There’s a 2009 sci-fi novel by China Miéville called The City and the City. The action takes place in two separate cities which overlap each other geographically, but the denizens of each city is compelled to ‘Unsee’ things they see happening in the other city, even though they’re clearly visible. To notice the other city and react to it is to be in Breach and draws the attention of the secret police. It’s a pretty good book.
It’s also kind of what’s happening in New Zealand right now. Some of the media and public are in a state of Breach. ‘Oh yeah,’ we’re saying, ‘Now that you mention it, I have noticed that our cities are filled with homeless people. What’s up with that?’ Meanwhile the government is enthusiastically Unseeing:
Housing Minister Nick Smith is calling the recent surge in homelessness a figment of people’s imagination.
Newshub spoke to a group of 50 social workers who said families living in garages is common, including one case of a family with two young kids who had been living in a garage for two years.
Some families are paying almost $400 a week to put a garage roof over their heads, and a social policy analyst says one in ten south Auckland properties has a garage tenant.
Many who can’t afford a house are finding themselves having to take out loans from Work and Income NZ (WINZ) to pay for motel accommodation.
There’s a lot of deliberate Seeing and Unseeing going around. We have record high immigration and thus economic growth, purely because increasing the population creates more economic activity. The government chooses to see this as the country getting wealthier, even though on a per capita basis we obviously aren’t. The increase in population and lack of increase in houses is (predictably) contributing to the housing crisis, but also makes the nominal value of existing homes increase in value. So home owners seem a lot richer, even though they haven’t done anything or created any value. And they are, historically, far more likely to vote than non home-owners. Benefits have to be withdrawn so the benefit numbers can be kept artificially low, so we can ‘see’ that the welfare reforms are succeeding. Housing New Zealand has to evict current tenants so that it can house new ones even as the housing stock deteriorates, and the dividends are maximised so the government can be seen to be running a surplus.
But all of this has social costs, and all those children growing up in garages and cars and overcrowded homes will, eventually have staggeringly gigantic fiscal costs, which is why its so important to Unsee it. The Finance Minister claims to be committed to a ‘social investment’ model of welfare, in which the government seeks to invest to minimise downstream costs, and if his government were really throwing families with eight children out of their homes and then burdening them with staggering debts then his model would be an utter failure.