Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
The Great Gatsby
The green light that Gatsby believed in is the same beacon of hope that inspires all Americans: in the land of the free there is no bar to success, no glass ceiling to inhibit progress; nothing is impossible if you are determined enough to accomplish it. This American Dream has now been so contorted by money, politics and prejudice that it is scarcely recognisable but still from Michigan to Texas they ‘beat on, boats against the current’.
So, is there a British equivalent? A universal good which we value and for which we all strive? A random poll would suggest home ownership would come high on most people’s list and Governments of a certain persuasion have found it suits them to foster such ambition. To those seeking control over the ways things turn out, encouraging ownership of property offers two advantages. First, it creates a hostage to fortune, the fear of losing your home can be a powerful lever in making people do what you want and second, given the current method of acquiring property, it allows the already rich to become richer. What is worse, the whole process is flawed. In what other circumstances would an individual buy an item for £200,000 then seconds later sell it for £170,000? But that is what the average house buyer does if he puts down a 15% deposit and pays the balance by taking out a mortgage. The Mortgagor, now the legal owner of the property is sitting pretty. He knows his property will be maintained at someone else’s expense and can relax and enjoy the profits that accumulate at compound interest, and if everything goes pear shaped, he can repossess the property and reclaim his capital. The self-proclaimed home owner, on the other hand, continues to pay a substantial part of his income as ‘rent’ for the right to reside in his own house. If all goes well, the property will eventually be purchased and ownership secured at approximately three time its original value. It is true that inflation will have lessened the burden of repayment and the foolish can even bask in the illusory glow of property prices increasing but it only takes a tiny organism to pass from a bat to a human for this whole edifice of financial security to collapse like a pack of cards.
The iniquitous thing about such a system that lines the pockets of money lenders is what it denies. As the country provides roads for those who wish to drive so it should provide homes at a reasonable cost. The money saved as a result could be spent anywhere along the spectrum of improving the quality of life to investing in life-saving research. It might also foster a sense of community, a return to the much vaunted ‘blitz-spirit’. Of course, those who might consider such a scheme a tad too Chairman Mao are perfectly at liberty to withdraw from society and spend the rest of their lives and fortune in renovating Tottering Towers.