Look at this graph. Maybe you saw it online earlier. It was posted on Twitter by the account.
It’s hard to think of a graph that might be a better indictment of our status quo.
House prices have surged past 400% compared to 1980 while incomes have increased by about 100%. Of course, what you don’t see in this graph is how much of the wage growth in Canada has been absorbed by the wealthiest Canadians, leaving the poorest even further behind. And, with record-high houshold debt, wages are being eaten up by debt like never before. Mortgages, yes but other kinds of debt too (student, car, lines of credit, credit cards).
We’re living in a nightmare situation where everyone is either living in housing that’s being used by some corporate entity to gamble, or you’re gambling on your own place of residence. Our house is either our retirement income or someone else’s retirement income.
It creates a feedback loop: people become overleveraged with their mortgage and need someone to buy their house at a price that’s higher than what they bought it at. That logic is then generalized across an industry of REITs and other large ownership stuctures where companies are legally bound to extract as much profit from property as they can. Oh, you want a 5% return on investment but you don’t want to invest in oil or war? Let me show you our lovely, ethical real estate packages.
I’m under no illusions that this couldn’t get even more scummy but the current state of things seems to be as scummy as it could get. Unfair. Disgusting. Greedy.
And worse of all: it has no end in sight.
We have no right to the thing that keeps us dry and gives us a place to live. A place to put our things, to keep us warm, to give us privacy and some space and maybe a place where people could come over so we could laugh together. Buildings have life in them, even when all of the forces of capitalism are crushing o
ut every drop of life to sell to the highest bidder.
The way that an empty building calls to you as you walk by it. It says: come inside. Explore these walls and these floors and see if you can find any signs of life. Old glass bottles. A tattered doll. Newspapers. Tobacco stains. A fire place. The way that the old house calls you to see if you can picture the life that built this place.
The old office furniture, the desk with an employee sitting at it with her head down, crying, the sexual assault that happened just over there or maybe, if we’re really lucky, the murder. That we might be standing right where Allan Smyth, 31, fell backwards after receiving a decisive blow from a coworker, Dwyane Scott who found out that Smyth had been slipping out at lunch time to screw his wife.
The sound of the highway that passes by, rendering the old house nothing but a demolition prize. The sound of the highway that passes by, rendering the office building more valuable than anyone had ever imagined it would be when they first broke ground to build it in 1972.
These buildings are alchemy. They turn someone’s first steps or abusive father or crawlspace or closet that connects to other closets into a pension or a payout or a stable revenue source. These buildings attract parasites. Parasites who will suck out every last drop of life from a single mother before she finally relents and decides to move in with her new boyfriend. A nice guy. Gets angry when he’s drunk.
Alchemy. From brick or concrete or treated wood or siding to profit. Good money. Too good money. Alchemy that only the wisest know how to do well. Remember, in our society, where wise actually just means rich. Alchemy. From man to begger. From family to rubble. From rubble to yacht. From happiness to misery to someone else’s happiness.
When my kid was little, I used to sing to him a song named Broken Bear. It made me think of the farm houses that used to dot the outskirts of where I grew up. Most have been turned into horrifying mansions that somehow turned small dick energy into a monument that you can actually go inside, take your shoes off and walk around. It smells like a glade plug in.
Or houses that you’d see set back from highways. I’d sing Broken Bear to him and he’d one day ask me to sing to him Broken Bear. It’s not what the song is really called. The words are broken and bare but it became Broken Bear to my three-year-old. An old farmhouse. A place where marriages happened, where people died and where someone’s home used to be but now no one lives there. A torn screen door.
I think about David Francey’s Torn Screen Door a lot. About how the banks took it all away. About how the dream of having your own space is only a dream anyone has because renters are treated so poorly and because it is a right of passage to sell your soul to a bank for the privilege of living in claptrap that can’t even go 10 years after being built before the window frames are rotten through.
This disposable society. Our sick fidelity to greed. We don’t riot over our housing prices. We just work harder hoping that maybe, the bubble will burst and maybe then everyone will learn an important lesson:
But there are no lessons. If we haven’t figured out the lessons by now then who’s fault is this mess really?
This is an unbelievable articulation of the blind rage I feel every day seeing a whole generation thrown to the wolves of the financial system.
You can figure out the lessons. That is not much good if there is no way to act on the lessons. Even articulating them can get you in trouble. Acting on them can get you killed or imprisoned. If there is no way to do anything about it, awareness just leads to depression. So, people turn to fantasy.