Debt

A curious report appeared in the international news this week; curious not because of the story but what was said in it. AP’s Vanessa Gera reports “Poles eager to oust pro-market party in vote despite growth” concerning the upcoming Polish elections. The story highlighted the appearance of the Law and Justice Party candidate, Beata Szydlo, before an abandoned factory promising, of course, the return of such jobs if elected. The Law and Justice Party is considered conservative challenging the current rule of the incumbent Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and her Civic Platform Party (progressive), somewhat vaguely analogous to what we Americans categorize as right and left. The curious part appears in the thumbnail sketches of the two parties given by: “Another Law and Justice victory on Sunday would complete the nation’s shift to a brand of politics that mixes patriotic rhetoric, deeply conservative social values and a desire to use the state to level out economic inequalities. The party promises to reverse an unpopular rise in the retirement age and put more money into the pockets of struggling families with tax breaks, monthly cash bonuses for children under 18 and free medication for people over 75. It also wants to raise taxes on the mostly foreign-owned banks and big supermarkets in Poland and give tax breaks to smaller local businesses and those that adopt Polish technologies.” and “Civic Platform, the pro-business and centrist party that has overseen steady economic growth during its past eight years of rule.” (“When Poland threw off communism in 1989 it moved quickly to embrace free-market policies, with low taxes on corporations and a weak social safety net by European standards. The policies kept down debt and attracted massive foreign investments, bringing prosperity to many, especially in the cities.”), “Part of society is very successful but a smaller part is unsuccessful and still experiences many difficulties in daily life,” said [Dominik] Owczarek, an analyst with the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw. Even though the poor and disadvantaged are in a minority, they tend to be highly motivated voters with the power to influence the election outcome, he said.“. How is this possible? Within European politics much of “the right” stretches back through the Fascism of the 1930’s (prevalent throughout Europe), which actually courses even deeper into the 19th century. Its DNA is much more from the ground up, centered in various organized social accumulations meant to claim for themselves what was possessed by royalty or wealth (Communism, “the dictatorship of the people”, was one manifestation). The U.S. definition of this time/experience was more top down, a kind of McCarthyism, with the folks running things, the wealthy industrialists, etc. hiring thugs, Pinkerton’s, police etc. to muscle and force compliance by the social accumulations in upheaval. So the party affiliations the report describes, of progressives versus conservatives, follows accordingly, given the context of European history. Analysis finds curious the contemporary composition of U.S. party affiliation (which can’t be accounted for because it is the soup we swim in). Since the Reagan elections, the “right” has been supported, promoted and empowered by the very populace its policy’s and priorities do NOT promote. The stereotype is of the “left” favoring give-aways — women’s concerns, social programs (retirement or healthcare), unemployment compensation, welfare, children’s nutrition and education programs, etc. The “right” is generally associated with the market, business interest, wealth and property ownership (land, guns, etc.), and religion (fundamental moral perspective). This differs markedly from the parallel situation described by Gera. Ohio is exemplary of the actuality with the legislature, executive and judiciary dominated by the “right” (though it has a rich “worker’s” history). Someone elected these individuals, or should we say, this party. What Mitt Romney inadvertently revealed (that the individuals of almost half this nation have no net worth) doesn’t correspond with his assessment (that this portion votes for a party that will promote its interest. Something the “right” promotes in Poland. Then again, in Poland Mitt would be considered a progressive!). The focus on the stereotype in Mitt’s covertly recorded statement was misplaced, evidenced by who got elected to run things in Ohio (as well as in a slew of other states). The media and pundit emphasis was on the reason for voting aspect when it should have been on the net worth part. Net worth is derived from comparing an economic entity’s (which is a hypothetical) assets (things of market re-saleable value) with liability (debt, what is owed). If Romney had considered the percentage of people in debt rather than with zero or negative net worth, his prognosis may have differed. The majority of the U.S. populace carries some kind of debt. This debt creates a relationship, an interaction between the borrower and lender, the debtor and creditor. Mistakenly, this relationship is stereotyped as a master/slave relationship, especially in terms of Pay Day lenders, Check Cashers, etc. But a more insightful assessment would be a more nuanced description of support and promotion; that is, of debtor supporting and promoting creditor. If a sibling or close friend borrows/lends money then the debtor and creditor have created/forged a social bond within their relationship; that is, until the debt is absolved (after which they don’t need to interact out of necessity). With debt, they MUST interact with each other. This interaction (social exchange) must be civil, courteous, supportive and promotional, especially if it is accelerated by continuous borrowing, etc. At social functions one will always defer to the other, take a feigned (or genuine) interest in the other, promote or support the activities, priorities, policies of the other; all because debt determines this asymmetric relationship. The nature of debt, with its accompanying support and promotion, may have much more to do with the distinction informed by Vanessa Gera’s article. Interest rates for most consumer debt have been historically low for almost 20 years now (large ticket items, home purchases, student loans, even credit card rates). The asymmetric debt relationship, the inability NOT to promote or support the creditor may account more for why the party of big business, of the market and austerity, is continuously voted into the governance of a nation dependent on credit and long term debt (austerity, after all, guarantees that debt payments will continue without disruption). Getting rid of the debt is certainly NOT in such a party’s interest. Prioritizing “getting rid of the debt” is more revealing of the bad conscience (along with the great rhetoric) continued debtor/creditor interaction produces than any Ben Franklin kind of righteous freedom loving virtue.

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