Tuesday, June 10, 2008


The neurosis associated with the mortgage fixation is depicted in one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. Writing about Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller recalls, "I hoped it was a time bomb under the bullshit of capitalism, this pseudo life that sought to touch the clouds by standing on top of a refrigerator, waving a paid-up mortgage at the moon, victorious at last!"

Glyn Robbins makes the most persuasive case for a "third generation" of Council house building I have read to date in this month's Socialist Review.

The decimation of social housing under the right to buy policy was sold to tenants as an opportunity to buy their house outright. Taken at face value, this was enormously short-sighted, for it assumes that home-buyers stay in their properties forever (in practice, first-time buyers climbed aboard the property ladder and, after a few years, sold on to spectulators who bought to rent - yet another disastrous consequence of RTB).

But the Thatcher government's intention was in fact more strategic: to split working-class people down the middle, to erode solidarity. Those who chose to buy their flats or houses were aspirational; those who did not clearly couldn't be helped. The effect, as Robbins points out, is that Council tenants are now fair game.

The fact that calling for a programme of Council house building is seen as radical shows us how far neoliberalism has come. It should be a realistic demand, and as Robbins's article demonstrates, it certainly has logic and common sense on its side. But even in the early days of a recession (whose principal cause was an obscenely lop-sided housing market, run for the benefit of the infinitessimally few), the government will hear nothing of it.


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