The Dim-Post

August 8, 2016

Notes on slums and Asimov’s Foundation

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:44 am

I just listened to RNZ’s Morning Report, which consisted of a bitter debate between Matthew Hooton and Stephen Mills over whether the Labour-Green plan to build new state houses is a plan to build ‘slums’, and the vital point that wasn’t made is that many of the original state houses built by the first Labour government, ie the first ‘slums’ are now worth so much money that the government is selling them, because they can’t justify owning state houses with a multi-million dollar list value.

Also, I have this theory that Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is one of the most influential literary works of the twentieth century. The theory doesn’t have much credibility with many of the literary people I talk to, who have mostly not heard of it, but Paul Krugman had a good essay about the books in the Guardian a while back, and now I’m reading The Unwinding by George Packer, and Newt Gingrich and Peter Theil both cite Foundation as influential texts when they were growing up. Go Foundation.


  1. Yep, I was (pointlessly) yelling at Steven Mills to mention the many State housing examples, none of them slums, all of them important socialising measures, and now so valuable that the Government is hocking them off like hydro dams, airports, pine forests and the like

    Comment by Jack Craw — August 8, 2016 @ 11:48 am

  2. The land is valuable, not the houses.

    Comment by Jim Rose — August 8, 2016 @ 11:54 am

  3. The multi-million state courses you refer result either from pepper-potting or in suburbs close to the CBD. You will find plenty of mass state housing areas in Auckland where “slum” is the right word. And what is planned with Kiwibuild are not state houses but something closer to post-war British housing estates. This makes no sense. It lowers the average standard of housing in Auckland. All that matters is that supply exceeds demand and the original prices of the new houses (let alone the cost of construction) is not relevant. It its far better for everyone for the new housing supply to be at least in the middle or even the top end of the market in terms of quality. That will lower average prices at least as effectively as mass constructed slums.

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — August 8, 2016 @ 11:58 am

  4. They weren’t talking about state houses, they were talking about Kiwibuild affordable homes.

    Comment by Jamesy — August 8, 2016 @ 12:15 pm

  5. Hooton is probably too young to remember the privately owned ‘slums’ which surrounded the urban core of Auckland and Wellington up to the sixties and seventies. Its what happens when you have low income, high turnover and no maintenance, which is the current governments policy on state owned houses as well. lack of maintenance is the biggest factor to becoming a slum.

    Comment by ghostwhowalksnz — August 8, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

  6. Slums have not been created by house type in NZ, they have been created by poverty. Hooton conveniently ignores the fact that people need houses to live in, no matter how poor they are.

    Comment by Jack Craw — August 8, 2016 @ 12:36 pm

  7. I have been inside many state houses, a lot of them not very warm or attractive inside but few of them could be described as slums with any accuracy at all; the worst houses are private rentals that are being demolished by neglect and rented to people who have no other option, a practice that is getting more and more common.

    There is no way that building thousands new homes in Auckland (i.e. compliant with the building code) could possibly lower the average standard of housing in Auckland Matthew Hooton – that is a ludicrous statement. Smaller houses build more densely may reduce the average size, cost, and age of the housing stock, but those things are all good.

    Comment by RHT — August 8, 2016 @ 12:47 pm

  8. “….The multi-million state courses you refer result either from pepper-potting or in suburbs close to the CBD…”

    Pepper potting was a policy axed by National as soon as it could, because middle class snobs didn’t want poor people in their street lowering their property value. Nice to see you acknowledging the profound wisdom of socialist housing policy.

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 8, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

  9. Also, I have this theory that Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is one of the most influential literary works of the twentieth century.

    Orson Scott Card’s intro to the 1991 edition of Ender’s Game has this re Asimov which has always stuck with me:

    “I had just read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which was (more or less) an extrapolation of the ideas in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, applied to a galaxy wide empire in some far future time.
    The novel set me, not to dreaming, but to thinking, which is Asimov’s most extraordinary ability as a fiction writer. What would the future be like? How would things change? What would remain the same? The premise of Foundation seemed to be that even though you might change the props and the actors, the play of human history is always the same….

