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The house built on sand

Written By: - Date published: 11:00 am, July 24th, 2009 - 29 comments
Categories: economy - Tags:

Pick up the paper. The stories are ‘consumer confidence recovering’, ‘house prices stablising’ etc. These are taken as indications that the recession is close to over. Probably right. Weak growth in December. But that weak growth will be built on the same foundations that crumbled here and abroad sending us into recession in the first place.

Last thing we need is more consumerism and another property bubble. Build on the same foundations, they’ll just collapse again. Worse the second time.

Even English sees that. Not going to do anything to stop it happening though. Political imperative is to have the recession over by whatever means asap. So that “lagging indicator”, jobs, starts coming picking up before the election. But he knows a recovery that’s not built on sustainable infrastructure and exports is Clayton’s recovery. It’ll come back to bite us through bugdoning trade deficits and private debt. Basically, that’s what Fitch was trying to warn us about.

Brian Fallow got it right in Granny:

There is a danger that people treat this recession as viral, something that we suffer through then can shake off and carry on as before. It is much more like a first heart attack, a serious wake-up call to change our ways on a sustained basis, or the next shock will be much worse.

We need to be realistic about how compressible Government spending is in a democracy.

The message about living within straitened means applies as much to the household sector as to the Government.

And the message about raising productivity applies as much to the business sector as to the public sector. Almost a third of Government spending, around $20 billion, is classified as income support, transfer payments to super-annuitants, the unemployed and so on.

At some point the entitlement side of the superannuation scheme will have to be tackled but in the meantime both major parties are treating it as a “third rail” issue: touch it and you die.
So how much fat is in the remaining two-thirds?

We have been ‘trimming fat’ from the public sector for the last 20 years in an effort to make up for our under-performing private sector. It’s the tradables sector, the exporters, who went into recession first. The blame for that can’t be laid at the government’s door. Wouldn’t credit the government for private sector growth. If we want real growth, it will mean the private sector getting its house in order.

But saying ‘our exporters are under-performing because we’ve got an under-educated boss class who are just interested in getting the SUV and the McBach in Whangamata’ is not politically viable. Nor is saying ‘you can’t go back to getting rich selling each other houses and borrowing to buy X-boxes’.

So. It’s blame the bureaucrats. Rebuild the economy on sand. Pray it holds two more years.

29 comments on “The house built on sand”

  1. Boris Klarkov 1

    But saying ‘our exporters are under-performing because we’ve got an under-educated boss class who are just interested in getting the SUV and the McBach in Whangamata’ is not politically viable.

    Nor accurate.

    “A decade of Labour overtaxing the productive to their knees in order to flush the tax-take down the welfare toilet has devastated New Zealand productivity.”

    Is.

    • snoozer 1.1

      But Labour cut taxes on business. It never increased them. And it invested in NZTE and export promotion.

      I don’t get it. Do the heroic businessmen who carry the rest of us need the government to give them a piggyback?

      • ieuan 1.1.1

        No snoozer, tax paid by business is money that is not available for re-investment in the business.

        If the money is not re-invested in the business and taken out as dividends it is taxed as income so the government gets their share anyway.

        • snoozer 1.1.1.1

          Where do you think tax money goes? Into a blackhole?

          It’s used to create a healthy, educated workforce, build infrastructure (physical, commerical, and legal) without which business can’t function

          • Zaphod Beeblebrox 1.1.1.1.1

            No better it goes to yachts, holiday houses, BMW’s, poodle grooming etc..

          • Boris Klarkov 1.1.1.1.2

            Where do you think tax money goes? Into a blackhole?

            Exactly – the tax take goes down the blackhole of the welfare toilet, to support the lifestyle choices of the indolent and the criminal of the Labour electorate.

            It’s used to create a healthy, educated workforce, build infrastructure (physical, commerical, and legal) without which business can’t function

            Those are the things that the tax take should be spent upon and would be, if we could dissuade the Labour electorate from their welfare-guzzling and criminal lifestyles.

        • felix 1.1.1.2

          ieuan, are you saying the company tax rate should be set at zero?

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.2

        Yes. But that’s just normal capitalism – privatise the profits and socialise the costs.

    • So Bored 1.2

      Boris whale blubbery acolyte,

      You have obviously been undertaxed as you can still afford the time, internet connection, PC etc required to be on here. Shame, Helen is guilty of not doing enough to tax you ruinously.

