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