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Monday 22 April 2024

 How's this for an idiot economists view of the housing market?

Dean Baker tells us that paying out 34% of your income on housing in 2024 is OK because

--today's house are bigger than before (not in UK), and 

--they boast lots of extra goodies like double glazing and central heating (true, but that only accounts for a tiny amount of the huge price rises. I know, I've done the research 1984 J Valuation)

--Most ridiculous argument of all. Food used to be 24% of household spending, now less than 10%. So you've got all this spare cash, which can be diverted into buying your accommodation. Is Baker mad? Why isn't housing going down in cost like everything else? If it was then we could earn as much as we do today and  splurge out on luxuries, or BETTER STILL, keep our current lifestyles and get by on lower incomes.




I am not ordinarily a celebrant for the state of the economy, but the media have been so over the top in pushing the economic doom story during the Biden presidency, that I feel the need to put some reality into the picture.

One of the central lines among the doomsayers is that we are spending a larger share of income on housing and that for many it has become altogether unaffordable. I will agree that housing is a serious problem. In fact, I recently authored a piece in a new collection on the issue, which I would encourage everyone to read. We need to build more housing and especially more affordable housing.

But acknowledging that housing is a serious problem is not the same as saying it is an unprecedented crisis, and many of the things that have been asserted in the media are simply not true. For example, it is not true that homeownership is no longer part of the American dream for young people. In fact, homeownership rates for young people are above their pre-pandemic level.

It’s true that the run-up in mortgage interest rates since the Fed began hiking in March 2022, coupled with rising house prices, has made the cost of buying a home prohibitive for many new buyers, but few expect rates to stay this high for long.

Mortgage rates are highly cyclical, they go up when the Fed raises rates in an effort to slow the economy. The current rates of near 7.0 percent are high compared to the 3.0 percent rates we saw during the pandemic, but they are not high by historic standards. In 1981, they peaked at over 18.0 percent.

I don’t recall reporters at the time writing pieces as though 18.0 percent mortgage rates would persist for the indefinite future. I am not sure why they feel the need to write that way about the current 7.0 percent rates.

Another aspect of the manufactured housing crisis story is that we are spending higher shares of our income on housing, with a record number of people spending more than one-third of their income on housing. This share has been dubbed as a crisis point by some.

It is certainly true that we are spending a much larger share of our income on housing than in prior decades, but a big part of that story is that we are spending a much smaller share on other things. The graph below shows the share of disposable income going to food, clothes, and household furnishings since the late 1940s.

Source: National Income and Product Accounts, Table 2.3.5 and author’s calculations.

As can be seen, there has been a sharp reduction in the shares of all three. This is especially striking with food. In 1947 we spent 23.0 percent of our income on store-bought food. This had fallen to just 7.1 percent last year. The share of income going to buy clothes fell from 10.3 percent to 2.6 percent. The share for buying household furnishings dropped from 5.5 percent to 2.5 percent.

These declines freed up income to go to other areas, and one area that extra income went to was housing. The houses we live in today are on average much larger than the ones we lived in 75 years ago. They are also far more likely to have air conditioning and relatively clean sources of heat. (Coal furnaces were still common in the late 1940s.) They are much better protected against fires and less likely to have harmful chemicals like asbestos and lead.

As a result of reduced spending in other areas, and the higher quality of the housing we live in today, the share of our income going to housing now exceeds 34.0 percent, on average. (This figure includes “owner equivalent rent,” the money that a homeowner would be paying to rent the home they live in.)

Given the 34.0 percent figure is an average, it is hard to see the one-third level as a crisis. Rather, we probably need to recalculate what share of income going to housing costs presents an unmanageable burden.

None of this should be taken to mean that we don’t have to do things to make housing more affordable. We need to ease up restrictions that block both new construction and the conversion of empty office space to residential. And we should ensure that a substantial share of these new units are affordable.

