No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Housing

Ideas out of the Past

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Over on Britain the Tory Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has had yet another brilliant idea for dealing with the fundamental problem of real estate prices getting away from working people, preventing them from buying housing.

Putting on my Class Warfare hat I have to say that this idea is entirely appropriate for a Tory:

Wait a moment, I think I’ve heard of this idea before. From history…

Debt bondage, also known as debt slaverybonded labour, or peonage, is the pledge of a person’s services as security for the repayment for a debt or other obligation.

I can see Boris as a feudal lord: he’s picture perfect to play the Sheriff of Nottingham in some new version of Robin Hood.

Of course it’s not just Britain. Here’s a story from 2014 in the USA:

A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government—a very old debt.

When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.

Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family—it’s not sure who—in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter.

But there are many forms of intergenerational debt and the major one leaves Boris’s idea (and feudal practices) far behind. The following educational video was made a decade ago in the wake of the GFC, back when US Federal debt was a mere $14 trillion toddler, compared to the moody $30 trillion teenager it is now.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 6, 2022 at 11:04 am

Moby Dick

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It seems appropriate to thus start this little Wednesday morning collection of tasty graph and cartoon bites with something published two years ago that has turned out to be very accurate.

Call him Ishmael.

You can see why the MSM misses Trump. Now they have to put their double standards on full display.

In other predictions of the future this one for 2020, written in 1988 is awesome (RPG stands for Role Player Game).

When forecasting the future though it’s usually good to look at the past as well, as this graph of disease pandemics in Sweden does.

Here’s a graph about vaccine passports and mandates, since we seem to be moving on from lockdown mandates and mask mandates, which show similar failures. Here’s the detailed article from which the graph is taken, An inconvenient truth – vaccine passports don’t work:

Sometimes the future is entirely predictable, as with German power prices, courtesy of almost twenty years and €500 billion spent on the fabulous Energiewende (“Energy Transition”) project to get all that juicy renewable power from the wind and the sun. In such latitudes it’s more the wind but it makes no difference anyway. If your question in response to this is, “But the wind is free, why is power so expensive now?”, then you should SFTU on this subject for the rest of time. Also see this as New Zealand circa 2035 if we keep pushing the same stuff. Of course we could go nuclear?

Finally I’ll leave you with this graph, courtesy of Michael Reddell’s latest updated analysis of housing costs in New Zealand, especially in relation to incomes, Price/income ratios, with the key insight:

At best, it takes 33 years for price/income ratios to get back to three – the sort of ratio seen in large chunks of the US, in cities large and small. At best, it would take almost a quarter of a century to get back to a price/income ratio of four.

Basically the only way my kids are going to be able to buy a house is if we leverage the hell out of our existing one, and even then it may mean not living in Auckland. As Bob Jones has pointed out, now linking to BNZ economist Tony Alexander, they may not be living in NZ at all once the Chinese Xi Snot controls are gone and they get the chance at higher incomes, lower costs and not being locked up.

You should check out Reddell’s earlier posts on the housing problem, which I’ve quoted a few times here.

Frankly I can no longer see this being resolved, given that, as he points out, both the leaders of the National and Labour Parties said the other day that significant price drops – say 25% – would not be acceptable. Why? It would simply put us back two years. Although buyers in the last two years would be looking at negative equity, that’s a temporary situation that can be worked out of and has been in the past.

If you’re not willing to unwind a clearly screwed-up marketplace by even a small amount because some recent entrants will feel some (book-value) pain then you’re basically admitting that the current situation of relentless and ever larger price increases will continue, which will lock out a lot more potential entrants, particularly the young. The graph above is a “best-case” scenario if price drops are not permitted – and it shows an awful situation for people wanting to enter the housing market.

In a sense our housing market has become rather like any welfare system or drug addiction: the more people who are hooked on it the less chance there is of changing it. The only difference is that with housing it’s the newest entrants who have the most to lose.