      More seriously you might consider that business world wide has avoided transfer costs for climate change, environmental exploitation etc, and tries to put infrastructural costs required to run business onto the taxpayer. You are not only guilty of this, your line of argument is very very boring.

  2. vto 2

    Not sure what your point is zetetic. Couple of 2c to throw into the pot..

    The property bubble is a myth. Values barely rose from 1989 right through the nineties (mid 90s a little) and into the 2000s. The lift only started in 2002. Five years later, 2007, it stopped. The lift, or ‘bubble’ was one hell of a lot of catch up. Average it out over that timeframe and the picture will become clear.

    Another thing about so-called property bubble. When prices were at their highest in 06 07 those prices reflected the cost of construction mostly. (Know what it costs to develop a section? Know what it costs to develop a house or apartment?). Now that prices have dropped no house or sections or apartments are being built. Why? Because the prices are below cost. And construction costs aint coming down (well, very little). So if anything is unrealistic it is the current market as it is so far out of kilter with costs.

    So it was only a ‘bubble’ for the purposes of newspaper headlines – don’t believe it.

    And what is so wrong with consumerism? Its just another misplaced and over-used term. Consumerism is just people going about their daily business and lives. Which is all the economy is – the daily toil of our population. Getting up in the a.m., going to work, buying something and then going home to the bubble and watching a tv.

    It aint no rocket science. Easy to get lost in the associated crappola and diversions.

    Having said that, these current headlines exclaiming that the end is in sight do not paint the full picture. There is a great deal more sag to come.

    • Tigger 2.1

      vto – so the house I bought in 1987 for $87,000 and sold for $417,000 in 1997 bucked that ‘barely rose’ trend? Wow, I’m clearly a property genius.

      In fact, I recall prices rising until around 1998 when they fell, not terrifically but they did fall, only to rise again from the early 2000s…

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 2.2

      Agreed locally produced services and goods are just as good for the economy than exports. That is why China is starting to develop its domestic economy.

    • MollyByGolly 2.3

      “…it wasn’t only a ‘bubble’ for the purposes of newspaper headlines’

      Depends what you’re comparing house prices to. If you compare them to incomes (rather than construction costs), then yes, there was a bubble.

      Re construction costs – the price of land is a big part of new house prices and these went up dramatically too. I know of sections in Te Atatu North that sold every 6 months during the early and mid 2000s at a greater price each time, no house ever being built.

      It was speculation pure and simple, that reflected and reinforced the property bubble.

  3. Adrian 3

    You want to know what consumerism is, go out to The Warehouse’s container terminal[yes,they have their own] and look at the tidal wave of shit cascading out of them,on its way to brief ownership before being carted to the local dump. That’s consumerism.

    • vto 3.1

      ha ha Adrian quite a horrible sight I imagine. But its not consumerism – its just one component, or feature, of ‘consumerism’ at this point in history.

      It is disgusting though how so much asian junk just ends up so quickly at the dumpola..

      • Bill 3.1.1

        Firstly, it’s Western junk produced in Asia. Not Asian junk.

        And why is it junk? Because between WW1 and WW2 there was a realisation that industry could easily produce enough to satisfy consumers’ needs. So a new industry of fashion was developed to create false needs and built in obsolescence became the manufacturing norm to keep the cycle of supply and demand churning. Might argue that junk is the fuel for the engine of Capitalism.

        Anyway,”Jeffrey Kaplanchronicles their dismay at the discovery “that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people’s sense that they needed them.” [3] Though a tiny handful of business leaders thought that America should switch to a four hour workday, most concluded that such leisure could breed radicalism and that a failure to increase production would threaten profits.

        In 1929 President Herbert Hoover’s Committee on Recent Economic Changes announced the growing corporate consensus that capitalism could best survive by creating artificial needs. The Committee gleefully announced that “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.” [4]

        Having grown up in a world of planned obsolescence, most of us have spent our lives watching each new generation of consumer items last for a shorter period of time than the previous one. We grumble, complain and treat decreasing durability and increasing gadgetry as laws of economic nature which are beyond our control.

        Capitalism has shown that it is possible to steadily increase the amount of production (about 2-3% annually) with little to no increase in meaningful consumption.”

