There’s a myth doing the rounds, a tale that WE are living in dangerous times. Fascism is on the rise, hard won human rights are under threat and that the relative benign accords that brought peace to the Western World are under threat. Don’t get me wrong, all of this is true. The myth is that the challenges of our time are unique to our time. They are not.
Cicero warned, “The only thing we learn from history, is that we never learn anything from history”.
In 1861, the American Civil War kicked off. The beleaguered Native American Indian population felt sure they would get some respite, while Bluecoat fought Graycoat. They were sadly mistaken.
By the time the war had started there was probably less than 300,000 Native Americans left. There numbers had been “culled” by about two thirds since the European settlers arrived in Virginia and New England, around 1607.
The White Man had come and he had come in Yuuuge numbers, more than 30 million of them by the this period. No pesky war was going to slow their march and no call to arms would slake their thirst for what they needed above all else, Land.
The Indians were driven from area to area, denied access to hunting grounds and forced into reservations. These reservations were little better than open air prisons. Even some of the Soldiers, paid to make sure the Indians didn’t leave, wrote letters beseeching Washington for better conditions. One put it; “The cost to us will be no more than $1 million per year. Which seems high, but is very little when you consider the wealth we have attained from the lands they have given up”. Such honest entreaties fell on deaf ears.
Fast forward to 1891 and we discover that the White Settlers have become the dispossessed. Farmers in the South are losing their land to banks, big business and rail-roads. Workers in the East are exploited by super-rich businessmen. Wealth is created at a faster rate than at any time before in American history, yet as Henry Georges Progress & Poverty explained, the majority of people are getting poorer. The key driver of the inequality, Land.
It was a result of this inequality that the first Populist Party (The People’s Party) was born. Populist’s allied themselves with workers, joined with trade union movements and sought to tackle the inequality endemic in American Society.
It failed. But not before scaring the life out of banks, elites and the Democratic Party.
Today our media commentators throw the term Populist around like confetti at a wedding. Dare to speak about growing inequality and you’re quickly bracketed with the mad Populist, Donald Trump. The fact that they also scream “Populist” every time Paul Murphy opens a packet of Tayto should be the end of it. I mean, if we are told that Trumps a Populist AND that his ideological opposite Paul Murphy is a Populist, then how dare they get their collective knickers in a twist when report after report shows that trust of the media is at an all time low.
Back to the Land.
Today I received an 84 page document entitled: The 13th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2017. Rating Middle-Income Housing Affordability. A riveting title, it’s sure to be a bestseller. Only it should be. It should be compulsory reading for our Politician’s, our Planners and anyone who gives a damn about inequality.
What this body of real experts (as opposed to the experts who brought us Irish Water) do is work out how affordable is a house, based on dividing the average price by the average wage.
The good news for Ireland is that we currently have zero Severely Unaffordable housing markets. Great news, right…
The bad news for Ireland is that we are fast on our way to getting there
Look at the warning above. Dublin has gone from Moderately Unaffordable 3.3, to a Seriously Unaffordable 4.7, in less than 5 years. As I type we are probably tipping over into the Severely Unaffordable zone of 5.1 or over. Think this is only a Dublin problem, think again. Galway and Cork are rapidly climbing the charts.
Without denigrating Cicero, I refuse to believe that we cant’t learn anything from history. History teaches us that a malfunctioning Land market breeds inequality. Inequality means doom. Blame becomes the currency and it’s spent on creating division and fear. Elites, deriding the rise of Populism, can have only themselves to blame.But they use their resources to deflect blame. So it manifests itself in uglier, Trumpian ways.
Ireland has a chance to avoid this “fear of the other” and blame-throwing culture. We had an Unaffordable Score of 6 at the top of the Celtic Tiger insanity. If we don’t act urgently, we will return to that level.
Remember these facts when you hear developers aren’t building because of low profits. How can profits be too low and Unaffordability so high?
Remember these facts when trying to reconcile the the Governments Housing Plan has less ambition towards building Social Houses than we had in the darkest days of the Irish Economy.
These are facts, don’t listen to the alternative facts, post-truths or fake news. A lie is a lie is a lie.
We don’t have a deficit of Land. We have a deficit of vision.
When the American Indians were driven to the edge of extinction, the American Settlers knew what riches they had acquired, calling it a land “whose value can hardly be estimated…a princely realm.”
Dublin has over 60 hectares of vacant land, a princely realm indeed. We don’t need incentives for developers, the only incentive for building we need is the FACT that we are rapidly headed back to Property Bubble Land. And Bubbles Burst.
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. If we farcically allow this to happen again, then the joke will be on all of us.
Tony Groves January 2017