On Sunday I was sent a copy of an article where I was taken completely out of context. While I am sure that this wasn’t intentional I would just like to point out that I believe the opposite of what the article suggests – I believe that households are significantly better off than back in the day.
So let me cover off the bit that was directly attributed to me:
Infometrics economist Matt Nolan said all recent government policy had been about getting second earners into the labour market, but that extra income – thanks to easy credit – was simply going into extra debt in the form of larger and flasher houses.
“That income has gone into building bigger and better houses than they had before. The square metreage has doubled.”
The conversation with the author went like this. He said to me that 2 income households worse off than 1 income households used to be. I said that was patently false, and that there were a bunch of reasons why we had more 2 income households now (social acceptance, Working For Families) and as a society we just need to look at the policy setting to see if we agree with what we are subsidising.
He then reiterated that the median household was worse off – which I disagreed with. In fact, median real incomes have risen significantly – and the common comparison with the situation in the US is wrong.
At this point he asked me why debt levels have risen so much. I stated we needed to ask why some people were borrowing, and why people were willing to lend to them. Two things we had seen when debt was built up were currency intervention in Asia through significant savings, and households willing to invest a lot in property by increasing building and A&A work. This is investment and it is fine – if we think there is a policy or market failure somewhere in there we need to find it, not just assume it.
Given that most of what I said did not fit into the central thesis of the article it was put to the side, that’s fine. However, what I did say about housing wasn’t in quite the same context as it is described in the article 😉
In the article, a mixture of conjecture and moralising over debt is tied together in order to prove a false statement – that the current generation is worse off than the previous one. While other people may be happy to have their name attached to a false claim, I’m not.
Are there people who are struggling? Well yes, and there always will be. But the New Zealand middle class has no idea how lucky they are, or how things have improved for them in the past couple of decades – both with underlying real income gains and increasing transfers from government. The thesis raised in this article is a steroypical middle class complaint – ignoring the real hardship for those who live on the fringes of society in order to justify more hand-outs for themselves.