Which means that what we have here is a Ponzi scheme, and they never end well. But they do end, irrespective of the authorities.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 15, 2021 at 11:04 am

Inflation heading this way in 2022

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In effect we’ve already been seeing inflation in New Zealand for a year now, as the huge flush of government created / borrowed money, designed to keep businesses and people afloat, has flowed into a New Zealand economy that could not absorb it thanks to lockdowns and other restrictions imposed by the government to fight the great Chinese Xi Snot pandemic. It’s just that our inflation has mainly been in the form of insane increases in house prices across the nation, none more so than in Auckland (Refer to the chart at the end of this article).

But in the US inflation is not showing up in house prices – yet. Over there it’s crashing into people’s consciousness in the prices they’re paying for everyday products.

Inflation hit 6.8% for November, which is the worst mark since 1982 when the country was still recovering from the Jimmy Carter years.

That’s just the generic figure and its calculation quite deliberately misses some everyday things. For ordinary people the following is the real inflation they’re facing.

Incidentally that article points out that this shocking piece of economic news is the likely reason why the following happened…

Earlier in the week, news broke that the White House had been colluding with mainstream media outlets in order to change the narrative surrounding Joe Biden’s fledgling economy. That collusion quickly produced results, with outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC complaining that the administration was being treated unfairly.

Inflation for some of these things are already flowing into NZ, starting with the price of petrol. But the rest will be along soon enough to add to our already unaffordable homes, as pointed out by Mr Reddell at Croaking Cassandra:

If house price inflation slowed to 1 per cent per annum, year in year out and incomes rose by 2.6 per cent per annum, in 20 years time the nationwide price/income ratio would be 5.85.

And if by some chance you think a price/income of 6 doesn’t sound too bad. well (a) you’ve just too used to latter day New Zealand, and (b) check the table on page 15 of the Demographia report for the metropolitan areas (most of them) with ratios lower than 6, in lots of cases much much lower. New York – never really thought of as a cheap place to live – shows at 5.9, Montreal at 5.6, Manchester (UK) at 4.8, Nashville at 4.2, Edmonton at 3.8, and on downwards.

Graph from an older post, A Distorted Economy:

Written by Tom Hunter

December 11, 2021 at 5:00 pm

Not the way their lives should end

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Over at Chris Trotter’s blog, Bowalley Road, he recently had a post on the problems that state housing provider Kāinga Ora (KO) is having with “unruly tenants”.

Specifically the problems they’re having with gang members terrorising their neighbours, often very aged neighbours, and the seemingly complete inability of KO to do anything about it. Chris claims that it’s a case of the Labour Minister, Poto Williams, being “entirely captured by her officials”.

No! It is the entirely logical outcome of a modern Left-wing approach to crime that sees criminals as merely a by-product of a bad society, who cannot and should not be punished further.

To that end I saw a comment there from one “Swordfish”, which Chris did not publish but advised to be taken to reporters. Being somewhat familiar with the commentator I tracked him down to his blog, Subzero Politics (which I don’t frequent), and specifically the story of his parents and KO. I won’t re-produce the whole thing here but hopefully the NZ blogosphere will spread this wide enough that the MSM might take an interest in it. It’s horrifying.

My Parents (aged 90 & 91) have been forced to endure 4 years of constant, prolonged violent intimidation and extreme anti-social behaviour (the latter including being very regularly kept awake until dawn, sometimes over 2 or 3 consecutive days) from the Kainga Ora tenant on the other side of their dividing-wall in a two-house Unit (My Parents have lived in their house for almost 60 years & have owned it since the 1970s).

His parents have been driven into a very poor state of health as a result of all this, largely coming from one man, with assistance from an occasional friend of his. “Swordfish” has kept a detailed diary of events and there have been multiple calls to the Police.

Based on my diary entires, my Parents have suffered precisely 116 – let me repeat that … 116 !!! – really large-scale explosions of violent intimidation since their neighbouring tenant arrived in late 2017. Together with several hundred mid-level, more minor & sporadic acts of violence & intimidation. The latter occur on an almost daily basis, except when he is away. This tenant has always been very violent & aggressive in his everyday behaviour, clearly a deeply-ingrained facet of his personality. 

These have involved violent confrontations with others, sometimes out on the street, with what can only be described as insane behaviour inside his own house, which apparently shares a concrete brick wall with the parents. In the last three years his rage has been directly aimed at the parents.