        • vto 3.1.1.1

          I dont disagree Bill, but it is just the way of society. It is richer than in the past and can afford to throw away stuff. If it couldnt then it wouldnt and all those nasty conspiratorial manufacturers would make stuff that lasted. We may be back to that point shortly. “Consumerism” as a term is overplayed as some sort of moral naughtiness that all those ‘other’ people do. It is in fact just daily life. And todays daily life is richer.

          • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.1.1

            It wouldn’t have been just a fact of daily life if it hadn’t been promoted as such.

          • stormspiral 3.1.1.1.2

            Just a suggestion. Why don’t you buy your stuff from the Salvation Army or other op-shops? There is a lot of great quality secondhand stuff that will last and last and last.

            Then maybe you could be contributing to some good constructive causes, and it wouldn’t hurt a bit.

            It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to put up with junk from Asia. If people like you weren’t buying it, the supply might start to dry up.

            In any case, it can’t last. We have a finite planet, and although you guys talk a lot about growth, it can’t go on forever. Simple linear arithmetic.

            Somewhere out there there are solutions. It’s way past time to start working toward sustainability. Planned obsolescence never was a good idea. But I’m repeating myself. I was writing about it 40 years ago.

        • So Bored 3.1.1.2

          “Capitalism has shown that it is possible to steadily increase the amount of production (about 2-3% annually) with little to no increase in meaningful consumption”…….interesting number when you consider the compounding effect. The unfortunate corollary is that the non renewable resources of the planet are finite so it is innevitable that production must ultimately fail. Capitalists ( and all materialistic systems such as communism) fail to appreciate this eventuality,and continue to deny it.

          • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.2.1

            And vto @ 3:57 shows just how unable some people are to appreciate that.

  4. Zaphod Beeblebrox 4

    Don’t see how encouraging our investment capital in purchasing previously public owned monopolies helps either. You can’t export your airport, ports, power or rail infrastructure.

    Or course its easy money for the purchaser, I call it lazy capitalism because you don’t want to take a risk.

    • snoozer 4.1

      classic rent-seeking behaviour – ‘hey, public, you know all those assets you own, yeah the ones that return any profits to the public coffers, how abouts you sell them to me and I get to make the monopoly profits for doing nothing? sorry, can’t pay a good price, not enough cashed up buyers and too many assets for sale’

  5. The biggest worry is that if we ignore the effect last year’s oil spike had on driving the global economy into recession. So let’s just say that next year we get a global economic recover, demand for oil goes up, prices spike again….

    Then what?

    Another recession is my guess. Only next time it’s probably going to hurt more because government’s won’t be able to borrow their way out of it quite so easily.

    The solution? Reduce oil dependence. NOW.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 5.1

      Thats assuming we will be unable to adapt to higher oil prices. During the 1970s oil crisis Jimmy Carter made changes to oil consumption patterns which if follow through would have drastically reduced US oil dependence. Don’t think that would have hurt them in the long run. Of course he didn’t and Ronald Reagan set them back on the course of foreign dependence again.
      If oil prices climbed again, research into alternate fuels would become more viable, cars would become more fuel efficient and agriculture by neccessity more local. The savings on things like road construction would actually be beneficial to the economy. High oil prices will have a whole series of unknown consequences.

      • jarbury 5.1.1

        Yes I think we can adapt. But tell that to Steven Joyce and the $10.7 billion he’s going to waste on building more state highways in the next decade.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.2

      We’ve built our civilisation up to its peak on easily obtained energy. Now that Peak Oil is here that easily available energy starts to dwindle but it won’t be either a smooth ride down nor a sudden one. It will collapse a lot, level off and then grow a bit only to hit that energy barrier again and so collapse again. I doubt if the trend down will be noticeable any time in the next ten years but it most likely will be in twenty.

      Governments can’t borrow their way out of it now – money is not a resource. It’s not even real.

  6. Galeandra 6

    Don’t ignore the huge dependence on oil to produce synthetic fertility (or imported agricultural inputs such as palm kernel.) Farmers were hit by 20-60% input hikes during the last oil spike.

    Economically we’ll be permanently oscillating between micro slump & recovery in a long term low grade L shaped recession, I’d predict.

    • jarbury 6.1

      The amount of oil used in making fertiliser is in some ways the biggest worry when it comes to effects of peak oil. Oh, and that we’ll start trying to make liquid fuels out of coal – that’ll be great for the CO2 emissions.

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