We can also take short-term steps to improve affordability, like limiting vacation rentals and having moderate rent control. A vacant property tax is also a good way to get more units on the market. It will also be good when Jerome Powell and the Fed get over their inflation fears and start to ease up on interest rates.

We have a serious shortage of housing in the country due to a sharp plunge in construction in the decade following the collapse of the housing bubble. We were gradually getting back to more normal levels of construction when the pandemic broke out. If we can sustain higher levels of construction for several years and convert many of the offices that are currently vacant, due to the explosion in people working from home, we can lower housing costs.

But it is helpful to look at the issue with clear eyes. The biggest reason housing has grown as a share of our income is that we are spending so much less on other necessities. That is a good thing.

This first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.  

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 


Friday 1 March 2024

Halligan's Iron Triangle of Influence 

Dealing with the opposition:

Who are the forces driving the failure of the Housing Market?

They are the ones who promote the mistaken belief that 

"It's just a question of Supply and Demand. Economics 101. Build more and prices will come down!"

This is just what the folks who like things as they are like to hear. 

They are the ones who are happy when journalists and  commentators spout this nonsense.

They the people who are very happy when politicians echo this back, and produce damaging Help-to-Buy schemes.

These are the people whose self-serving opposition has to be countered.

Who are they? Liam Halligan in his book Home Truths produces this brilliant image to explain the forces driving the failure of the Housing Market.

 THE IRON TRIANGLE of vested interests which have the Housing Market clamped into failure mode

Each of these three players benefit hugely financially from today’s crisis-stricken Housing Market and will fight tooth-and-nail to prevent it being changed.

The one change these three sides all fear is falling house prices. This must be prevented at all costs!

For the owner-occupiers it's fear of losing their ‘nest-eggs’, their legacies to the next generation, their wealth built up on ‘hard work’ (!) which will see them through to a comfortable retirement,

Banks who lend recklessly, trusting that house-prices never go down. Any crazy lending to NINJAs will soon be fixed by rising prices,

Housebuilders locked into this dysfunctional market, but by acting rationally make good profits out of land-banking and land speculation.

 These are the three most formidable interest groups who must be won over, by persuasion, by bribery, or by sheer brute force if necessary! 


So you think the Housing Crisis can be fix by BUILDING MORE?

Wrong! and here's the academic evidence, which clearly shows why

This is a paper by Ian Mulheirn from 2019 called Tackling the UK housing crisis: is supply the answer? 

So all of the dimwits who prattle on about

"Oh it's just a simple matter of Supply and Demand, Economics101. 

Build more--increase supply--and prices are bound to come down.!

Don't they realise that the Housing market is anything but normal?

Just the fact that most buyers, especially FTBs need a mortgage shows that the housing market is not 'normal'.

Not normal, in the way that markets for baked beans, laptops, cars or any other commodity operates.

Could this be a false Narrative put out by influential housing stakeholders in order to protect their unearned and undeserved Wealth?

Well, maybe.... See what Liam Halligan said about the IRON Triangle



Wednesday 4 October 2023

Will ‘Upward Intensification’ stop house prices rising?

<- Shanghai suburb        Or leafy Dublin suburb? ->

Here’s an FT writer using click-bait in an attempt to ‘prove’ building more stops house prices rising.

John Burn-Murdoch writes for the Financial Times, a highly respected newspaper. Read widely in the commercial world, it (the FT) cannot peddle the usual narrative propaganda to its well-informed readership.

John B-M writes some very good stuff, but this article which claims to overthrow the mantra of “building more houses won’t stop house-prices rising” is nothing of the sort. Let’s look a bit closer.

(Normally FT articles are behind a strict paywall. However, so pleased was J B-M with this piece that he open-sourced it on his TwitterX account. So I think it’s OK for me to reproduce it in full here. My comments are [added in italic,thus]


So here’s John Burn-Murdoch’s piece

= = = = = = =

Repeat after me: building any new homes reduces housing costs for all [note the childish tone!]

