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The Property Blame Game

Ashley Church, Social Commentator

26 March 2023

In an attempt to curry populist support, has Labour, and successive previous administrations allowed themselves to be captured by ideologies and movements which are more focused on punishing groups that they don’t like than actually fixing the housing market?

What if I was to suggest to you that we should introduce policies that were based on racial preference, the promotion of a form of segregation, and the vilification of a section of society?

Hopefully, you’d be horrified and would see these proposals as the antithesis of everything we stand for in New Zealand.

Yet, arguably, that’s exactly what we’ve done in our response to some of the challenges presented by the crisis in the housing market. Specifically, the government’s response to rising house prices between 2017 and 2021 was to variously target foreigners and to blame white privilege, baby boomers, and the wealthy in a series of moves which may not have been deliberately racist, but which certainly echoed the approach of regimes that we would normally utterly reject.

Yes, I get that that’s a pretty strong claim to make – but it also happens to be true. Why?

Because, in an attempt to curry populist support, Labour, and successive previous administrations have allowed themselves to be captured by ideologies and movements which are more focused on punishing groups that they don’t like than actually fixing the housing market.

Such selective blaming of groups and people isn’t new, of course. In March 1947, US President Harry Truman enacted an Executive Order which required all federal employees to be screened for ‘loyalty’ as a way of rooting out those who would seek to ‘alter the form of Government of the United States by unconstitutional means’.

The move was a response to the growing strength of Soviet Communism following World War 2 and started with relatively innocent intentions – a point we would do well to remember, here in New Zealand. However, within months, Truman’s order was being used to justify a range of human rights abuses and, by the time Senator Joseph McCarthy had come onto the scene three years later in 1950, the order had already been enthusiastically adopted by States, private companies and other organisations. Very quickly, actors, journalists, high-profile Americans and businesspeople were being blacklisted and outed as communists in a purge which continued for almost 10 years, during which time hundreds were imprisoned, and as many as 12,000 lost their jobs, livelihoods and/or reputations. Some even committed suicide in the face of public hysteria.

Heavy stuff – but am I really suggesting that there are parallels between what happened in 1950s America and the treatment of property owners here in New Zealand in the 2020s? Yes, I am. Knowingly, or otherwise, the current Government has fostered and encouraged social division in the way in which sections of our society are increasingly looking to blame others for their circumstances – so is it really so hard to imagine that spilling over into more extreme reactions in other areas?

In the 50s, McCarthy became the personification of a movement which sought to dismiss or even eradicate viewpoints which were at odds with the prevailing orthodoxy – and here in New Zealand the woke movement has already morphed into a form a McCarthyism under the guise of cancel culture – seeking to remove things and people which don’t toe the prevailing ideological line. This culture of blame has already become a form of modern witch hunt which promotes the idea that society’s problems could all be solved if we would simply deal to those who have supposedly created those problems.

Sadly, that’s bad news for you if you’re male, white; wealthy; Christian; Jewish; part of the baby boom generation, or a property owner. According to various groups and a youthful media which, in the main, has no sense of historical context, you’re the cause of most of society’s ills – including high house prices and restricted access to the property market for young people.

So, it shouldn’t surprise us when we see this same approach turning up as the centrepiece of the government’s attempts to control the housing market. Three years ago, their target was Asians, and when that didn’t work, they moved on to property investors and speculators as the cause of all of the problems besetting the housing market. Given long enough, their unique brand of McCarthyism will, inevitably, be homeowners who will be blamed for the ills of the market and hit with some form of wealth tax – something that the Government has already flagged as a likelihood if they achieve a third term.

None of this will actually solve our housing issues, of course – because it fundamentally misunderstands how the market works and how we should respond to it – but as an exercise in identifying a section of our society to blame for our collective problems, Joseph McCarthy would have been proud.

I’m Ashley Church, Social Commentator, for The Common Room.

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