In America, people believe that a house is who you are, while a car is who you want other people to think you are. If you have no house and you have no car, by extension you are nothing, and you want to be nothing. Many have modeled their lives around this belief, taking on enormous amounts of debt to get the right house, the right car and the right job.
In the novel Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk calls it the "IKEA nesting instinct," the hoarding and management of material goods in an attempt to reach some form of self-actualization. Karl Marx called this inability to properly value goods as "commodity fetishism." The social environment of the commodity system serves to obfuscate the real value of those goods. Marx theorizes that fetishism is inseparable from the production of commodities. The mere existence of a product creates its own market.
Owning a home is the one commodity everyone has been told they must achieve, preferably while still young and the bigger, the better. Consumerism in its minor forms is ruinous, but at the housing level, is is the gestalt of all self worth. Politicians and economists have based our entire economy around housing, a kind of super-metric of wealth, health, and spiritual satisfaction. If we find ourselves without the means to "buy" a house, we "buy" a car (all of which can be taken away should we refuse to pay our national rent, also known as taxes). A car at least creates the illusion of prosperity. And if you can't afford that, well then you're not worth much to America, unless of course you're generating income as a prisoner in the country's ever growing private prison system.
Each inmate housed by a private prison in the United States generates approximately $30,000 to $40,000 a year for private corporations employed by the government. And so, if you have no home, you are nothing to the power elite, but as a prisoner, you can be assigned a new home, complete with bars and other furnishings, thus generating income for these private companies. You'll even be given a job making hotel reservations or fabricating body armor, all for pennies a day. And so even those who purposely or otherwise reject consumerism are indentured to its service.
Seeing prison as just another type of home is reflected in government statistics as well. Financial writer Jeff Neilson has recently noted that while US new home inventory has been "plummeting straight down," other reports indicate that construction of homes are up significantly, producing "50 to 100 percent more units than they sell." Neilson's conclusion?
"Either the official U.S. housing numbers were total fabrications; or, more than half of these 'housing starts' were units which did not require a 'sale' to an individual owner in order for the builder to be paid (since no builder can stay in business building twice as many units as they sell).
In attempting to come up with an answer to the question 'how could millions of new U.S. housing units not require sale to an owner?', I could only formulate one possibility. All of these phantom 'housing starts' were in fact prison cells."
Yes, the biggest "housing construction" growth may in fact be prison cells. The US gulag system is comparable in size (per capita) to the Soviet gulag system of the 1930s. The US currently incarcerates 743 people for every 100,000, compared to 800 per 100,000 at its peak under Stalin's Soviet Union. At current rates of expansion, the United States will surpass the Soviet Union's world record in 2018.
"Once you disappear behind prison walls you become prey," author Chris Hedges writes. The list of barbaric acts committed by the government and its surrogates in prison are shameful:
"Rape. Torture. Beatings. Prolonged isolation. Sensory deprivation. Racial profiling. Chain gangs. Forced labor. Rancid food. Children imprisoned as adults. Prisoners forced to take medications to induce lethargy. Inadequate heating and ventilation. Poor health care. Draconian sentences for nonviolent crimes. Endemic violence."
In short, it is our future, for any society is only as free as it's least free citizen. In the end, I can only be free, if you are free, and vice versa. Those among us who manage to avoid a literal prison are doomed to a different kind of slavery and degradation, one of the spirit, and if you somehow become aware of the invisible bars, then the madness is made worse by the knowledge that you know nothing will ever get better.
Back to housing. For Washington DC, housing is the key measure of economic health. But what if there is no growth? What if the fair value of all those houses is actually less than half of what they now sell for? Capitalism can only survive if there's continual growth, so what do you do if there is none? Well, imaginary growth created by fraudulent balance sheets, false scarcity and easy money will do for a while. Global capitalism may be hyper-efficient, but it is also equal parts fragile. All of this manipulation and skimming has left us with a dead husk of a society.
The home is the chief commodity of the American Dream, but it isn't enough in itself. The dream of a secure job that provides enough money left over for sexy cars, month long vacations, and embarrassingly large TV screens is just as important. Selling the "American Job" would need to fulfill all these requirements and more. It would need to have moral weight behind it: helping people, making the world a better place to live, an honest occupation one could be proud of.
Is it any wonder why nursing and other jobs in healthcare have become one of the most sought after careers in recent years? The messaging certainly sounds familiar: "Healthcare is a safe and growing field because of all the Baby Boomers. It's a labor market that will continue to be in demand for years to come." But like the housing market, there's good reason to suspect much of the recent demand is a phantom, a bubble based on government mismanagement.
The US government currently spends almost $900 billion in healthcare and the Congressional Budget office projects it will increase to nearly $1.6 trillion by 2020. Where will this money come from? How long can this continue until it doesn't, and who will be holding the bag when those jobs and their promising pay suddenly evaporates? At the end of the cycle, the industry will have access to a large, highly trained workforce desperate enough to work well below wages they now enjoy.
There's a long game being played here. The selling of a product as big as housing and education requires such maneuvering. The biggest market of all is the American dream, and for now, business is booming.