Suicide Spreads as One Solution to the Debt Crisis

By Barbara Ehrenreich (AlterNet),

In a culture where credit rating is the key measure of self-worth, the increasing response to huge debts is “Just shoot me!”

A few days before Congress passed its Housing Bill, Carlene Balderrama of Taunton MA found her own solution to the housing crisis. Just a little over two hours in advance of the time her mortgage company, PHH Mortgage Corporation — may its name live in infamy — was to auction off her home, Balderrama killed herself with her husband’s rifle.

This is not the kind of response to hard times that James Grant had in mind when he wrote his July 19 Wall Street Journal essay entitled “Why No Outrage?” “One might infer from the lack of popular anger,” the famed Wall Street contrarian wrote, “that the credit crisis was God’s fault rather than the doing of the bankers and the rating agencies and the government’s snoozing watchdogs.” For contrast, he cites the spirited response to the depression of the 1890s, when lawyer/agitator Mary Lease stirred crowds with the message that “We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out …. We will stand by our homes and stay by our firesides by force if necessary”

Grant could have found even more bracing examples of resistance in the 1930s, when farmers and tenants used mob power — and sometimes firearms — to fight foreclosures and evictions. For more on that, I consulted Frances Fox Piven, co-author of the classic text Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail, who told me that in the early 30s, a number of cities were so shaken by the resistance that they declared moratoriums on further evictions. A 1931 riot by Chicago tenants who had fallen behind on their rent, for example, had left three dead and three police officers injured.

According to Piven, these actions were often spontaneous. A group of unemployed men would get word of a scheduled eviction and march through the streets, gathering crowds as they went. Arriving at the site of the eviction, they would move the furniture back into the apartment and stay around to protect the threatened tenants. In one instance in Detroit, it took 100 cops to evict a single family. Also in Detroit, Piven said, “two families protected their apartments by shooting their landlord and were acquitted by a sympathetic jury.”

What a difference 80 years makes. Read on…


5 thoughts on “Suicide Spreads as One Solution to the Debt Crisis

  1. No details, but I was faced with the prospect of homelessness bacause of someone else’s screw ups, and it is not a good feeling.
    Home is a basic security, and to face not having it brings a very strong, very deep, desperation.
    I feel so badly for those who have been caught up in this madness.
    There but for the grace of god………

  2. true,

    One would have to be one hard-hearted S.O.B. not to feel moved by this story and I for one, am not that S.O.B. My first thoughts were of condolence for her family and friends.

    I have experienced homelessness. I know first-hand the kinds of desperation you mention.

    But I heartily disagree with the first sentence the author of this wrote:

    “In a culture where credit rating is the key measure of self-worth…”

    I think that sentiments like this only compound the problem. My self-worth is NOT tied to my credit score or the size of any of my bank accounts. Thank you WillyLoman for causing me read and savor “Death of a Salesman.”

  3. neoke17, might this be better?

    “In a culture where credit rating is the key to obtaining wealth” Credit rating is key to everything. How much you pay for everything, including auto insurance (although why that is I have no clue).

    With no credit you cannot obtain anything. And without a decent (now, probably great) credit score, you cannot obtain credit.

  4. At about the age of 21 I had declared bankruptcy due to medical bills and was moments from homelessness until I found a transient fleabag hotel. However, that was before the MSM and right wing talk show hosts convinced everybody that things were great in this country and any problems you were suffering is because you were a stupid, lazy loser who bought a home you couldn’t afford and it’s all your own fault. Forget the bankers and real estate agents that convinced you you couldn’t afford not to buy the house and talked naive, first timers into unprecedented debt to make their commissions and get their bonuses. And when those people lost their jobs it was their own fault too. Not because industry moved every decent job offshore so that we could ship money out of this country and into the pockets of the CEO by the bucket. This is the time in our history where the little guy is responsible for everything and the big money guys are faultless. Only the MSM, all fatcats themselves, could convince so many people that they are the problem and instead of railing against their oppressors they should beat themselves.

  5. MsJoanne,

    I am sorry if I was unclear in what I wrote earlier. I fully realize what the author was trying to communicate with that line.

    My problem with what was written was that to express the notion that “credit rating determines self-worth” implies that everything that Shayne noted was true…

    …that the housing crisis was solely the fault of the consumer and had nothing to do with the practices of the lenders.

    …that, if you weren’t living the “American Dream™” (to be read a house, spouse, 2.5 kids, 2 cars, etc.) that you had lost the rat race and were someone to be shunned and avoided and that suicide could be a possible positive choice.

    It was that first sentence that I was disagreeing with. Not with what I infer was the author’s intent but rather the culture that spawned it.

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