Glocal Econ 14: Homeland Insecurity and the Mortgage

Homework Due:

In the TEDx talk, Jon Jandai says that he spent two hours a day for two months building a house, which saved him 29 years and 10 months from the normal method of buying it. He also has many enlightening things to say about universities being hard because they’re boring and because the material learned is destructive. The Pun Pun Center for Self Reliance is a small organic farm, seed saving center and sustainable living and learning center started by Jon Jandai and his wife.

I also did some research on whether the word mortgage really does mean death grip. Dear Word Detective: What is the origin and true definition of the word “mortgage”? We’ve heard that it is from the Latin roots “mort” (death) and “gage” (grip). Is this true? — Brad Hubbell.

Not exactly, by which I mean that there are things that are literally, indisputably true (such as raspberry being the best flavor of jelly doughnut), and then there are propositions that, while perhaps not entirely true per se, embody a higher sort of truth.

The first part of “mortgage,” the “mort” part, does indeed mean “death” or “dead” in both Latin and Old French (from which we borrowed “mortgage” back in the 14th century). But the “gage” part has nothing to do with “grip.” A “gage” is a pledge or, particularly, something of value offered to ensure payment of a debt, and comes from an old Germanic word (“wathjam”) that also gave us the English words “wed” (as in “wedding,” a ceremony of pledging) and “wage.”

The logic of “mortgage” is that of a “dead pledge,” meaning that if the borrower repays the loan as agreed, the property becomes “dead” to the lender, who has no further rights to it. And if the borrower fails to pay, all of his or her rights to the property cease.

So the mortgage is also marrying death or the wages of death? An equally convoluted explanation is that the eldest son would borrow money and pay it back when he came into his inheritance at his father’s death. Or mortgage may come from “mortmain” which is literally ‘dead hand’: ownership of the property by a corporation or church that wasn’t a living person. Any of these twist my brain into a pretzel trying to make sense of them. And why is it half-Latin/French and half Germanic?

Other sources say that the mortgage was a death pledge because the borrower was more likely to die than pay off the loan. Robert Side writes in the UK forum Urban 75 under “Mortgage means Death Pledge or Death Grip”:

In medieval times mortgages were a method of raising money on a property that you already owned outright if you had fallen on hard times. It was seen as a last resort. When we remember that mortgages provide the country with 60% of its money supply, it seems reasonable to assume that any loosening of the criteria for borrowing served a definite political and economic objective. Relaxation of the rules has certainly led to a massive expansion of the money supply by making it possible for people to take on previously unthinkable quantities of debt. For banks, the property bubble is a huge money-creation bonanza- for the government , it’s a valuable source of revenue, as stamp duty and capital gains tax roll in, and inheritance tax threshholds fail to keep up with grossly inflated house prices. Not to mention the fact that all the debt -soaked property ‘owners’ are obligingly taking on, at their own risk and expense, money supply duties which should be shouldered by a public authority. As long as governments rely on systemic debt to put money into the economy it is in their interests to keep mortgage lending high and you and your children will be the ones to suffer.

Just after the 2nd world war almost half the money in the uk was debt free so it was uneffected by any credit squeeze; now its only 3%. In my opinion a democratically elected government should shoulder the responsibility of spending money into existence, not lending and then collecting interest. The exponential increase in the money supply is detrimental to the environment and is a ‘moral hazard’ to the banking world, never mind the public. The Money Reform Party exists to educate the British people and their polititions about the nature and origin of the money supply. It’s against the creation of of it by private banks. See also: The ‘Web of Debt’ by Ellen H. Brown.

The book that seems to be a UK-companion to Web of Debt is The Grip of Death by Michael Rowbotham. This very informative review indicates that it’s well worth reading, and not only explains why a debt-based monetary system is fundamentally insolvent, but what we can do about it. Rowbotham writes:

‘The Grip of Death’ is a literal translation of ‘mortgage’, when the owner of a house pledges his or her house to another with a handshake…unto death.

Reform of the debt-based financial system is clearly not a minor issue. It is not a matter of fiddling around with taxes, incomes and allowances to make things apparently more equal, more efficient, or perhaps more straightforward.Changing the debt-based financial system involves gradually altering the very foundations upon which national and international economics is based. Monetary reform is concerned with attempting to determine a new principle for the supply of money to an economy – the purpose being to create a supportive financial environment in which more constructive economic trends are allowed to emerge, and in which more benign systems of overall economic management become possible. In view of the rapacious onslaught on the environment, the waste of natural resources and the social and political friction caused by de-regulated commerce and capital flows, this is at once a promising, but a sobering prospect.

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