The right stuff in politics

A week of calm has descended over Wellington, but we cannot have that can we? If the weather stays really calm, someone has to substitute, and in this case it was the politicians. In some of the futuristic ebooks I am self-publishing, one of the background themes is how governance can be manipulated by politicians. One way is by making misleading statements. How do you defend yourself against these?

We have had an example here. The problem: the cities of Auckland and Christchurch have house prices that are getting out of hand. There are several reasons for this, and the one I feel is the most likely to be determining the prices is that there are too few of them. In Christchurch, the reason is the recent earthquakes. Large areas of the eastern city have been found to be built on ground that rapidly liquefies, many of the services such as sewage have been hopelessly wrecked, and the authorities that be have declared that part of the city is not worth rebuilding, and rebuilding should occur elsewhere. The problem is, it has taken some time to get around to building enough houses to house about a quarter of the city’s population, so housing is really expensive. In principle, this is a transient problem, because eventually enough will be built and the prices should come down. The current high prices should reflect those who have money and want to get to the head of the queue. Whether that is right is another story.

Auckland has a different problem. New Zealand is currently experiencing significant immigration, the immigrants all land in Auckland and few go further. On top of that, there have been far too few houses built recently. The reasons are somewhat obscure, but it seems to be that the planners that be have decreed that Auckland is occupying enough area already, and it needs greater housing density, more apartments, etc, and to bring about that nirvana, it is not issuing permits outside certain boundaries. There is not much free land within the boundaries, and while the City Council no doubt thinks high-rise apartments are the way to go, nobody is building such apartments, possibly because a recent lot were not a financial success. That was probably because not everybody wants to live in postage-stamp sized apartments without somewhere to park a car.

Given such a problem, there is some evidence that speculators have descended and several thousand such houses have been purchased by foreign people who have no intention of living here. Presumably they will rent and resell at some time in the future. It is not clear how many such houses are purchased by foreign speculators.

Now enter politics. The Labour (opposition) leader has announced that if they win the next election they will ban foreigners from buying houses unless (a) they come to live in them, or (b) they build them. There are various responses to this. The right wing accuses them of being xenophobic. The prime Minister has said only a few per cent of the houses are bought by foreigners for investment, so it is hardly a big deal. To me, that is misleading. Those bought by foreigners are often bought at auction, and top auction prices tend to set expectations from sellers, especially when there is a clear shortage. If you know what someone else got for a comparable house, don’t you want something similar? Also, our Prime Minister made his own personal fortune as a trader, so he must know that it is the top few transactions that tend to be price setters on a rising market.

This illustrates a problem (apart from, following from my previous post, we just had another earthquake while writing this!) in that politicians and their appointed authorities control our lives through their actions. Our system of governance only really works when politicians “do the right thing”. Making dismissive statements to abandon responsibility is hardly “doing the right thing”. At the end of my next ebook, Jonathon Munros (available some time  in August) one of my characters expresses the opinion that the problem lies in that getting the right person to do the job and getting the person elected require completely different skills. What do you think?

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