By: Spencer Jurgielewicz, December 13th of 2022
2008 saw one of the largest financial crises since the Great Depression in 1929. It affected every nation on the planet and would result in short-term consequences of things such as high unemployment. Long-term issues, such as increased income and housing inequality, are still being felt to this day. Another effect that was seen from this crisis is seen in popular culture and various works of film and literature. This is an avenue which gives individuals the ability to express themselves and their views with directly or indirectly metaphors or messages. One such work is that of Parable of Sower by Hugo award recipient Octavia E. Butler. This dystopian novel set in the not-so-far-future features many comparisons and similarities to what we are witnessing and have witnessed in our lifetimes in the United States and even around the world. This allows writers, like Butler, to empower readers and bring awareness to a cause which may not be receiving as much attention or even to bring more attention to an ongoing issue. Butler’s novel draws many similarities from the 2008 Global Market Crash with countless examples and samples. I personally have seen and even have been affected by said issues which occurred back in 2008.
The 2007/2008 Global Market Crash was something that was decades in the making and simply not something that happened overnight (Singh, 2022). It would be an oversimplification to blankly proclaim “oh the housing crisis happened because too many people bought houses and couldn’t pay for them”. This would be almost like stating “The Second World War occurred because Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939”. While both of these proclamations might yield some truth, both contain years and even decades of context which might be alien to the average person and if left out would be missing a bigger picture. While the housing market issue could arguably begin its origins with something like the deregulation movements under the Reagan administration and the formation of what we perceive as the modern Republican Party, the major effects began to occur in 2006 with housing prices beginning to fall then (Singh, 2022). The following year subprime lenders had started to file for bankruptcy (Singh, 2022). A subprime lender is a credit provider that specializes in borrowers with low or what is called “subprime” credit ratings, or a review of your credit and borrowing history ( Fernando, 2021). As a result these borrowers represent a higher risk of default or not being able to fully repay the loan (Fernando, 2021). So these subprime loans are associated with relatively high rates of interest and considered risky (Fernando, 2021).
The series of subprime lenders filing for bankruptcy in 2007 was a massive red flag yet ignored or seen as “low risk” by lawmakers on Capitol Hill and many financial advisors. Later that year two massive hedge funds collapsed largely due to subprime loans not being repaid. A hedge fund is a method of investing in which managers use borrowed money, and other non-traditional assets, in order to beat regular investment returns for clients (Investopedia Team, 2022). By September this issue got so bad that the U.S. saw its largest bankruptcy ever with the collapse of the financial services company Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. in September of 2007 (Singh, 2022). By this point there was no turning back and the bubble would burst. Holdings with some worth trillions of dollars, were worthless investments in subprime mortgages (Singh, 2022). What would follow would be one of the worst economic crises since the 1930’s and see millions affected. Income inequality, especially among people of color and women, would increase which left these groups at an even greater disadvantage. While disheartening it would give a unique opportunity to present it in a manner in which they could advocate for assistance and a change in policy. This would include literature, film, and other similar media means.
While many works of literature outline the previous statement one such strong example is that of Parable of Sower by Octavia Butler. The novel follows a character by the name of Lauren Oya Olamina and begins in 2024 right outside Los Angeles. The United States has been ravaged by climate change disasters, wealth inequality, and social issues. She lives in a gated community which separates itself from the numerous homeless and less fortunate individuals outside its walls. Lauren’s father is a Baptist pastor and attempts to hold the community together with faith and charity but many sadly like her mother, abused drugs which had negative consequences on Lauren. The United States at this point has elected the psuedo-fascist President Donner who loosens labor protection and advocacy for private, foreign investors who begin a sort of “debt slavery” among the population. Lauren becomes interested in a new religion called “Earthseed” . It highlights how God is Change and humanity must shape God in order to save itself from disorder and extinction. Lauren’s brother Keith becomes disenfranchised by their status quo and leaves the gated community to join a group of anarcho-thieves and sadly is killed. At this point her father attempts to leave the city walls and sadly is assumed to be killed while outside. By 2027 the federalist system collapses in the U.S. while individual states and cities enforce strict border securities on their own. Her community is overrun by outsiders looking for resources. She escapes but due to fear of an increase in sexual assault dresses as a man and travels away with two fellow survivors. She marries and sets up the first Earthseed community named Acorn, in northern California and hopes that humanity can prosper on another planet and throughout the solar system. The novel deals with themes of drugs, greed, socio-economic collapse, women’s rights, and interracial marriage rights.
