The grapes of wrath are back
President Obama’s tour of Asia may have plenty of celebrity star status about it but cannot disguise the reality that the United States is on its knees economically and financially and needs all the help it can get, particularly from China. The Chinese have their own agenda, however, and helping out its former adversary is not exactly top of Beijing’s list of priorities.
Despite the multi-trillion bank bail-outs and stimulus packages introduced by the Obama White House and his predecessor, the US economy hangs by a thread and the social toll is mounting.
For example, in what must be one of the most embarrassing United Nations reports ever written, a special envoy has accused America of “shameful neglect” of its homeless. Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur for the right to adequate housing has just completed a seven-city tour of America.
“The housing crisis is invisible for many in the US," she said. "I learned through this visit that real affordable housing and poverty is something that hasn't been dealt with as an issue. Even if we talk about the financial crisis and government stepping in in order to promote economic recovery, there is no such help for the homeless."
She added: "I think those who are suffering the most in this whole situation are the very poor, the low-income population. The burden is disproportionately on them and it's of course disproportionately on African-Americans, on Latinos and immigrant communities, and on Native Americans."
The US government compiles statistics galore – but none on homelessness. Campaign groups say that more than 3 million people were homeless at some point over the past year. Los Angeles is no city of angels, with 17,000 households a night without shelter.
RealtyTrac describes itself as “the leading online marketplace of foreclosure properties”, with more than 1.5 million default, auction and bank-owned listings from over 2,200 US counties, along with detailed property, loan and home sales data. Its October report showed that 332,000 properties were claimed back last month alone.
More Americans have lost their homes this year than during the entire decade of the Great Depression. California, of course, was where many workers migrated to during the 1930s, their experiences captured in John Steinbeck’s great novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The state posted the nation’s second highest state foreclosure rate for the second month in a row, with 85,420 properties seized in October.
With unemployment in America up to 16% on some measures, the slide towards another Great Depression continues. Calls are now going out for measures to protect the US economy from the Chinese, who have used the last 12 months to extend their industrial capacity at a phenomenal rate and to produce goods at rock bottom prices for export to you know where. Respected economists like Paul Krugman have accused China of dumping its employment abroad and “stealing American jobs”.
So the scene is set for a new phase of the global crisis, one where trade wars and protectionism take centre stage. Obama may be feted in China, but the country’s leaders have no intention of raising the yuan’s value against the dollar to make exports more expensive, as the White House wants. Obama will return to Washington empty handed as the combined social crisis of homelessness and unemployment reaches tipping point.
16 November 2009