In the very worst of the Major Explosions (and there have been 7 of these = out of 18), in the midst of his multi-hour intimidation, he has gone right along their fenceline, down to their letterbox & driveway, aggressively strutting back & forth straight outside their house, violently swearing & making loud threats – just the most blatant violent intimidation – interspersed with loud declarations of dominance / fighting prowess (essentially Maori Warrior-style ‘Proclaiming’) … and on 3 separate occasions he has actually rushed onto their front lawn in the middle of his explosion & vandalised their property (in one of the worst cases, for instance, smashing their concrete fence with a sledgehammer at 2am.

But there’s been plenty going on inside his house, at all hours of the day. “Swordfish” lists some of these activities, including:

1) Uber-Violent slamming into the dividing-wall with full force (punching, thumping, pounding and full body-slamming)

(2) Throwing very heavy objects or weights at the dividing-wall with full force (we don’t know exactly what the objects are but the noise is always so shocking that it sounds like some kind of heavy steel builder’s tool or similar … like something really heavy & substantial being thrown or slammed into the wall with full force … like he’s trying to smash a hole right through the dividing-wall … just makes my Parents jump 10 feet in the air with total shock)

(3) Driving large or heavy objects (presumably the same things as above) into the bedroom floorboards with all his strength

(4) Doing very aggressive haka-like stomping in the bedroom right next to the dividing-wall with full force … clearly aiming to scare & intimidate.
….

Twice his parents were so terrified that they fled to their neighbours across the road to phone the cops.

To me, one of the saddest aspects is the following:

My Parents are not only lifelong Labour voters but also long-term Party members with a long family history in the Labour Movement … they’ve been viciously betrayed by this Govt … having voted Left all my life, I swung into Non-Voting at the last Election.

I cannot help thinking this is the experience of many older Labour voters (and in the USA, older Democrat voters), who do not realise just how fundamentally their Left-wing parties have changed. These sad old people have been let down by almost every arm of the government (save the healthcare system) in every way in their twilight years. If even the cops are powerless then what hope is there for these people, and many others like them, judging by other stories?

What a hell of a way to end up and it will not just be Left-wingers who end up being betrayed. I can only hope that I’ll have enough wealth in my latter days that I won’t be reduced to depending on our governments in any way in the future.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 30, 2021 at 10:15 am

The Bitcoin House

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Read an interesting article today on the news out of the USA that some 30% of men are not employed in that nation.

What was unusual about the article was that it decided to ignore the usual angle of exploring why this is the case, instead focusing on how all these millions of American men actually live without a job.

One section looked at investments and aside from a doubling in retail stock market investment accounts there was also this:

Now crypto. You can laugh all you want, but the simple fact is that the price of bitcoin is up from $4,861 on March 12, 2000 to $47,763 today, or basically up 10X, (and remember it even hit $64,888.99 this spring).

Hmmmm. That’s an annual increase of 11.49% per year over twenty one years. Not bad.

The other day I checked out what our house is worth and was shocked and appalled to find out how much it’s increased in value in just the last year.

I’ve known for some years now how crazy things have been with NZ housing. I’ve been saying for a decade that this could not go on. Yet it has and although I thought I knew how crazy it has become I was still under-estimating the insanity.

Moreover when I ran the numbers over time I saw that our “investment” in house has increased by 11% per year on average for twenty years.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 19, 2021 at 5:23 pm

More Insanity for your delight

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Well you may not be delighted at the first item, especially if you have kids looking for a house in New Zealand.

I’ve removed the name of the real estate company as I see no reason to give them free advertising after they dropped this through our mailbox the other day.

A 71% increase above the CV. Obviously the house and other structures on the site are worth nothing.

This is not a flash area, even by the moderate standards of Glenn Innes in Auckland, yet this is what’s happening even there. They’re also quite open about land banking and development, as if things like the “brightline test” and no longer being able to deduct expenses as a renter just don’t amount to a speed bump.

That’s because these are companies with teams of lawyers and accountants, and there is no limit to how “money” can be shuffled around to avoid the prescriptive revenge of Leftist governments.