Building unsubsidised housing pushes down rents and prices while freeing up cheaper properties  [always? As we’ll see only in very specific circumstances]



15 Sept 2023


Nimbys have long opposed housebuilding on the grounds that it lowers the value of their own properties. [ No they don’t! It’s loss of amenities, views etc, and the disruption caused by building that mostly bugs them.]

 But lately they have found unexpected allies in the leftwing “supply scepticism” movement, whose advocates argue against new market-rate housing developments on the basis that they may increase rents and prices locally — hindering their aim of making housing more affordable for people on low incomes. [Phew! ‘supply scepticism’! Lefties! This long sentence is loaded with straw-men.]

This position rests on a rewriting of one of the fundamental principles of economics. All other things being equal, if the supply of a good or service increases, its price will decrease. Unless that thing is housing.  [What a clown! Housing is most emphatically not just a normal good, it is also primarily an investment vehicle. Of course the laws of supply and demand cannot work here.]


It would be exasperating [!] enough if that way of thinking were confined to the supply scepticism group — which has already contributed to delays and outright blocking of proposed developments around the US. But the affliction appears to be much more widespread, according to a recent paper by three social scientists in California. The study found that when Americans were asked [!] to predict the impact of a supply shock on prices for labour, commodities or consumer goods, the correct answers outnumbered the wrong ones by at least two to one.

[What next? Public surveys conducted to test the validity of Copenhagenist versus frequentist theories of Quantum Physics?]

 When asked about the impact of a 10 per cent increase in regional housing supply, however, 40 per cent say prices and rents would rise, while only a third say they would fall. [Do obscure, baffling references to ill-informed opinions the US add much to his case? I think not!]


The supply sceptics have theories [not just theories, there’s plenty of evidence too, from Ireland especially, and here on this blog, in my very first posting back in 2017] for why housing could be different,

but they fall apart when confronted with the evidence, as set out in a comprehensive review of the latest research by James Gleeson,[more on what Gleeson actually said later] a housing analyst at the Greater London Authority.

One argument is that only by building affordable housing can you increase affordability. Market-rate dwellings will simply go to people on higher incomes, leaving lower earners high and dry. But recent studies from the US, Sweden and Finland all demonstrate that although most people who move directly into new unsubsidised housing may come from the top half of earners, the chain of moves triggered by their purchase frees up housing in the same cities for people on lower incomes. The US study found that building 100 new market-rate dwellings ultimately leads to up to 70 people moving out of below-median income neighbourhoods, and up to 40 moving out of the poorest fifth. Those numbers don’t budge even if the new housing is priced towards the top end of the market. [straw man, no ref, but I’ve done the homework and found out who James Gleeson is, and what he says. More later.]

Another argument is that building market-rate housing in a lower-income area leads to gentrification, with higher earners moving into a lower-income area and displacing the incumbents. But the latest research from Britain and the US shows that there is typically little, if any, outward displacement of incumbents. It is the incomers who have been displaced, priced out of wealthier areas by supply constraints. In other words, even if you think it’s inherently bad if high earners move into poorer neighbourhoods, the answer is to build more market-rate housing for those higher earners.


[Both of these cases are very specific to particular local conditions. The Housing Market Big Problem is that the whole level of prices is far too high, has galloped up far faster than inflation, and requires huge amounts of subsidy just to ensure sub-average income families get housed. Fix the impossibly high house prices first (as they did in the 1930s and to some extent in the 1950s/60s) and THEN you can talk about balancing supply and demand.]


Recent policies to increase housing supply in major western cities are compelling — as documented in recent analyses by Australian economist Matthew Maltman. In November 2016, large areas of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, were rezoned to allow for higher-density building. The results were twofold: a boom in construction of multi-unit housing — predominantly at market rates — and the flattening off of rents in the city in real terms. On the eve of upzoning, median rents were 25 per cent higher in Auckland than the capital Wellington. Six years later, nominal rents had grown by an average of 3 per cent a year in the former and 7 in the latter, putting the two neck and neck. Adjusted for inflation, renting in Auckland is now no more expensive than it was in 2016, compared with a 25 per cent rise in Wellington.