While this novel describes an extreme “worst case scenario” for the future of the United States it would be valid to say there do exist some parallels to our current state of affairs and that depicted in the novel. One theme touched upon was that of racism. Even in this reality race and judges based upon still exist. Early in the book Lauren discusses how she was discouraged to play with the White children and many White people were fearful of others so much so they would arm themselves (36, Butler). While this book was written in 1993 it still outlines problems we face today in America. There are dozens of examples within the media of mistreatment among individuals solely based upon race and even people resorting to violence as a justification for self-defense. This prejudice also extended to interracial couples. Lauren cites a time when two people of different races were caught and she feared violence would erupt due to it (85, Butler). Another rather similar parallel is the treatment of women. A large portion of the novel sees Lauren crossdress as a man in order to ensure her security. Society had become so lawless that a woman simply walking down the street was at risk of something such as assault. In our modern era we have seen women being taken advantage of especially by men in powerful positions. CEO’s and Wall Street tycoons took it upon themselves to use company time and money to hire escorts as seen in the film Inside Job. While this financial mismanagement was not the sole reason for the 2008 crash it was surely a factor. While examining the more financial aspect of the novel we see rather shocking similarities. The wealth gap is astonishing as depicted with the rich flying around in private helicopters and the lower-income individuals being bothered or even killed simply for being “poor” (245, Butler). We can see in our world how the homeless are often discriminated against and put down. If you take a city, such as New York, one would see citizens owning billions in assets yet a few city blocks away we might find dozens of homeless people begging for a bottle of water and some crackers to survive the day. The wealth gap has risen greatly since 1993 and is likely to continue. Outsourcing to foreign countries, increasing privatization, and increasing militarization of police do not help the “99%” as we see this all backfire for President Doner throughout the novel.
Upon the completion of this novel and now the end of this English course I found many themes and concepts which I was able to relate to easily. For starters my family was directly affected by the market crash. My family owns a series of duck farms around the United States called Jurgielewicz Duck Farm. Many farms existed with the one on Long Island spearheaded by my paternal side. Unfortunately due to numerous factors including financial issues going back to the 1980’s and 1990’s, the farm located here in New York collapsed and went bankrupt during the 2008 crash. This might go to show that even those in the “upper-middle or upper” classes were hit hard by this crisis and the only ones truly unaffected were the top 1% in this country. Now my family’s start goes back to the early 20th century upon their arrival in the United States. They opened a duck farm and by 1962 supplied 4.3 million ducks which is roughly half of the entire nation’s duck supply at the time (Herbst, 1987). The business would shrink and by 1980 would produce only a million of the nation’s duck supply (Herbst, 1987). The final nail in the coffin was the 2008 market crash. Having such a sudden and a quick downturn of the U.S. economy, including a massive impact on imports and exports, saw too much strain on the business and it went out. From a personal anecdote my family struggled due to the massive downturn in assets. A change in lifestyle had occurred as my family moved as well to another part of Long Island. Such an adjustment was rather difficult to say the least but showcased to me, my family, and friends how events which took years in the making can and will disrupt the lives of unsuspecting individuals. Even 10+ years later I still feel personally affected by decisions made by CEO’s on Wall Street. I attended Geneseo College mostly due to the cheaper tuition rates which made it attractive to many students from Long Island especially. The cost of higher education is growing day by day and this will continue to influence people’s decisions for the years and decades to come. This could perhaps affect my children as well all from issues that stemmed from 2008.
Events from 2008 still influence decisions made in this country and around the world. The “snowballing” of this crisis started as far as the 1980’s; however, in 2006 and 2007 a few key events took place which should have been seen as warning signs but were ignored. What would follow would be a massive economic downturn. Novels, such as Parable of Sower, hold messages and metaphors regarding how people were affected during and post-crisis. We can see direct comparisons between our world and that of the future world in the novel. Race, gender, privatization, greed, and collpase of authority were just a few things touched upon in this novel which bear rather scary similiarties to what we face now. In my own story I have witnessed the collapse of a food industrial empire. When I first took this course I did not expect to be able to draw connections between a science fiction novel set in the future and our own past. In reality we are inching closer to more economic downturn unless the proper measures are not taken to prevent another 2008
Fernando, J. (2021, May 20). What does subprime lender mean? Investopedia. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/subprimelender.asp
Herbst, L. (1987, November 29). The ducks stop here no longer. The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/29/nyregion/the-ducks-stop-here-no-longer.html
Singh, M. (2022, September 21). The 2007-2008 financial crisis in Review. Investopedia. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/09/financial-crisis-review.asp
Team, T. I. (2022, October 25). What is a hedge fund? examples, types, and strategies. Investopedia. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/h/hedgefund.asp