Friends of ours, a Russian immigrant family we met twenty years ago when they landed in NZ at the same time we did, lived in this very street until last year and after years of scrimping and penny pinching, did well enough out of this insanity to be able to buy a section not far away and build a new house. Given the racism from their neighbours that they had to put up with for years they were glad to go.

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The second item is something we all try to avoid, getting tangled up in government bureaucracy – and death.

Many years ago I laughed at one of the crazy stories from the book Catch 22. One of the characters, Doc Daneeka, is gaming extra income by getting flight pay via signing up to fly on standard shakedown flights of bombers that have been repaired. A quick flight around the base and it’s all good, but Daneeka doesn’t even want to do that and the pilots let it slide. Then one of these bomber flights – with his name on the roster – crashes into a nearby mountain in full view of the base. “Poor Doc Daneeka” says one man, even as the Doc, standing beside him, is saying, “but I’m right here”. He ends up living in a ripped up tent on the edge of the base, stealing food wherever he can. Even the amoral capitalist genius of Milo Minderbinder and the evil bureaucratic genius of PFC Wintergreen, cannot resurrect him. It gets to the point that people ignore him when he speaks to them. He also just vanishes from the story eventually, his true fate unknown.

Meet the modern French version of the Doc, Jeanne Pouchain, and marvel at real-life insanity.

‘They said I don’t exist. But I am here’ – one woman’s battle to prove she isn’t dead.

The letter informed her that a lawyer in a court case relating to her cleaning business had told the court that she had died, aged 53, in February 2016. Somehow, this unverified claim – there was no official death certificate, how could there be? – was allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged.

The thing that really gets me is that a relatively minor court could let this happen, but somehow higher courts and supposed authorities can’t seem to reverse the process:

Several courts, including the Cour de Cassation, the highest in the French judicial system, have examined the case and conceded there appeared to be “irregularities”, but deemed it was beyond their competence to bring Pouchain back from the dead. So who can? Pouchain’s local MP’s office tells me they have taken up her case. The MP, Valéria Faure-Muntian, told Pouchain she has spoken to the justice minister, Éric Dupond-Moretti, who is a member of the French bar and will keep a close eye on the case.

Aside from frozen bank accounts and not being able to access the French healthcare system, there’s also ordinary things like not having a passport and a driver’s licence, which crimp your lifestyle to say they least, although when I read this bit …

Then [the gendarme] looked on the central database and he said, ‘I wouldn’t drive if I were you, because you don’t exist. You don’t have a licence.’”

Ok. So what happens if they arrest her for that? Or for anything really? How can you charge a dead person with a crime, convict them and send them to jail? Perhaps she should have tried getting the system to fight itself to a resolution.

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The last concerns the hopeless story creation in Hollywood in the last twenty years, with a seemingly endless line of re-boots, sequels and super-hero movies being made – and starting to sag in box-office returns.

Somebody on social media decided to spark some ideas using merely the photos of two actresses.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 11, 2021 at 4:00 pm

A distorted economy

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Two graphs that summarise where we are economically as a nation, and without even looking at the tourism numbers, which are bad enough on their own.

First up, real estate prices for residential properties.

Those increases, in one year, are staggering. In dollar terms they exceed any “help” that any government, even one as spendthrift as Labour, can give to young, first-time home owners.

The price to income multiplier increased during the “nine long years of neglect” of National from 5.05 to 6.08. Under Labours stewardship it’s now at 8.61.

It’s been common wisdom for twenty years now that Aucklanders were cashing up and heading to the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. But since when are retired Aucklanders or Wellingtonians cashing up their houses and moving to Gisborne (almost 50% increase) or for that matter the West Coast (33.6% increase). There will be specific reasons for this inflation but they all boil down to factors driving the basic economic law of demand exceeding supply.

In Auckland those factors have been population growth increasing faster than homes can be built – which in turn is based on government immigration decisions on the demand side vs. building regulations and costs, and even more so the land-banking of city planning causing huge lifts in the cost of land, far beyond the increase in house value itself.

But can those factors be driving demand exceeding supply across the whole nation this time? Immigration has been basically zero for the last year and while land-banking and city planning are a nation-wide supply restricting problem there have not been dramatic changes in those factors in the last year, and some areas have always been more relaxed than others. So what’s driving this recent nationwide inflation?

