Economic Cleansing

A London borough says it is planning to decant 3,000 people to towns as far as Bradford in the north of England where rents are cheaper than London house prices. Some are calling this economic cleansing – removing families with no jobs who live on welfare benefits. But why the astonishment that this should be happening in Britain in the 21st century? Economic cleansing is a social process as old as the enclosures of the commons that began 500 years ago.

Because of the severity of the Depression the fault lines in the social system are being laid bare by the day. Britain is a metaphor for the corrupted social arrangements that blight the lives of people in most western countries.

In journalism: reporters arraigned for phone hacking. In the national health service: nurses condemned for allowing the elderly to die unnecessarily. In Parliament: politicians use fraudulent expense claims to pilfer from the public purse. Law enforcement: policemen conspire to break the law. Corporations: bribing to get contracts. Retailers: selling horse meat as beef. The list goes on and on.

These are not cases of random wrongdoing by a few “rotten apples”. The corruption is systematic and reveals a flaw in society’s foundation. Western civilisation had finally been totally captured by the rent-seeking culture. What started as the displacement of peasants from their commons in the time of the Tudors and Stuarts is now the dominant social process. In essence, it’s the syndrome of people wanting to live off the labours of others.

Co-opted into the Predator Culture

Most people have been co-opted into the lifestyle of rent-seeking. They are not aware that they are participating in a culture that cheats people of their right to earn a decent living. These unwitting cheats – that’s most of us – believe they are “hard working middle class home owners”. And so they are. But they are also lustily accumulating value which they did not create. They celebrate the rise in house prices as if this was a natural phenomenon with no moral consequences. But one result is the displacement of families from Camden Town.

The connection between rent-seeking and economic cleansing is the big untold story of our times. Social scientists steer clear of the analysis that would expose the grotesque underpinnings of this social system. Politicians maintain prudent silence – they are not in the business of losing votes. And so, the cleansing proceeds apace, locking rich societies into the poverty traps which can only end in wholesale tragedy.

There is a way out of this tragedy. The technical solution is to realign the public’s pricing mechanism to make taxation consonant with the principles of justice. But this reform will not happen while people’s minds remain locked into the state of collective trauma.

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