PER­SONAL AC­COUNT

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - FRONT PAGE - Lauren David­son

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

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