The triumph of greed over need


The construction industry and the property market have well and truly collapsed. House prices have already fallen by about 20% since 2006 and the fall is set to continue for some years still.Although many politicians and developers will tell you that the property crash is nobody’s fault – due to market conditions – they are simply liars. The reality is that the property bubble was entirely predictable. The problem was that a significant number of capitalists were making shed-loads of cash off rising prices: developers, bankers, land-owners and so on. Irish politicians were hardly going to spoil their party when so many brown envelopes were addressed to them. The corporate media gorged itself on the revenue from property ads and, in return, were happy to provide platforms for a whole host of snake-oil salesmen – banks’ economists, estate agents and other vested interests - to pimp their propaganda.

The overall affect of all this greed and corruption was that Ireland’s economic boom ended up being mostly diverted into the pockets of a tiny number of capitalists. Although they were the ones who made the cash, everybody has to live with the ruinous consequences of their decisions. The country is littered with thousands of empty properties in areas without services where nobody wants to live. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people will spend decades struggling to pay back the massive loans they took to buy inflated property. If interest rates continue to rise, tens of thousands will face eviction and repossession.

This appalling vista is a direct consequence of an economic system based on greed and exploitation. Housing is a basic human need – people really can’t choose to do without. Those who own property exploit this need to enrich themselves. They don’t care if they wreck the economy and thousands of lives – that’s somebody else’s problem.

There is nothing inevitable about this system. It would be perfectly possible to organise housing in a completely different way. Society could provide everybody with decent housing as a basic right. Doing so would cut out all the horrendous waste and greed that the profit-motive introduces. The reason that society doesn’t do it like that is not because it’s too difficult, it’s because the current situation suits those with power perfectly well. Workers, in general, have no say in such matters, all we can do is to try to get as good housing as we can afford and keep our fingers crossed that the market doesn’t turn on us.

In the long term, the only solution is to replace capitalism with a system where housing is allocated according to need, not profit. However, there’s no point waiting around for the revolution. In the short term, there are a whole host of ways in which workers can limit the destructiveness of capitalists. Demanding more public housing, opposing planning corruption, resisting evictions, protesting poor conditions and many other such actions can give workers some measure of control over the housing market. As the property crash intensifies, more and more people will have to choose between fighting back and penury. The sooner we start organising the better.


From Workers Solidarity 104 July August 2008