Thinking about house prices

Since Time is Money – money representing a token of value for the time you spend doing something – in theory you should be able to substitute either one for the other, right? Like, if you had all the time in the world, you could in theory make the thing you’re buying instead of paying someone else to have made it.

We can apply that to thinking about housing prices. After all, the price of a house should be proportional to how much it costs to build, right?

According to the ABS, median price for a dwelling in Australia is $623,000. Note this includes all houses and units, all over Australia. According to Domain, in June, the median price for houses in Sydney was $1,021,968.

Minimum wage in Australia is $17.70.

Therefore, what the market says at the moment is that a dwelling – a place to live –  in Australia – on average is worth 35,198 hours of work in Australia – barring transaction costs. That’s 4,400 working days (doing a bit of rounding here), or 16 years 10 months of work with only weekends off.

For Sydney, that means the median house is 57,739 hours of work, or 7,218 days, meaning 27 years and 8 months of work.

I can say for sure the houses in Australia don’t take 16, or even 27 years to build. They’re up in like 6 months, max. So the rest of it is time you’re getting from something else – perhaps something ephemeral as the view (time taken to get to a place with a similar view…), or as practical as commute time, or… I’m not sure, but there’s other sacrifices and investments of time that this would represent.

Ok, so it’s a little silly to divide median house price by minimum wage, but if you’ve got a house, or even some kind of dwelling, this is a useful way to recognise the literal effort the walls around you represent.

Navel gazing

Wow, wait, I’ve been writing on this blog for nearly 11 years now… 

The thought came to me while fiddling with the sidebar images. If you’ve not noticed, there’s a rotating roster of images that changes with each refresh. Some are more readable than others. Some are my own images, some are from Unsplash, which is a pretty neat resource for royalty-free imagery that also happens to contain some amazing photos to boot.

The rotating imagery was from an idea I’d had for a new design for this site back in 2007, shortly after I’d moved to London, back when the site still had a splash page and a forum. Back when I had more time for these things. It had been a couple of years after graduating – a couple of years since I’d been committed to changing the design/theme every 3 months. The irony of going from a hand-built blog where I changed design regularly to one on a dynamic platform with built in theme support where I ceased to change the design is not lost on me.

Looking back at that idea from November 2007 (9 years!), I still like the mockups and prototypes I’ve got. It still feels basically fresh – I should be congratulating myself on being so forward looking, but the truth is that while I was able to make the mockups, it never panned out because I didn’t know enough HTML/CSS/JS to make it work, and I didn’t have the time or effort to put into following through, as a hobby slowly fell by the wayside.

And now, years later, I’m pulling it off, mostly. I’ve still got this site – indeed I just renewed the domain for another little while, the site hosting costs for another little bit… and I’m really not sure why. But it’s important to me to have this space – this space that’s my own, as opposed to a Twitter or Facebook or Medium or other platform where I’m a subdomain at best. Pushing the Sky is mine, for better or for worse.

So – point of the story – while scrolling and realising how long it’s been, I also realised where the monthly post counts slowed to the woeful rate we have today… and while 2007 happened to be the last time I put significant effort into attempting to redesign this site, and 2008 apparently was the year where I went from writing something here every day and a half to every 3 days, and then 2009 became the year I slowed that even further – even though it’s been 6 or 7 years since I put any concerted effort into this, I still find myself appreciating the space, and appreciating that I have an outlet that’s my own.

And now I need to restore it; I need to revert from using those other platforms as my primary outlets to write something, or share a photograph, or a review of a movie, and return to the source. I need to post here more, and I’ll make a concerted effort to do so. Keep me honest, will you?

The Role of Shame in Politics

And so at long last, we reach US Election Day 2016, when a reckoning has finally come for the American political system – the candidates perfectly set up as the establishment facing the insurgents, the know-nothing Donald Trump squaring off against the know-it-all Hillary Clinton.

How did we get like this?

How did we get from the point where once upon a time, a candidate that was even threatened with being revealed to be cheating on his wife, would step back, stand down, or resign altogether than face the music, to the point where we’re seeing a candidate standing despite those accusations and worse being thrown around, and still he appears to be as close as a 3% gap?

What changed to allow this to happen?

Shame. Or the lack thereof.

It is the nature of public shame more than anything in democracies to operate as the public conscience of the politicians. It is not the law that forces a resignation in the face of allegations of adultery, for instance; it is shame that pushes a politician to resign when word comes to light of legitimate but morally dubious donations; it is shame that forces departures that allegations of falsehoods bring to light, no matter how legal it may have been at the time.

It is shame, a somewhat quaint notion intrinsically linked with the quainter notions of honor and propriety. It is with shame that we have driven much of the better behavior without needing to codify it.

It was a key component that drove the first parliaments in England – honor and shame being what for years was enough to bring glory and to end careers. So much of parliament’s rules are mere conventions, and adherence to these is driven by the honor of doing the right thing. Where a parliamentarian would cross a line of honor, the sheer shame of doing so was in it self enough to force change.

Now? Who would bother with feeling shame, if the penalty isn’t there? Where’s the big stick as a result?

Let’s take the concrete example in Australia most recently of George Brandis, Attorney General. Ignoring the Solicitor-General’s advice should be grounds for dismissal due to ministerial dereliction of duty; misleading Parliament should have been sufficient for the shame of those deceitful actions to force Brandis to walk, as apparently it’s not an offence to do so.

Brandis didn’t walk, he didn’t fall on his sword, and Turnbull didn’t dismiss him.

Instead, these days, there’s no shame in it. It’s being able to go to the extremes of previously tolerated behavior, and then keep going, because what’s the penalty?

And thus we have Trump. A man with no shame so much that he keeps getting away with so very much and reaping the reward. We don’t hold Trump to a higher standard; we understand this man is poor and devoid of character in many ways, but it doesn’t matter because he’s on the side that uses shame when convenient and brushes it away. It’s not illegal, why should he apologize?

The outright denial of facts and truth is entirely possible if there’s no shame in doing so. If there’s nothing to say “You lied and you ought not have done that,” then where are we left to go?

Where is the shame in treating humans the way we’ve done in Nauru and Manus Island? Political expediency rules.

Truly, we will need to restore shame to its rightful place amongst the emotions that govern those who would governs us, because without it, Trump isn’t the last on this band-wagon, and that’s a truly terrifying thought.