  • Government changes on investment deductibility and the increased time over which the bright-line test can be applied (basically a Capital Gains Tax) mean that investors are deciding now it’s not a great time to sell, reducing the number of listings (supply)
  • Sensitive people are feeling the breeze of general inflation and take positions to protect their own capital base by lifting those sales from the market, further tightening supply. Better to sit on the potential capital gains, increase the mortgage and use that money to buy a new boat. Notice the increase in prices for second-hand boats, caravans and motor homes.
  • Interest rates pushed down in 2020 as the classic mode of Keynesian response to a potential recession. That increases demand, at least for a while.

The government must be hoping that this is just a one-off and that once the housing market has adjusted to a post-Covid world, things will settle down. We should all hope for that but I see merely the results of a “critical mass” of factors that have finally come together at one point in time rather than individually affecting the market at different times. Even if this spike cools down, the ongoing house price increases will still be greater than we can cope with.

Then there’s this:

That’s Fonterra’s share price in the last three months. An awful drop from $5 per share to $2.82 that exceeds the percentage drop in 2018. That last was caused by financial problems at the company. Problems that, like the housing situation, had been bubbling away for years, but which hit critical mass that year.

Fonterra has since cleaned up many of those problems and was looking pretty healthy internally, with a good payout. So what’s happened?

Professor Keith Woodford is on the case as usual with two articles in May that discussed what might be coming.

You can read the details in those two articles . The summary comes to five points, the first two being around proposals only.

  1. Reduce farmer requirements to own shares, with them needing to hold one share for every four kg of Milksolids supplied, compared to the current one share for every kg of supply. That last is a hangover from Co-op days when the shares were a nominal $1 that never changed as farmers joined and exited co-ops.
  2. Shut down or cap one arm of its two-armed share investors world, the Shareholders Fund. This Fund and the related Trading Among Farmers (TAF) scheme allowed a two-way flow of “units” and shares between the Fund and the Farmer share trades, which kept the price of shares and units within a cent or two of each other and supplied vital pricing information to both farmer investors and external investors.
  3. The Fund allows non-farmers to buy shares and get a dividend but with no shareholder voting. While there was talk about enabling the company to raise capital this way without trying to get cash from cooperative members, the real reason was to remove the redemption risk as farmers exited the company. Under the old co-op model they would not have had the cash to pay them out. The Fund and TAF would shift the risk.
  4. The flaw was that the only way TAF could remove the redemption risk should Fonterra lose a major number of suppliers was by taking on a new risk of losing control of the company to non-farmer investors.
  5. The risk now is not from exiting farmers but from a substantial and ongoing reduction in production, perhaps in the order of 10% to 20%, primarily driven by future environmental regulations around herd sizes. That’s one rock. The other is that farmers still want to control the company.

While only proposals, they did suspend trading before the announcement and they have cut the link between farmer share trading and the external fund, showing the future to investors.

Those investors, the market, have reacted badly to all of this and although it would be easy to say that this is just frippery that ignores the now “healthy” internals of Fonterra, the fact is that share prices tell us what the market thinks of any company’s future.

Clearly Fonterra’s and perhaps the rest of the dairy industry’s future in NZ is not good. What that means exactly for the wider NZ economy is another question, but clearly for some environmental and economic extremists like No Right Turn the message is the same as for the Huntly power station and the fishing industry: Let It Die.

I guess my kids are screwed in NZ

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As regular readers know I focus on the USA and avoid NZ and its politics because there are other writers here who look at that.

But a short while ago a friend of my daughter told me that if she’s at a party where she knows few people and wants to get a conversation going, all she has to do is ask whether anybody there thinks they’ll ever own a house.

Guaranteed conversation starter for the Millennial / Gen Z crowd, with much ironic humour and outright four letter abuse of “Boomers” and the current environment.

Apparently the best that they hope for is that Boomer/Gen X parents will somehow enable them to buy a house via inheritance and/or selling their existing houses to provide the lever into a normal life.

Even renting blows, though they don’t blame the landlords, surprisingly.

