Monday, August 8, 2011

Takin' It To The Streets

You don't know me
but I'm your brother
I was raised here in
this living hell
You don't know my kind
in your world
Fairly soon the
time will tell

You, telling me the things
you're gonna do for me
I ain't blind and I don't
like what I think I see

(Takin' it to the streets)
Takin' it to the streets
(Takin' it to the streets)
Takin' it to the streets

-- Doobie Brothers, "Takin' It To The Streets"

So, finally, the underclass in Britain has had enough. The surprise is not that these riots have happened now; it's that it hasn't happened since the mid-1980s.

I lived on the outskirts of Brixton in 1981, and even in those pre-BlackBerry, pre-Twitter days, it was not difficult for a mob of angry people to get going and create havoc in no time at all. I can remember streets being closed off, helicopters flying overhead, and the smell of smoke in the air for weeks afterwards. I knew people in Lewisham, Peckham, and other places where the rioting in 1981 spread, and everyone was frightened then.

But what has been done since the 1980s to address even some of the problems that led to those riots? From where I'm sitting, it looks like absolutely nothing has been done. The distance between the rich and the poor has grown even wider, and it's no secret that there are entire council estates populated by people who have never had a job, never had a chance to get a proper education, and have in many respects become more and more invisible.

And here's a news flash: the same conditions exist in the United States. And what will happen when the underclass in the United States rises up?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

This You Must Learn To Do

"This you must learn to do. To live without." -- spoken by Dr Anna Klaus, in The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

Over the past weeks, pretty much all we've heard about is the debt ceiling and the problems that the United States would face if Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. rating. Well, that's happened now. Everyone has their own ideas about how this happened, how we got here, and who is to blame for it. But it has happened, and instead of pointing fingers we should now be addressing the real problem.

The real problem is that everyone wants everything and they want it now. No matter if we haven't got the money to pay for it; that's what borrowing is all about, isn't it? And if the bill comes due, we can just borrow from somewhere else to pay that off, yes?

The U.S. attitude has always been -- particularly since the 1980s -- a pretty careless one where money is concerned. The number of applications for credit that appear in snail mail and e-mail boxes is obscene. The exhortations to pay off this card with another one mount up constantly. And the notion of refinancing seems to have become another unalienable right.

And the U.S. government is not immune to this way of thinking. Officials at all levels respond to offers to extend credit in the same way as ordinary citizens.

So, now everyone is distressed because things are going to get tougher. And this is another failing of all political parties, and all politicians. None of them seem to get it: We are going to have to stop this never-ending cycle of borrowing and living off someone else's dime. Things are going to have to get tougher, and that should mean for everyone.

If the government -- all of the departments and officials -- really gets it and devises a way to live within its means, then just maybe there is a possibility that the citizens will learn to do this as well. But if they continue to allow the rich to escape the consequences of this downgrading, people lower down the financial food chain will never learn, either.

"Live within your means, never be in debt, and by husbanding your money you can always lay it out well. But when you get in debt you become a slave. Therefore I say to you never involve yourself in debt, and become no man's surety. If your friend is in distress, aid him if you have the means to spare. If he fails to be able to return it, it is only so much lost." -- Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), U.S. president.