Alt truth by Susan Grimsdell
Reading the news lately, you’d think ‘alt truth’ is a Trumpish invention. Of course it isn’t – lies and damned lies have been around since the beginning of time. The trouble with lies is that they quickly take on a life of their own and become truth. Jonathan Swift (born 1667), understood this power. He said, ‘If a lie is believed for only half an hour it hath done its work’.
Once a lie is out there, a whole web is spun around it, until the original lie is buried amidst its sticky strands. For example, in Auckland we have a terrible housing crisis: houses here are among the least affordable in the whole world, and young people haven’t a hope of ever buying their own home. Meanwhile, landlords are exploiting people’s desperation and putting rents up sky high. The government explains this situation by saying that the problem is lack of supply. There aren’t enough available houses, they say; we have to build more.
Exposing the lie
This is not true. It’s a lie. And a lie that’s not hard to discredit. We just have to go out and count the number of empty, uninhabited houses. People have done that, and surprise, surprise, we do have enough houses. Newspapers tell us that the size of the current need to house people who are living in garages and cars or with three families crammed into one small house, amounts to about 40,000 houses. On a different page of the newspaper however, we read that the best estimate of the number of empty houses in Auckland is close to that very number – between 30,000 and 40,000. Empty because the investors who bought them don’t want to bother with tenants when all they have to do is wait a few months and they will accrue enough capital gain to make them rich.
Two conflicting facts in the same newspaper: one’s a lie, one’s the truth. But the lie, that we don’t have enough houses, has been believed by the general population for far longer than half an hour. Government spokespeople have been pushing it for a long, long time. One sticky, buried strand of that lie is the truth that, even if vastly more houses were built, they would be bought, not by people needing their own home, but by investors, many of whom already own several houses.
A simple answer
The solution to our housing crisis is for the government to introduce tax policy to make it very unprofitable to hold onto a house without putting someone in it. That’s the truth of the matter. It’s not hard to adopt such policies, and other countries have done it. Germany is a shining example as is Vancouver by imposing a tax on uninhabited dwellings. Our government will never do that, however.
They won’t do it because the owners of those empty houses, as well as the people who are bidding for houses on the market and driving prices up, are the better-off people. They aren’t the ones struggling to make a choice between paying rent or feeding the kids. They, in fact, are the very ones who tend to vote for the party that has been in power in NZ for 9 years now – the National Party. The Prime Minister and all the Ministers in that government will do nothing to annoy their voters. They will not make it less profitable to own rental houses, or to keep them empty. They’re not stupid. They like being in power and they know what their voters want.
Their mouths say, ‘We have to build more houses,’ while their actions say, ‘We like things just the way they are, and we have no intention of helping ordinary people to become homeowners.’
Lies, lies, lies, and meanwhile our society, once known throughout the world for being fair and equitable, is being damaged beyond repair.