Surely it must be due to our very low interest rates, fueling a housing speculation boom while also screwing senior citizens into the ground – at least any of those foolish enough to have left their money in “safe” bank accounts.

Michael Reddell gives the lie to that claim

And, talking of the US, this is real house price inflation in (a) New Zealand as a whole (cities and towns and villages) and (b) the 20 or so metropolitan regions all with populations in excess of a million people that had house price to income ratios of less than 4 in the most recent Demographia report. You might not want to live in some or even most of these places, but plenty of people do (from memory, population growth in Columbus and Atlanta for example has exceeded that of New Zealand).

Obviously I made the right decision returning from the USA twenty years ago.

Rewards baby!

Except of course that your bog-standard S&P 500 index or DJ Index fund has returned better than this over that period of time, and without screwing young people into the ground on housing.

The compassionate society.

As usual Reddell nails the key points:

So this should have been perhaps the cheapest time in history (rents relative to income) to be renting – here and abroad – and yet real rents have been rising, and the government cannot even manage a package that they, and their officials, are confident will lower rents. It really is hopeless.

As he points out about the latest “package” and its overseer:

What I found most striking was how this very senior minister, now with 3.5 years in office under his belt, floundered when asked about the effects of the government’s measures. It wasn’t, apparently, for him to say what the effect on house prices would be. Not only that but officials had apparently offered quite a range of views, (if so suggesting they didn’t really know either). He didn’t know what the effect would be on private rents either.

To be fair, no government minister or advisor really ever does have a clue about the impact of government regulations and rulings and policy and decisions on such things. It’s basically a big mystery.

I confess that despite having passed several economics papers at varsity I’m not a big fan of economic models that propose accurate forecasts based on changing, multiple variables. But there is one economic rule that is as solid as the laws of motion:

Supply vs. Demand.

It’s in every Ecomomics 101 textbook, but of course those lovely sloping graph lines should not be interpreted as “Price = X when ….”.

Nobody knows that. But what that most basic law tells us – and yes, it works in evolutionary biology and ecosystems as well – is that when demand exceeds supply prices rise, and when it’s the opposite prices fall.

That’s it. That really is all you need to know.

In New Zealand, for a variety of reasons, our housing supply sucks compared to the demand. Fix that and everything else that is good will follow.

Sadly, Labour, via Twyford, actually had a handle on this in his various policy promotions in 2017, ideas that National overlooked or ignored. Twyford, and Labour, were on to winner. But for whatever reason, Labour did not follow up on those ideas and instead is left with technocratic methods around “helping” home owners, “tamping down” on the greed of speculators and so forth.

Reddell runs the numbers and reality:

If house price inflation slowed to 1 per cent per annum, year in year out and incomes rose by 2.6 per cent per annum, in 20 years time the nationwide price/income ratio would be 5.85.


And if by some chance you think a price/income of 6 doesn’t sound too bad. well (a) you’ve just too used to latter day New Zealand, and (b) check the table on page 15 of the Demographia report for the metropolitan areas (most of them) with ratios lower than 6, in lots of cases much much lower. New York – never really thought of as a cheap place to live – shows at 5.9, Montreal at 5.6, Manchester (UK) at 4.8, Nashville at 4.2, Edmonton at 3.8, and on downwards.

If.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 30, 2021 at 5:00 pm

Homelessness four times worse than in 2017

with 15 comments

I usually leave it to my fellow bloggers to cover New Zealand politics and general news, but every now and again there is a New Zealand story that catches my attention.

And in the case of homelessness there are two good additional reasons for covering this story, beyond the topic itself. First, that the NZ MSM seem to be ignoring it. Second, because in the face of MSM failure it’s up to blogs and other Social Media to support eachother and do the work the MSM refuses to.

In this case the report comes from Kiwiblog, Homelessness four times as great as in 2017:

In September 2017 there were 4,054 on the Priority A waiting list for Housing NZ. These are families who have been assessed as in urgent need of a house.

Labour said 4,054 was a scandal. They said they wanted to abolish homelessness.

In June 2020 there are now 16,651 families on the Priority A waiting list.

