealth has dangerously accumulated at the top and that this doesn't bode well for economic recovery or deficit reduction unless we implement fundamental changes. Truisms about everyone being greedy completely miss the point. If "the 99%" stopped being greedy it would do nothing to fix anything, it might actually hurt things insofar as it would result in less economic activity.

2) The second item that left me concerned about the tone of debate was a CBC "interview" of an OWS participant, Chris Hedges, by CBC's Kevin O'Leary. In it O'Leary says to, the very articulate and coherent, Hedges, "Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, but you sound like a left-wing nutbar." and then later quibbling with Hedges over whether he'd said 'nutcase' or 'nutbar'.  To be fair, Hedges denounced "corporations" in general when he apparently actually meant investment banks, so there was some confusion but nonetheless, is this really what journalism on the CBC has come to? 

(Parenthetically, I observe that Hedges gives credit to Canada for maintaining regulations on the banks, a point frequently made. Canada also regularly gets credit for the Herculean deficit elimination effort they mounted in the 90s. Both those things happened under Liberal governments, it's too bad they've been reduced to a tiny shadow of their former selves.)

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