[I can’t be bothered to follow up this obscure, far-away, and quite probably irrelevant case study! Try thinking how this would work in London? Manchester? Cardiff? Tower blocks everywhere? ]


It’s a similar story in the American Midwest, where Minneapolis has been building more housing than any other large city in the region for years, and has abolished zones that limited construction to single-family housing. Adjusted for local earnings, average rents in the city are down more than 20 per cent since 2017, while rising in the five other similarly large and growing cities. If you want to improve housing availability and affordability for all, the good news is that any new housing will help.


[and here the article ends. Not a glimmer of insight into the politics of planning, the actual economics of the housing markets, the steps that could be taken to fix the whole thing, not little bits of tinkering here and there], @jburnmurdoch Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023.


But what did James Gleeson, who works for the Greater London Authority really say:

  • financialisation does increase demand to own housing [yes banks are the proximate cause of pumping up house prices]
  • but if housing supply is elastic then house prices don’t have to rise much and rents can even fall [words fail me! Of course (new) housing supply is very inelastic, do the maths.]
  • when land supply is relatively fixed, the key to elastic housing supply is allowing land to be used more productively through denser construction. [Land is always in fixed supply, and it is good to see at least a mention of the most important factor determining the market price of houses! But will intensification will save us all? Probably, but not until the market is fixed.]


So ONE correct and obvious conclusion, two abstruse and unattainable conclusions








No More PPs won’t and didn’t fix it, on either supply or price


2. Nov2017

Oxford boffins say building more hasn’t slowed HP rises, nor will it.


3. july2017


Ireland shows why even massive build-more didn’t SHoPRi


4. apr2017


My first blogpost in response to Govt’s Fixing Our Broken Housing Market inanity 

Sunday 3 July 2022

The Spectator gets it half-right on fixing the broken housing market.

 “50-year mortgages won’t fix Britain’s broken housing market” is the headline. This is in response to the Government’s latest wheeze to pretend they are doing something about the Housing Market.

The author of the article rightly pours scorn on this idea. It is one of a series of gimmicks from this and previous governments, all of which just push prices up higher.


So far so good, but then comes the utterly conventional, but wildly wrong explanation:

 The problem with the British housing market is that there isn’t enough stock relative to the population, and where there is stock available, it’s in the wrong place.”

It’s all down to supply of new housing being deliberately limited says the author Sam Ashworth-Hayes (former director of studies at the Henry Jackson Society):

“British politicians have created an almighty mess. Restricting housing supply caused prices to rise, and meant people borrowed increasingly large sums of money to buy homes.”

(The author seems deeply incurious as to where the ‘increasingly large sums of money to buy homes’ comes from!)

Governments are deliberately restricting supply of new builds? That’s nonsense!

If the rate of housebuilding was in some fairly-tale land doubled, tripled or quadrupled would that bring down prices? No, because the 80-90% of the houses for sale are already there!

And the conclusion:

“And until a politician is brave enough to grab the nettle and risk a drop in property prices, we will be stuck with a housing market that ruins the lives of young people before – eventually – turning them into lobbyists for its maintenance.”

The author thinks that the ‘nettle’ it is the power of the Nimbys that must be ‘grabbed’, but the real force that is pushing up house prices is the ability of the financial system to create unlimited amounts of mortgage funds.

‘Rein in the power of the banks!’ Now that would be a brave new slogan for the freedom-loving Henry Jackson Society!


 Here’s The Spectator article

- - - - - - -

50-year mortgages won’t fix Britain’s broken housing market

2 July 2022, 8:30am


2 July 2022, 8:30am

Downing Street has come up with another cunning plan to fix the housing crisis: 50-year mortgages, passed from parent to child. No longer will your ability to afford a home be dependent on your earnings. Once the scheme is in place, you will be able to borrow against the incomes of your future children, in a heart-warming recreation of the age-old tradition of indentured labour.

