The road less trav­elled

Mur­ray hits the road and finds a lot of things don’t add up.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Mur­ray Grim­wood

We’ve left work or as Jen­nie put it, re­tired for the sec­ond time.

We de­cided to tidy up the old ha­cienda and tarry briefly with old friends in old haunts. Our rea­son­ing was it would never be eas­ier or cheaper than while we were still in the South Is­land.

We rented a dent for a week. Hit the road. Found out why so few Cantabri­ans have both­ered to go north this sum­mer. Nose-to-tail traf­fic, snaking chains of camper vans, kilo­me­tre af­ter kilo­me­tre of road works, 30km signs to the point of monotony. Springs Junc­tion looked like a movie set of dust-en­shrouded trucks and porta-loos. If this is the best we can do re­silience-wise af­ter one earth­quake and with all other sys­tems in­tact, the Long Emer­gency is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing. Re­mind me to be some­where else.

The Pic­ton-christchurch sec­tion is now such a jour­ney, I fell asleep in the copi­lot’s chair and missed ev­ery­thing. But I was awake again to share fish and chips with old friends in Ran­giora.

Thirty years ago when we first stayed with those peo­ple in that house, it was in the mid­dle of nowhere. Now their small farm has eight cookie-cut­ter neigh­bours. They’re talk­ing of shift­ing.

Fur­ther south, the vista is of ir­ri­ga­tors to the hori­zon. They’re the most stark man­i­fes­ta­tion of our short term, self­ish drive to over-con­sume wa­ter, land, foreign forests and fos­sil fu­els, trash­ing democ­racy, and the chances of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. It’s sad to drive through Can­ter­bury now, over-used in an at­tempt to feed sprawl­ing sub­ur­bia.

In the in­ter­est of pil­ing up dig­i­tal 1s and 0s in some off­shore com­puter, the pil­lage rep­re­sents a mas­sive ac­cel­er­a­tion in draw-down of Nat­u­ral Cap­i­tal, much of it ir­re­place­able and most of it un­ac­counted for in the ledgers. Which means the ledgers are not telling the truth.

I mused, as the Dun­sandel cof­fee set­tled and we whizzed past Trif­fids arc­ing to the hori­zon, that money is es­sen­tially a lie. An in­ac­cu­rate marker of any­thing. Why the al­most-uni­ver­sal be­lief in it?

Fur­ther south, a young cou­ple we know are look­ing for their first house to­gether. Snip­pets of the con­ver­sa­tion – par­tic­u­larly the glib rep­e­ti­tion of a non­sen­si­cal price – sent me around the cor­ner where I looked at the threat­en­ing sky and did some men­tal arith­metic. Five years of full-time work to pay off a half-share of the prin­ci­pal. Never mind that you have to live, and that you will ini­tially have to fork out north of $200 a week on in­ter­est. Plus life, plus in­sur­ance, plus...

There’s no time off for good be­hav­iour. All to pay off a piece of in­fra­struc­ture which was built for maybe $2000 dol­lars when new and is now 40 years closer to be­ing writ­ten off. Most pieces of in­fra­struc­ture – think cars – de­value en route to the scrap heap.

In mi­cro terms, some­one must in­evitably be left hold­ing the mort­gage when the value cor­rects to bet­ter re­flect the re­al­ity of phys­i­cal de­cay. In macro terms, the same ap­plies.

We stayed in Dunedin with a friend who had just sold, bought and shifted. On the re­turn jour­ney we met up with two lots of old friends, both do­ing it well in buses but both hav­ing just turned piles of dig­i­tal 1s and 0s into yet­more pieces of real es­tate. I didn’t have to ask why. They too know that owning some­thing real is bet­ter than owning un­guar­an­teed elec­tronic dig­its.

Grou­cho Marx once re­counted that when he was out of touch with his bro­ker, the bell­hop in a re­mote ho­tel gave him in­vest­ment tips that were just as good. Ev­ery­body, ev­ery­where was into the game. In 1929, you had to be in to win and no­body could lose.

So too with cap­i­tal gains on ex­ist­ing

Who will lose when the fi­nal whis­tle blows? Debt-hold­ers I sus­pect.

hous­ing. When it be­gins to im­pact the pe­riph­eries, it must be get­ting close to the last tulip.

Are we head­ing into in­jury time with this one? I think so. Who will lose when the fi­nal whis­tle blows? Debt-hold­ers, I sus­pect. Will any­body win? Per­haps not. Al­most all of our in­comes seem to be trace­able, at least in part, to cap­i­tal gained through in­creas­ing debt, which can­cels out to noth­ing.

We’re back on the boat now and will no doubt watch it un­fold from a dis­tance, for as long as travel is still al­lowed. We don’t have in­vest­ments in rental prop­er­ties or in milk solids, and no debt ei­ther, but we could still feel the shock­waves. n

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