Is Woodbridge seeing end of capitalism?

THINGS are changing fast in Woodbridge. A town speeding happily and optimistically along the track of growth and prosperity has suddenly hit the buffers.

Aidan Semmens

THINGS are changing fast in Woodbridge. A town speeding happily and optimistically along the track of growth and prosperity has suddenly hit the buffers. Hard.

Just a few months ago, a plug for the town declared: “Woodbridge is undergoing a face-lift and population growth. Over the next five to six years it will experience a dramatic expansion with the development of many new and luxury homes.”

Walk through Woodbridge today (a thing few people ever do) and you'll find the big brash highway leads to mean streets of deserted car-parks, boarded-up shops and signs admitting “Bank-owned home”.

This isn't our Woodbridge, of course. Most people still get around our Woodbridge on foot and though prices may have slipped slightly, the housing market still appears to be ticking over quite well.

The sudden sad closure of the Good Food Shop may have caused a wobble in our food-shopping habits. But there are still queues outside the traditional bakery, and the Thursday market, the butcher and the greengrocer still make it possible to live without setting foot in any supermarket except the Co-op.

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In that other Woodbridge, the laundrette, the shoe-shops, the taxi company - even the pawnshops - are staring closure in the face. The monster mall was once the biggest in the land, but you'll struggle to find a good food shop.

This isn't a parallel-universe Woodbridge. It's Woodbridge, Virginia, an outflung dormitory town of Washington DC.

It's traditionally a Democrat area, but the support of Democrat Congress members for George Bush's $700 billion bail-out of the US banking system didn't go down too well there.

Typical reactions included these:

- “If I borrowed over my head I'd deserve to go under.”

- Rich folk helping out rich folk, that's all this is.”

- “This thing they're talking about is only going to make the rich richer. Leave them be and they'll get what they deserve. Nobody helps me if I'm in trouble.”

And so say all of us. It's hard not to agree with Michael Moore, that scourge of the administration, who saw the whole “crisis rescue package” as Bush's cynical attempt to make off with the family silver before leaving office.

Ironically, it was Bush's fellow Republicans in Congress who caused his bid to fail. They simply couldn't stomach the idea of a huge government intervention interfering with their god of free-market forces.

It will be even more ironic if Bush's choice description proves true - that “this sucker could go down”.

If he's right, and the lack of that $700bn handout causes the collapse of America's whole banking system, it could - at least in theory - bring the whole of capitalism crashing down with it.

That certainly wasn't in the mind or planning of anyone who ever voted for Bush.

It could have major, possibly catastrophic and certainly unpredictable, effects from Woodbridge to Woodbridge and beyond.

Of course there is absolutely no guarantee that even if $700bn were to be stolen from America's poor and given to America's rich it would save the sucker from going down anyway.

Either way, there seems little stopping one of the effects of free-market economics which doesn't quite fit in with the American Dream.

And that is that little by little, but with gathering pace, the American economy is being sold off to Asian ownership.

Just as the British economy, in the form of its water, power and airports infrastructure, and now its banking sector, is falling under French and Spanish control.

I'm sure that's not what Margaret Thatcher had in mind when she embarked on the process of privatising and de-regulating what were once nationalised industries.

But it's a lesson the right wing everywhere must now finally be learning. That if you really free up the market, some international players will become more powerful than national governments. And gradually the waving of national flags will come to seem more and more ridiculous.

It was Thatcher too who set about destroying the core of British manufacturing - coal, steel, shipbuilding and the rest. Her Greed Is Good decade turned us from a nation of engineers to one of salesmen and bankers.

Under the chancellorship of Gordon Brown that process was not merely continued, but intensified, making Britain one of the world's leading banks.

Which looked pretty smart while banking was still riding the wave. It doesn't look quite so clever now.

WHATEVER is the matter with young people today?

I was out exercising the dog the other day in that great wilderness of “open access space” linking Braziers Wood and Pipers Vale when I saw something that shocked me.

Right by the footpaths - even those hard by Gainsborough and Ravenswood - thousands upon thousands of the most beautiful blackberries you could wish for. And all turning soft and mouldy on the bush for lack of picking.

Don't people get out any more? And when they do, don't they notice nature's bounty all around them, perfect and ready to be gorged upon?