Thursday, October 09, 2008

Best of times, worst of times

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. --A Tale of Two Cities
Thus begins Charles Dickens classic novel depicting society in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel goes on to portray how the period was indeed the best of times for some, and the worst of times for others. Some of the most vivid scenes of the novel are those that illustrate the shocking contrast between the aristocracy and the proletariat in England and in France, and the brutality with which the former treats the latter.

In one scene, while racing through the streets of Paris in his carriage, the Marquis St. Evrémonde, a heartless aristocrat who openly disdains the lower classes, runs over and kills a peasant child. He callously tosses a few coins to the devastated peasants who have gathered around the body, then continues on his way. That night, he is murdered in his bed by the father of the killed child. Dickens uses the incident as an example of the myriad of events that lead inevitably to the Revolution and all its ensuing horrors.

Yesterday, I saw a story that caused me to recall Dickens' novel.

In a move sure to make bankers and mortgage brokers very nervous, Sheriff Tom Dart, of Cook County, Illinois, announced that his office will not enforce foreclosure-related evictions.

Sheriff Dart objects to evictions being carried out against renters who pay their rent on time while the property owners, unbeknown to their tenants, are in default on the mortgages. His decision not to enforce these court-ordered evictions also spares home-owners who are legitimately in foreclosure, but, says Sheriff Dart, "We will no longer be a party to something that's so unjust."

Sheriff Tom Dart
You can read the whole story here.

The Illinois Bankers Association was swift with its public response, saying "The reality is that by ignoring the law and his legal responsibilities, he is carrying out 'vigilantism' at the highest level of an elected official. The Illinois banking industry is working hard to help troubled homeowners in many ways, but Sheriff Dart's declaration of 'marshal law' should not be tolerated."

When I read the response, I was reminded of the words of the Marquis St. Evrémonde on the day he ran over the child in the streets of Paris: "Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend, will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof shuts out the sky."

Presently, the number of residential mortgages in foreclosure is at record levels. This is a direct result of the deregulation of banking practices that was designed to allow banks and mortgage lenders to effectively enslave borrowers by tying them to subprime mortgages ("interest-only" loans, and the like) that they could never pay off. Chimeric promises of a never-ending ascension in the housing market lured in uninformed borrowers who had the naivete to believe in the "American Dream," and who are now hopelessly indebted and at risk of losing all their worldly possessions. And the people that hold their debts are the same people that are now benefiting from the $700 billion bail-out that tax-payers have been told is necessary to save the world from financial collapse. The same people that, after receiving a bail-out from the Federal government to prevent them from going into bankruptcy, promptly took themselves on a $440,000 junket to a resort in California.

Dart's action must surely strike fear into the blackened hearts of those bankers, those subprime lenders, those Wall Street pirates. What begins with an upstart, would-be hero shooting his mouth off might end with a brand new Bastille Day. The problem, for them, is that their greed has caused them to overreach to the point that they have no credibility. Their lies can no longer be pedaled by any old greenhorn demagogue. The proletariat is awakened.

When the abuse perpetuated on the lower classes surpasses the point of tolerance, when the proletariat loses hope for a better future, they rise up.

The open question is this: how will things play out from here?


Ridwan said...

Excellent post and beautifully written Dade.

I expect that renters across the US (the globe really) will be in similar straights.

Peace brother.


Eclectic Dilettante said...

I know a renter in Florida this happened to a year ago. Somehow, she found out the complex was being foreclosed ahead of time. She said her last box of stuff was going into the car as the police pulled up to kick her out.

She was one of the lucky few who managed to find out in time to move. It's really sad to pay the rent every month then find yourslef homeless through no fault of your own.