Material mania and credit insania: Whose modern day monster is this?

By Rose Mouton

 

Not so long ago you could not obtain a credit card without having adequate income in order to pay it back. However nowadays, as we all well know just about anyone can own a credit card - all you have to do is turn eighteen. And the result? Well, a fixation with 'buying' things and over 3-trillion of national debt! So how did this paper money system evolve? Why have some come out on top and others sank to the very bottom? Who renovated the financial system into a lending liability? What got that buzz going in the economy that made think and WANT to borrow and borrow like there was no tomorrow?

"I've got a lovely bunch of credit cards. Now take one and bugger off!"

 

Is it Thatcher's?

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 with a mandate to combat the UK's economic decline she introduced a system that brutally deregulated credit. Before then you had to have a job/substantial income to come into possession of a credit card. The banks had to solicit you for credit and were obliged to act much more sensibly. Affordable public services, made borrowing unnecessary but Thatcher changed all this.

Thatcher started off her new job by going on a privatisation bender. She sold off a huge chunk of state owned enterprises such as council houses and many of our national utilities. Although many people took advantage of the shares that were up for grabs, many sold them immediately for a quick profit and therefore the proportion of shares held by individuals rather than institutions did not increase. However, it was the estrangement of the state from the financial system that kicked off a new wave of economic irresponsibility. Thatcher introduced 'light touch' regulation into the banking sector in London so that the dealers in the banks could be set free to make profits without having to be supervised by regulators. Now, out of the Government's control, our banking system effectively became a casino with bankers awarding themselves rather large prizes.

As well as vigorously shaking up the financial system, Thatcherism also caused an ideological shift to take place within the nation. The concept that the government was less financially responsible for the people and that they were now more responsible for their own well-being became widely accepted. A brutal attitude evolved whereby anyone who sank and couldn't provide for themselves would just have to deal with it.

This self-centred movement prompted British people to turn their backs on collectivist society, effectively creating a more pronounced two-tier system. This, coupled with less affordable public services and a greater competition for basic self provision created a stronger division between the rich and the poor. Credit and/or the gold brick road to the city became the new route to financial welfare.

Adrian Davies, child of the Thatcher era remembers the ideological shift 'When we grew up there was a much greater sense of social responsibility and care in the community. When Thatcher came along that all got pushed aside. There was also the new idea that if you couldn't provide for yourself and lived off the state, then you were nothing more than a sponger. People also became much more materialistic. You used to have to save for what you wanted because there wasn't credit about. Banks wouldn't offer you credit. If you wanted a TV or a holiday you put money away and you saved it. Not like now.'

Over in America, close pal and ally of Margaret Thatcher, President at the time Ronald Reagan came up with another Neo Liberalist classic - he changed income distribution so that top 10% gained in their annual revenues and bottom 80 all lost out. What could possibly be the reason for generating all this disposable income for the already very rich? Well, by pushing all the money to the very top where it is not needed for consumption or general means of survival, it is all the more likely to go on the international stock market and not on the local and national economy.

Many say that the absolute biggest change that Thatcher brought about was within the Labour party. They became a 'middle of the road' party, rather than a leftist, socialist force. The way we thought about the acquisition of money changed things and made the Labour party unelectable, forcing it through the process of centralisation. This brought us Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the Labour party we know today. Neo Labour was as much her creation as it was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's.

"Economics are the method," she said; "the object is to change the soul." And she did change the soul - of the country and of its people. Today, her shadow still looms over British politics and finance.

Is it Neo-Labour's?

A multi-billion war in Iraq? A multi billion bank bail out? 3 trillion national debt figure? An extention of Thatcher's Privatisation bonanza? Student loans n Top Up Fees? Not really what it said on the box, was it? Neo Labour has been highly instrumental in burying the nation in debt, abolishing affordable, nationalised public services and in turn assuring growth and welware in the private sector.

The financial system crafted under Thatcher and Neo Labour has finally proved itself to be a groaning tower of credit cards - which is currently collapsing on everyone's heads. Over the past few decades people went berserk n took out ginormous loans from the banks and brought houses, cars, Ipods n all sorts with money that didn't exist. People were most definately greedy but banks, now free as birdies, or vultures even, inarguably seduced them into borrowing serious amounts of cash that they should never have been allowed to have. An ex-Sussex University student recalls having a credit card sent to her university address completely out of the blue. "I could literally have activated it that day and borrowed up to £5,000. Imagine what I could have gotten if I actually asked for a credit card! Scary!"

The general public feeling now is that the privatised banking system got us into this mess and it should be their 'get rich quick and shag everyone else heads on the chopping board. However, given neo-liberalist times that we are living in it is perhaps unsurprising to see the 'Labour' party have chucked billions down every bank's parched throats. Their claim that they are throwing their hats in with the people tastes exactly like 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' baby food but no one's really digesting it this time. Now, with the banks of England printing out more paper money we have to ask ourselves if this could be a new chapter in 'British Politics - a book of scams?' Check out this thought-provoking article on Angry Harry.
 

Is it our monster?

 

The trouble with becoming subject to the demands of these major global economic players is that not only does the citizen become neglected and exploited but frets about its well being. The 'float or sink' ideology mentioned earlier has provoked a competition to see who can come out on top. It is now estimated that nearly one in five people have a spending addiction, strecthing beyond their financial realms. Could society's ever evolving obsession with material possessions have provoked an urgent need symbolise ones position in this race?

Ridiculously wealthy people, such as celebrities and the monarchy, are plastered on the front pages of the media every day, with tips on how to achieve 'the look' and emulate 'the lifestyle'. However, even if you don't have the income, credit still exists. One Compulsive shopper (name withheld), who is a 20 year old mother of two who survives on minimum wage as a cold caller told me 'I buy lots of Dolce and Gabanna, even if I can't afford it, I'll find a way to buy it. It makes me feel like a celebrity, like Victoria Beckham. I have paid for things like designer shoes on credit cards when I don't have enough money. I'm in debt but the feeling that buying these things gives me is worth it'. Instead of resenting the 21st century elite, we blindly aspire to them to the point where the rationality behind the distribution of wealth goes unquestioned. Ask yourself this question: Why does the reality TV star earn more than a cleaner? After all, the latter can work hard physically-grueling shifts, their job is fundamental to our existance and on top of this their job is disgusting. Have we have we really chosen celebrity over our community?


We may have been failed by our governments, by the banks, by the media and by a system that has favoured corporate wellbeing over the citizen. However, don't you think that our pride, our ability to readily surrender compassion and rationality for an acceptable self-image make it all the more harder to sympathise? Is society as much a part of the beast as a victim?


 

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