The reasoning goes something like this: young people can’t afford to buy homes. Not only can they not afford to buy homes, they can’t afford to save for deposits. While accommodation has grown ever more cramped – with space per person dropping a quarter between 1996 and 2012 – rents have continued to eat into incomes. Record numbers have are stuck living with their parents, unable to start their lives as adults, let alone start families.

In order to help them, the government is going to make it easier to borrow money. This could mean smaller deposit requirements, or it could mean very long repayment periods. The latter would be enabled through mortgages that parents could pass onto their children, replicating policies introduced in Japan in the 1980s. It’s a simple idea, and one with no chance of working.

Mortgages let you borrow against your future earnings. The longer the period of earnings, the more you can borrow. At some point, it is somewhat optimistically assumed that you will retire, stop working, and stop earning. This caps the amount a lender will offer you. Making mortgages transferable allows you to borrow against the earnings of your children: you make payments until you die, and they inherit both the house and the remaining debt.

The main effect of 50-year mortgages will be to drive prices higher

Longer mortgages won’t do a thing to help young people onto the housing ladder. As with Help to Buy, Lifetime ISAs, and every other policy the government has trotted out over the past decade, No. 10 seems to think the fundamental problem with the British housing market is one of demand: people just aren’t spending enough.

This is wrong. The problem with the British housing market is that there isn’t enough stock relative to the population, and where there is stock available, it’s in the wrong place. It’s like a game of musical chairs. You aren’t going to get five people onto three seats, no matter how much financial engineering you engage in.

This lack of supply in the places people actually want to live is why buildings which used to be family homes have been turned into unsatisfactory house shares. It’s also why prices will continue to rise until people are actually permitted to build homes.

From this perspective, the main effect of 50-year mortgages will be to drive prices higher. Red tape in the planning system stops supply responding to demand. Increasing people’s ability to spend money just results in bidding wars over the properties already available.

It’s not even particularly true that longer mortgages are more affordable. Monthly repayments for a given sum work out as practically identical whether you stretch them over 29 years – the current average duration – or 50. Borrowing a larger amount would actually drive them higher. If 50-year mortgages become the standard, people will end up with more debt, the headache of making mortgage repayments in retirement, and they’ll end up in the house they would have bought anyway.

What’s deeply frustrating is that the government almost certainly knows it won’t work. The reason Downing Street keeps tinkering with demand is very simple: it thinks doing anything to fix supply will lose it the next election.

British politicians have created an almighty mess. Restricting housing supply caused prices to rise, and meant people borrowed increasingly large sums of money to buy homes. As prices continued to rise, each new group of homeowners was increasingly locked into the system: with their net worth tied up in a single asset. A market correction would see their savings wiped out and trap them in the misery of negative equity.

Combine this with Britain’s ageing population, and you have a perfectly self-perpetuating form of political dysfunction. Any attempt to liberalise planning mobilises masses of Nimby voters concerned about falling property values. And until a politician is brave enough to grab the nettle and risk a drop in property prices, we will be stuck with a housing market that ruins the lives of young people before – eventually – turning them into lobbyists for its maintenance.



WRITTEN BYSam Ashworth-Hayes

Sam Ashworth-Hayes is a former director of studies at the Henry Jackson Society.



Wednesday 6 April 2022


 What is driving the housing affordability crisis and how to solve it

is an important new report (31Mar2022) from Positive Money, a research and campaigning group, which advocates a form of MMT — Modern Monetary Theory.

[disclosure: I have been involved from its founding in , and also made large (for me) contributions to them in the early days]

You can read the Report in full here:

 ‘Banking on Property’ is the punning, obscure title of the report. Even the subtitle doesn’t explain much! Still, PM are keen to be seen as respectable and credible in any academic forum, hence the obscurity!

A better title? 

Incontinent Mortgage Lending by Banks Driving Up House Prices

How financial liberalisation lets banks create unlimited money for house purchasing. The result? Houses far too expensive for many of the rising generation to afford.’