As commentators over there have noted: in 2017 the likes of John Campbell was shedding tears over homelessness and there seemed to be a story every day about the subject as the National-led government was rightly beaten over the head with it.

But now it’s just not much of a story apparently.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 14, 2020 at 12:55 pm

Your First Car

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Can you remember your first car? I certainly remember mine. A pristine, electric blue, 1975 Ford Escort. Seatbelts (barely). No airbags. No crush zones. No radio – though I quickly borrowed my brother-in-law’s discarded Euro model, which played tape cassettes and had FM, though that was little use in most of 80’s NZ!. Heating? Barely. A/C? That’s what the manual windows are for. The massive 4 cylinder, 1300cc engine could squeeze out the speed limit of 80km/h – if you were willing to put up with the shaking!

I threw whatever money I had into the pot and my parents did the rest. Dad grinned and informed me that it was “payment for five years unpaid farm work”! The idea was that I’d be able to see them once a month by driving the 100km or so from varsity, and for the next three years I pretty much kept to that bargain.

Here it is during my first South Island trip, a couple of klicks north of Hampden, North Otago, looking across at the foothills of the Horse Range and the Kakanui Mountains.

There were’nt many kids with cars at varsity, certainly not First Year students, so it was in this year that I first heard the term, “rich prick”: one still applied during our Old Boy reunions. As the year wore on, the number of old bombs in the car park steadily increased, together with mechanical knowledge forced upon people if they wanted to use the damned things. More motorcycles too, this being the age when any car less than five years old was not cheap. I’ve often wondered how many lives have been saved since 1984 by Rogernomics ending car tariffs, import duties and import licences, thereby making cars more affordable and steadily reducing motorcycle use?

And all of this was simply an extension of the near-mania for getting a drivers licence when we turned 15. We wanted to be independent and even borrowing the parent’s car did not dent that feeling. Several of my mates got their licence on their actual birthdays. In my case it happened a couple of months later, delayed for reasons I cannot recall.

None of us had cars at that point of course but some families were lucky enough to have two so you got the oldest. I have vivid memories of a 4th Form party where my mate Albert and I did a night race in his parent’s tiny, aging Fiat, pushing towards 100mph down a long straight beside other nutters from our class, including a couple on motorbikes. Within two years I’d hit “The Ton” while driving back from some tennis tournament. For that I could thank my parent’s 1973 Ford Falcon, as well as another long straight road out in the countryside, and the cloak of darkness. Traffic cops were rarely seen or heard of there. Whenever I think of kids doing stupid shit I have to remember what I was like at age 16, although frankly I was a much safer driver then than in my mid-20’s when I’d gained “confidence”. Living far out in the boonies with the family’s only car forced responsibility, so no drinking and driving and being pretty careful – aside from that tempting 5km straight.

There were also practical reasons for getting a licence. Many kids would leave school at 15 and their jobs pretty much demanded they be able to drive. A lot of farmers were grateful for having a kid who could shoot into town for some spare machinery part or some other item while they continued to work. And of course sporting events became a lot easier for parents when they no longer had to drive the spawn to them.

These memories have been sparked by two things. First, my eldest son just got his first car. Second was this recent article: US Love Affair With Cars Nearly Finished. It points out a problem with new car sales:

J.D. Power estimates that Gen Zers will purchase about 120,000 fewer new vehicles this year compared with millennials in 2004, when they were the new generation of drivers—or 488,198 vehicles versus 607,329 then.

Cost is having an impact, mainly because car companies in the US seem to be focusing on SUV’s, targeted at Boomers and others enjoying the wealth of the stock market and pensions. SUV prices are over $US 30,000 and insurance costs are also rising.

Of course I have to laugh a bit at all that. As I described earlier – and I’m sure NZ reader’s experiences will be the same – getting a new car in NZ used to be something that might happen to you in Middle Age. In fact I did not get my first new car until I landed in the USA, where the combination of low deposit and low interest financing made it an easy choice.

Millennials and Generation Z saw what happened in the the Great Financial crisis and the first few years of the rebound. They saw their parents arguing over debt in fear of losing their house. They do not want to fall into the same trap.

Used cars? The horror! Bah humbug and “wah” for US Millennials and Gen Z’s: they can live as we did for a decade or two.

