Homeownership spawned the age of anxiety 12,000 years ago. What’s changed?
As a nation, are we as obsessed about anything as much as home ownership? Who can blame us, you might argue, in this post-crash era of sky-high prices, recordlow interest rates, dwindling growth, debt-saddled families and underpaid, avocado-guzzling 20-somethings. But it’s nothing new; it turns out we’ve almost always been this way.
In his latest book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, published later this month, Yuval Noah Harari turns his attention to the world today.
But in his earlier tome,
he looks backwards – to 10,000 BC, when the agricultural revolution turned nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers. This created the first generation of homeowners.
Harari argues that, contrary to popular opinion that with evolution has always come improvement, this did not bring our ancestors happiness. Quite the opposite.
This stage of human history brought the advent of anxiety: a new awareness of the future and the subsequent stress of being prepared for the bad years of drought, flood or famine. This spawned a neverending cycle of over-working to chase the dream of an easier life: if we worked harder, the harvest would be more bountiful, we’d be protected against any lean years and we’d be able to work less in the future.
But that time never came; there was always more to work towards. And so the pursuit of an easier life resulted in greater hardship. Harari calls this the “luxury trap”.
How little has changed in 12,000 years. Much like our ancestors, we strive for the highest-paying jobs so we can retire early and enjoy life. But by that point, of course, we have children to feed, holidays to book and mortgages to pay off. The more you have, the more you need.
Were we really happier before we evolved from foragers to farmers? And if so, is it time for humans to give up the dream of homeownership and rediscover their nomadic roots?
Some may look at the property market and conclude we are already on our way. Official data released this week by the Office for National Statistics showed that house prices in London recorded their largest annual fall in nearly nine years in the 12 months to June.
The average property in the capital now costs 0.7pc less than a year ago, with the declines in expensive central areas such as the City of London and Kensington & Chelsea reaching as much as 23.8pc and 13.9pc. Across the country, house prices increased by 3pc, still the slowest pace of growth since August 2013.
It’s certainly a time of anxiety if you’re a homeowner. Adding to the fall in prices, the Bank of England raised Bank Rate by 0.25 percentage points to 0.75pc earlier this month – only the second time in a decade this rate has been increased. This means that having a mortgage will become more expensive for borrowers. Household debt is already at a level not seen since the Eighties, with
Yuval Noah Harari argues that humans’ evolution from nomads to farmers brought on the age of anxiety