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Reading the tea leaves for 2012

John Bell

December 29, 2011

“For a long time it has been frowned upon to use terms like ‘class’ in everyday conversation; that’s just old fashioned, dusty, Marxist jargon we’d be told. Just a few years ago using the word ‘capitalism’ brought a similar response. Now ‘capitalism’ is back in common parlance, in the newspapers and around the water cooler. My prediction for 2011 is that we are about to see a similar return of ‘class’.”

Exactly a year ago a very perceptive pundit wrote those words, and boy-o-boy was he right. Best pundit ever! Okay, it was I. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Sooner or later ideas and debates about “class” were bound to come to the fore. The division of society into opposing classes–particularly into a minority who own and control the resources and technology, and a great majority who live by selling their ability to work–is the stark reality. The ideology that we had evolved beyond class, that we were all in it together and that anyone could rise to the top through their hard work and initiative, that was the fiction.

That fiction has been blown away by the fearless masses of the Arab world, still struggling to push their revolution forward in the face of tricky words, false friends and brutal repression.

And by the working people of Europe who refuse to see the progress won by several generations of struggle wiped out to benefit financial speculators.

And by the Occupy gang worldwide who wisely resisted demands to get “specific” about their demands. Refusing to point to one or another symptom, they effectively indicted the entire sick system that grinds down the 99 per cent to empower the 1 per cent beyond the dreams of avarice.

Class war

Everywhere you looked in 2011 you saw class warfare breaking out. From Tunisia to Wisconsin to Athens to Sudbury: the battle lines were being drawn more clearly and honestly than at any point in my lifetime.

Oh yes, Harper got his majority. Yes Rob Ford took Toronto’s City Hall. Yes the bankers got richer. It takes two sides to make a class war, and while we’ve been dithering for years our enemies have always been clear (if not always united) in pursuit of their class ends. In many ways we were playing catch-up, and often we lost this skirmish or that battle.

But the genie is out of the bottle. Our class is starting to get organized, to feel the strength in its numbers and, more importantly, in the crucial position it holds in the economy. If the 99 per cent refuses to work, the 1 per cent loses its hold.

Occupy Everything

The Lancaster Eagle Gazette is the newspaper of Lancaster, Ohio. Lancaster is a small city in the middle of the state that epitomizes middle America. Its Christmas Day editorial about the Occupy movement is worth noting:

“Those who ‘occupy’ today’s streets use the occasion to demonstrate–not so much against Wall Street, but against their loss of both economic status and their self-esteem.

“It could be called class warfare.”

The Eagle Gazette points out: “Four years ago, 26 million Americans’ incomes were so low that they qualified for [food stamps]. Today, the number has increased to 46 million, an increase of 20 million during the Great Recession and its supposed recovery.”

The editorial isn’t out to fan the flames of revolt. It ends by telling readers all will be well if they go back to school and learn new skills. The inane conclusion is beside the point. If people are talking about “class warfare” in Lancaster, Ohio they are talking about it everywhere.

My fearless prediction of 2011 didn’t come out of nowhere. If one strains to listen to the deep rumblings from below instead of the noisy chatter from above, one has a good chance of spotting the coming trend. The level of struggle and protest in Egypt had been rising for years. The gross chasm between the 1 per cent and the struggling 99 per cent had been growing wider and more evident for years.

Continued crisis

As for 2012, my bet is that the Canadian economy will be sucked deeper into the instability and crisis that we see everywhere. Harper’s vaunted claim, that Canada is exceptional and its banks a model of stability and honesty, will crumble like a house of cards. That isn’t a cliché; the Canadian housing bubble is due to burst, revealing the weakness and corruption within.

I’m not alone in predicting this, nor does one have to be a socialist to see this train wreck. One of my favourite bloggers is former Tory MP Garth Turner. Of the Canadian real estate bubble he writes:

“It’s impossible to play down the magnitude of this mess… Millions made the choice of throwing whatever investment dollars they had into a single asset–real estate. It may have worked while the economy chugged, but no longer. So without enough financial assets to actually provide income, even more needed as the feds cut back, what’ll they do?

“Simple. Bail.”

Canada is about the only nation in the world where the majority holds a favourable opinion about its bankers and, by extension about its financial system. That impression has been fostered by a sycophantic business press, and by the fact that the housing bubble didn’t pop in 2008. My guess is that the real estate balloon, and with it the fiction of the righteous Canadian banker, will not survive 2012.

The class warfare is about to get hotter.

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