    I felt a strong desire to write stories that would do for other what Asimov’s story had done for me. In other genres, that desire is usually expressed by producing thinly veiled rewrites of great work: Tolkien’s disciples far too often simply rewrite Tolkien for example. In science fiction, however, the whole point is that the ideas are fresh an startling and intriguing; you imitate the great ones not be rewriting their stories, but rather by creating stories that are just as startling and new.”

    Comment by Gregor W — August 8, 2016 @ 1:02 pm

  10. Hooten is as usual, spinning to defame Labour using the tactic of focusing on a diversion (labelling the policy as slum-generating) from the main point, which is that Kiwibuild is exactly intended to increase supply.

    BTW, there’s absolutely no reason why low cost housing can’t be quality (apart from the obvious fact that building materials in NZ are held artificially high in price due to near monopoly/duopoly pricing conditions). I lived in an apartment in a major european city and it was only 28m2 but great quality and eminently livable. Many techniques exist to create quality, affordable housing in quantity, including e.g. factory component pre-build, large scale training schemes for workers etc.

    If we all followed Hooten’s prescription, nothing would change because there’s simply no market for the commercial sector in building affordable houses in volume – this has to be done by the state to address market failure.

    Comment by nukefacts — August 8, 2016 @ 1:08 pm

  11. A: Yay, Foundation.

    B: The future slums of Auckland are going to arise due to the current Auckland Council’s anti-urban pro-sprawl policy. The Auckland Council is shutting off land supply to urban Auckland City and over supplying land to exurban sprawl. This imposes high land costs against urban development to negate growth within the urban area. Meanwhile exurbia is being subsidised to the hilt. There are going to be slums, because this is the recipe for creating slums – low income workers trapped in poverty cycle (living where there are jobs, but high costs against property ownership) amidst high cost urban areas owned by the rich and while the middle class take flight into sprawl.

    Comment by unaha-closp — August 8, 2016 @ 1:26 pm

  12. The biggest problem with Foundation is that it is, indeed, an extrapolation of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, and that Decline and Fall is basically a load of bollocks.

    If the peak of Foundation’s influence is Orson Scott Card, I think we can say with confidence it is not that influential. If you read mostly within the scifi/fantasy bubble, Foundation would seem pretty influential, but that’s kind of the point.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — August 8, 2016 @ 2:01 pm

  13. Auckland Council has 6 years worth of land supply ready consented for building now. Plus plans for the next 30 years. The Unitary Plan establishes more future urban land. Those doing the “open up more land” number are dishonest. I live in an area which was called a slum in the 1970’s.These days it is “heritage”.

    Comment by Lindsey — August 8, 2016 @ 2:30 pm

  14. I liked Azimov when I was 14. I think that’s about the sweet spot for such fiction.

    Comment by richdrich — August 8, 2016 @ 2:38 pm

  15. See also Ayn Rand.

    Comment by richdrich — August 8, 2016 @ 2:39 pm

  16. @ Ortvin – I think you can extrapolate Card’s sentiments that good writing can (and should) engage the reader in thinking rather than dreaming while grounding a story in familiar themes as something that holds true beyond the sci-fi/fantasy genres.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 8, 2016 @ 2:40 pm

  17. Are you saying Danyl, that both these are examples of a juvenile belief that the simple use of numbers can solve complex problems?

    Comment by Robert Singers — August 8, 2016 @ 3:15 pm

  18. 13.Auckland Council has 6 years worth of land supply ready consented for building now. Plus plans for the next 30 years. The Unitary Plan establishes more future urban land. Those doing the “open up more land” number are dishonest.

    Auckland sprawl is indeed king, there is to be more sprawl created at a higher rate under the Unitary Plan than any time in the previous 30 years. It is an absurdity in this modern age that a council could be allowed such freedom to induce sprawl, at such great cost. Half the land consented is sprawl in the most impractical of locations.

