Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Easy Rider

From the July 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

The actor Dennis Hopper died on 29 May. Together with Peter Fonda he wrote the script for the 1969 cult film Easy Rider in which he also played Billy. Here’s a couple short extracts from the film:

GEORGE: You know this used to be a hell of a good country, can't understand what's gone wrong with it.

BILLY: Man, everyone's got chicken that's what happened, man. Hey, we can't even get into a, like, second-rate hotel, a second rate motel, you dig. They think we're going to cut their throats or something, man. Like, they're scared, man.

GEORGE: They're not scared of you. They're scared of what you represent.

BILLY: All we represent to them, man, is someone who needs a haircut.

GEORGE: No. What you represent to them is freedom.

BILLY: What the hell's wrong with freedom! That's what it's all about.

GEORGE: Yeah, that's right. That’s what it’s all about. But talking it and being it, that's two different things. I mean it's really hard to be free when you're bought and sold in the market place. Don't ever tell anyone that they're not free because they'll get real busy killing and maiming to prove that they are. Oh yeah, they'll talk to you and talk to you and talk to you about individual freedom but they see a free individual it's going to scare them.

BILLY: Man, it don't make them running scared.

GEORGE: No, it makes them dangerous.

* * * * *

BILLY: Oh, wow... what... What’s that, man. What the hell was that?

WYATT: Huh?

BILLY: No, man, like, hey man, wow! I was watching this object, man, like the satellite we saw the other night right and it was going across the sky, man, and then it just suddenly, yeah, it just changed direction and went whizzing right off, man. It flashed . . .

WYATT: You're stoned out of your mind, man.

BILLY: Oh yeah, I'm stoned, man. But like, I saw a satellite, man, and it was going across the sky and it flashed three times at me and zigzagged and whizzed off, man, and I saw it.

GEORGE: That was a UFO beaming back at you. Me and Eric Heisman was down Mexico two weeks ago. We seen forty of them flying in formation. They've got bases all over the world now. They've been coming here ever since 1946 when the scientists started bouncing radar beams off of the moon. And they have been living and working among us in vast quantities ever since. The government knows all about them.

BILLY: What are you talking, man?

GEORGE: Well, you just seen one of them, didn't you?

BILLY: Hey man, I saw something, man, but I didn't see it working here, you know what I mean.

GEORGE: Well, they are people just like us, from within our own solar system. Except that their society is more highly evolved. I mean, they don't have no wars, they got no monetary system, they don't have any leaders, because I mean each man is a leader. I mean each man... Because of their technology they are able to feed, clothe, house and transport themselves equally and with no effort.

WYATT: Wow!

Housing madness

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

A photo of a row of empty newly-built houses in Dublin was featured on page 4 of the London Times’s Bricks & Mortar supplement of 14 May. According to the accompanying article, “a recent estimate suggested that there were 345,000 empty homes in Ireland”. Why? Is it because there are no people living in substandard housing in Ireland? Or because the housing problem has been solved there? Neither. It’s because there’s no market – no paying demand – for them. The people who need better housing or to move house cannot afford to pay. It’s as simple as that.

This situation arose in classic capitalist fashion. Houses like everything else under capitalism are produced to be sold with a view to profit. They are not produced simply for people to live in. A few years ago, when the capitalist economy in Ireland was expanding, there was a strong demand for new houses, which speculative builders in Ireland thought was going to continue. In any event, they felt that they rather than their rivals would benefit from the demand for houses. So they arranged for more to be built:

“This nation of builders became a nation of developers. Massive tax incentives encouraged people to invest. You’d have been a fool not to. Buy one day for €100,000 (£86,750), sell a week later for €200,000. Nobody asked if Ireland needed these buildings or whether they were being built in the right places.”

But then came the slump of 2008 (itself sparked off by overproduction of houses in relation to paying demand in the US) and the market for houses collapsed. “Too many” had been built:

“Developers can’t get rid of them, nor can some pay off the bank loans they used to build them. The banks can’t acquire them because they are worth so much less than their loans.”

Meanwhile, the other side of the Irish Sea, banks and building societies have a different problem but still arising from the fact that houses are produced for sale and not directly for people to live in. They can’t get the money to re-lend at a rate of interest that those who want to buy a house can afford.

Banks and building societies are intermediary financial institutions which make their profits by borrowing at one rate of interest and re-lending it at a higher one. They borrow money from two sources: the money market (“wholesale”) and individual depositors (“retail”).

According to the Financial Times (22/23 May) the Council of Mortgage Lenders has

“…warned that its own members – who make roughly 94 per cent of all the mortgage loans in Britain – are facing higher costs as they compete for retail deposits to replace maturing wholesale loans. This is likely to mean that rates on mortgages may have to rise even if the Bank rate remains on hold.”

The “higher costs” are the increased rate of interest they will have to offer depositors to get these to lend them money, but, if they are to make the same rate of profit, this will have to be passed on to those to whom they lend money to buy a house. But, as houses buyers may not be able to afford the higher interest, mortgage lenders are not prepared to give them loans as they wouldn’t make enough profit, with the result that, in the words of the article’s headline, the “housing market recovery shows signs of stalling”. A neat illustration of how banks cannot just create the money they lend. A neat illustration too of how capitalism is not a society geared to meeting needs.