Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The "third-worldization" of America

OK, I plead guilty to sensationalism--the post's title is not quite right, because the third world was largely the product of imperial exploitation, while America's current economic crisis is a sort of backfire of that exploitation. As Fanon and Memmi have argued, colonization destroys not only the colonized, but also the colonizer. I think that is reflected in America's mindless and uncomprehending consumerism--I remember spotting a teabag-squeezing device that in the kitchen in an American friend's parents' home, and wondering at the mind that created it, and then at the one that acquired and used it--its Panglossian faith that the market magically works out an equilibrium--that all the brutal suffering it inflicts on us and on others around us is somehow for the best.

Foreclosure's filthy aftermath
As foreclosures become more frequent, so do the stories of abandoned animals, insect infestations and deplorable living conditions.

Broke homeowners linked to arsons
Authorities in economically stressed cities see an increase in torched houses. Is the nation's mortgage mess transforming more Americans into criminals?

Economy fitful, Americans start to pay as they go

[Elena Gamble, who earns about $2,600 a month as a grievance counselor at a local prison] and her husband — a prison guard who brings home $2,000 a month — are grappling with $10,000 in high-interest debt. They no longer go to the movies or out to eat, except occasionally to McDonald’s. They quit their Internet service. Their car was repossessed. “What we say now is, ‘If we can’t afford it, we can’t buy it,’ ” Ms. Gamble said...

...Fran Barbaro has an M.B.A. and a résumé of computer industry jobs with salaries reaching $150,000 a year. She used to have a stock portfolio worth about $1 million. She hung original art on the walls of her three-bedroom house in Boston. But divorce, illness and motherhood drained her savings. Her home is worth less than she owes, and she owes another $200,000 to credit card companies, banks and tax collectors. Ms. Barbaro, 50, said she knew she was living beyond her means. But her house demanded work. Her two boys needed after-school programs running $25,000 a year. Medical bills multiplied.

“These were simple day-to-day expenses,” she said. “The money was always there.”

Until it wasn’t. Her take-home pay is $5,200 a month, but her debt payments reach $4,400. Ms. Barbaro has rented out her house while negotiating to lower her mortgage. She has moved to an apartment, where her sons sleep in the lone bedroom while she sleeps on a pull-out sofa.

(The readers' comments on this story are worth a read too -- NYT asked readers how they were changing their spending habits.)

Add to the above the facts that supermodel Gisele Bundchen will now only be paid in euros, and the Taj Mahal will no longer accept payment in dollars by foreign tourists.

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