It’s all explained in our book[1]

To return to Positive Money’s Report:

—Banks (financial institutions) provide the ‘purchasing power’ for home-buyers.

After a brief history of banking liberalisation in the UK, starting in 1971 (bingo! They’ve spotted it, as I tried to explain), that  

“The [virtually unlimited] power of credit creation [by the banks] means that households are able to purchase property even as house prices increase significantly faster than their incomes.” (p25), and

“A major driving force in the increase of UK house prices over the last thirty [shouldn’t that be fifty?] years has therefore been a relatively elastic supply of credit meeting a relatively fixed supply of housing, combined with increased speculative demand for homeownership and BTL landlordism. Such a rapid growth in house prices would not have been possible without a credit-creating banking system, given the much slower growth of household incomes.” (p27)

So, yes, full agreement and support for my explanation: The proximate cause for house prices rising so fast is freely available credit-mortgage lending.

(Although PM ignores what happened before 1970, when house prices were NOT a problem. IMHO what they did then gives us pointers for what we might do today.)

So far, so impressive. Sadly the Positive Money Report then becomes very dull, heavy going overloaded with analysis of what is frankly peripheral to the main argument. I suppose the felt they had to protect themselves from the conventional thinking of the majority of self-styled ‘experts’!

The Report wanders off into more irrelevance by discussing social themes in the housing of Londoners (OK need to satisfy the sponsor)

Additionally, and these are very  expensive, they commissioned a large public opinion survey. I’ve dealt with this in my previous blog. Tricking people to accept the unacceptable (welcome a house-price freeze) will soon fall apart on first encounter with reality! Casual answers to loaded questions prove nothing.



“Stabilise house prices” they say, but hedged in by lots of waffle:

“The primary recommendation of this report is that the UK Government launches a new longterm housing affordability strategy focused on tackling the root causes of the affordability crisis. The overarching goal of the strategy should be to embark on a long-term transition to stabilise house prices and allow wages and inflation to catch up, bringing real house prices and the house-price-toincome ratio down to more affordable levels over time.”

Hear! Hear! That’s exactly what we advocate in Stop House Prices Rising!

But can I hear Dr Deming’s oft repeated mantra “By What Means?” ringing in my ears.

What ‘means’ does this Positive Money Report suggest to stabilise prices?

1. Update the Bank of England’s Mandate to include stabilising house prices.

And that’s more or less, it. This it seems, is the best that this fine organisation (Positive Money) that I supported to the hilt at inception can come up. Tell the BoE to do it! Waffle about ‘credit guidance’ and ‘improved frameworks’ won’t cut it. Do they think the BoE can re-impose The Corset of the 1960s? No chance!

This really is a case of ‘kicking the ball into the long grass’

Instead the Report should have specific targets for taxing the banks, like Osborne’s Permanent Bank Levy. Make the banks pay more when house prices start climbing.


2. Reform property taxes (yawn, yawn)

This is just filler, and beyond the remit of this Report, which is about the Banks contribution to house price rises. So, out come the usual suspects:

  Make Council Tax fairer, PM says. Have they any clue what political turmoil lies around Rates/Poll Tax/Council Tax? Dammit the system can’t even organise an updating of property values. All the commentators go for this, little realising how toxic (politically) it is. Changing tax regimes requires much more subtlety than this!

There are a few other suggestions on CGT and IHR, but no explanation of how they would work to stop house prices rising, why politicians would want to implement them, or how soon they would work.


3. Rent controls and security of tenure like they have in Germany

Good point, would have all sorts of knock-on effects, but really has little to do with stabilising house prices.


This Report had a very high profile launch with at least two MPs in attendance on Zoom. It generated zero press coverage, apart from a puff piece in the New Statesman about their survey. “Oh look! Homeowners have changed, the really don’t care about building unearned wealth from their home. Fairness and equity is now their thing” [My Ar*e, says I]




[1] Stop House Prices Rising!: The Essential First Fix For the Broken Housing Market

by Conall Boyle & Steve McCabe Bitesized Books Feb 2022