    Sprawl has side effects, primarily a tendency to produce and maintain slums. An extraordinary extent of wasted human capital, because our Auckland Council constricts land around Auckland City and sprawls across the exurbs. We get a high cost urban area and build a heck of a lot of subsidised sprawl.

    The measure to prevent sprawl is very simple – open up more land around Auckland City. The very simplest of solutions.

    Comment by unaha-closp — August 8, 2016 @ 3:38 pm

  19. Hooten would rather people lived in cars and garage over slums

    Comment by Andy F — August 8, 2016 @ 8:58 pm

  20. Many of the state houses built weren’t stand alone bungalows on quarter acre sections. Remember the semi detached and blocks of four two story units. I lived in one in Farmer Crescent, Pomare. They could quite rightly be called slums, but that could be because the tenants that lived there (fortunately after I left the area) did not look after their places, with wrecked cars on the front lawn, broken beer bottle everywhere, boarded up windows and had pitbull crosses running wild. If that isn’t a slum area in NZ terms, what is? There are plenty of areas in NZ now that are similar. The Farmer Crescent properties have all been demolished now to make way for better housing.
    There were also State House bungalows built in towns like Murupara, Minginui, Pureora that were built in the 40s? How much are they worth?

    Comment by chrism56 — August 8, 2016 @ 9:16 pm

  21. It’s always amusing to hear self-proclaimed Hayekian free-marketeers suddenly becoming big government statists, whenever affordable housing is mentioned. Who remembers The Nation interview with David Seymour and Julie Ann Genter from a couple of years ago? Or any press release from Dick Quax or Denise Krum?

    If Donald Trump fails to take the White House and decides to look to Auckland for development opportunities, it’d a matter of sitting back. passing the popcorn, and watching two groups of blowhards venting hot air.

    Comment by Kumara Republic (@kumararepublic) — August 8, 2016 @ 10:15 pm

  22. The character of “The Mule” in the Foundation series helps illustrate two competing narratives about Donald Trump. He’s either an unforeseeable unique combination of media savvy and bombast who’s completely upset the normal rules about politics, leaving the plan for the whole universe in disarray. Or his success is an entirely predictable result of various trends and there’s nothing special about the Don at all (except perhaps he has exceptionally small hands).

    Comment by Simon Connell — August 9, 2016 @ 10:16 am

  23. …and there’s nothing special about the Don at all (except perhaps he has exceptionally small hands).

    Reminds me of this.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 9, 2016 @ 10:53 am

  24. I agree that Asimov’s Foundation trilogy — that eventually became a ‘heptalogy’ — is one of the most influential works of the 20-21st centuries. But it is influential mostly in an “unofficial”, ‘unacademic’, “sub rosa” way. What is most needed, to bring the promise of this influence to its full fruition, is an actualization of Asimov’s fictional “psychohistory” in our real world. At least a start toward this has been achieved by the folks at It required the discovery of a new kind of mathematics for them to get there.

    Comment by detonaccionesuel Detonacciones — August 13, 2016 @ 6:50 am

  25. “except perhaps he has exceptionally small hands”

    Cool, does this mean it’s now okay to make comments about a candidates appearance or their sexual reproductive organs and/or capabilities? Or would doing so when the candidate happens to be a woman, constitute “misogyny”?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — August 13, 2016 @ 1:10 pm

  26. “That conceit underlies the whole story arc. In Foundation, we learn that a small group of mathematicians have developed “psychohistory”, the aforementioned rigorous science of society. Applying that science to the all-powerful Galactic Empire in which they live, they discover that it is in fact in terminal decline, and that a 30,000-year era of barbarism will follow its fall.”

    Marvelous: Krugman forgot that Foundation was fiction, and so acts (or rather, instructs) like he and his fellow deficit-stimulists have access to psychohistory.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — August 13, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

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