In my son’s case he got a 2008 Toyota Camry with 120,000k on the clock. Six cylinders to easily push it to 160km/h, if desired. Smooth to drive. Cruise control. Radio. Heating – and A/C!!! Crush zones. Airbags. And unlike my Escort, it’s pretty much certain to get to 200,000 or even 300,000 klicks before needing any serious work. It also cost about 1/4 of what my old Escort did in inflation-adjusted dollars. Free enterprise at its best. I would not want my Ford Escort back.

But while the car side has progressed in all ways, getting the licence to use it has become far more painful. You have to be 16 now to sit the written test. Then there’s a year of “Learner” driving, with me or Beloved Wife in the passenger seat. A second driving test finally passed has then meant a year of “Restricted” driving, which means passengers can be carried only if there is another licenced driver in the car, and they still have to be in the front passenger seat. Comments in that US article point to similar issues there.

But there are other factors too. My son did not even bother sitting the written test until he was 18, then stretched the learners stage by almost two years through sheer inertia/laziness, and this too seems to be what’s happening in the USA:

Whereas a driver’s license once was a symbol of freedom, teenagers are reaching their driving age at a time when most have access to ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to shuttle them around town. At the same time, social media and video chat let them hang out with friends without actually leaving the house.

“That freedom of getting your own wheels and a license—and that being the most important thing in life—is gone,” said Brent Wall, owner of All Star Driver Education in Michigan, a chain of drivers’-ed schools. He said the average age of students in his class is rising. “It used to be the day they turned 14 years and eight months, everybody was lining up at the door. Now I’m starting to see more 15- and 16-year-olds in class.” He frequently hears from parents that they’re the ones pushing their children to enroll.

Yep! All of that certainly was our experience with No. 1 son, and it’s even worse with the younger siblings. At this rate they’ll be in their early 20’s before they’re driving as I was when I was 15. And it is a pain when it comes to family logistics.

The article finishes on a typical Boomer gloom note:

When they reach their 20s, more are moving to big cities with mass transit, where owning a car is neither necessary nor practical.

The auto industry will soon not look like what it does today. Cars will be smaller, lighter, electric, and self-driving. Boomers will be gone. Those living in big cities will not need to own a car at all, and most won’t.

Boomers are the primary force keeping the current auto trends alive. Demographically-speaking, it won’t last.

We’ll see about that. There’s always been a bit of a hatefest against cars by “city planners” because they can’t be controlled the way trains and buses can be, and I’ve been hearing this stuff about the “youf” moving to big cities with mass transit for two decades now: the usual poorly researched MSM crap. Turns out that the opposite is the case::

In fact, as a new Brookings study shows, millennials are not moving en masse to metros with dense big cities, but away from them. According to demographer Bill Frey, the 2013–2017 American Community Survey shows that New York now suffers the largest net annual outmigration of post-college millennials (ages 25–34) of any metro area—some 38,000 annually—followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Diego. New York’s losses are 75 percent higher than during the previous five-year period.

By contrast, the biggest winner is Houston, a metro area that many planners and urban theorists regard with contempt. The Bayou City gained nearly 15,000 millennials net last year, while other big gainers included Dallas–Fort Worth and Austin, which gained 12,700 and 9,000, respectively.

I hear the same crap about Millennials and Gen Z with regard to detached suburban homes: that they love living in downtown apartments. More grist to city planners naturally, but again the stats don’t support that:.

Perhaps even more significant has been the geographic shift within metro areas. The media frequently has exaggerated millennial growth in the urban cores. In reality, nearly 80 percent of millennial population growth since 2010 has been in the suburbs.

As they can afford to, these generations move to detached housing. As they can afford to, they’ll take up cars more, including new cars.

Considering what a pain city driving is, I’d be more than happy to hand over to a self-driving car now. But that doesn’t help trains and buses much. We’d still be better to plan for cars than mass transit.

And on the open road, which will still be necessary for travelling, will humans dump that feeling of freedom? I suspect they’ll tell the AI to take a break and then grab the controls to have some fun.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 28, 2019 at 8:50 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , , , ,