🧟 Frankenstein's Janet 🧟
It's alive! It's alive! It's alive!
When I first created the ‘Janet’ caricature of a retired, suburban, unremarkable, small-c conservative NIMBY back in April, I thought she was just that. A hammed-up, satirical cartoon, painted with such broad brush strokes only as to make a wider point easier to explain.
I was therefore astonished to see my monster fully made flesh in the form of a Conservative activist and former North Somerset councillor, Janet Baker, speaking to Times Radio on the day of Liz Truss’s conference speech. She almost stopped herself, seemingly fully aware she was about to touch a live wire, before stating: ‘I think that youngsters expect an awful lot more these days.’
It seemed she already knew that brushing breezily over the present affordability challenges of extraordinary house price to earnings ratios that she never faced at the same age – at a time of vastly reduced rates of homeownership among the young – wasn’t going to be well received. Is it too much for the young to expect – literally – exactly what she has had from life? Apparently so.
“Culturally our society has always been that you have to own your own home – or that’s what you should aspire to. But then if you look at places like Italy, or Germany, they don’t actually aspire, necessarily, to own their own home – they’re quite happy to rent,” she continued, having earlier revealed that she lives in a fully-paid off home that she owns.
Naively insulated from the insecurity, transiency and expense of renting in a landlord’s market, and happily unaware that Italy has a higher rate of homeownership than the UK, she is clearly satisfied in her homeownership. But doesn’t appear to matter for those that follow in her footsteps. A powerful political force summed up in only a few, entitled, credulous sentences.
If anything, it seems supply is falling even further behind demand in the private rental market in London.
It’s worth noting, however, that there’s no detectable intention of malice or ill-will in anything she’s saying, even as she tells the young to give up on their (by postwar standards, very basic) aspirations. There is only a complete lack of awareness of how difficult it is to achieve an equivalent outcome to her own under the current circumstances. In the Triumph of Janet, I said:
The great irony in this is that despite her revealed preferences, Janet doesn’t actually want her grandchildren to have a smaller chance of owning a home or to live poorer lives.
Yes, she doesn’t want construction dust. She doesn’t want the view from the kitchen to change either.
But she doesn’t want her children and grandchildren to be materially poorer because of her voting behaviour. She doesn’t want an unearned entitlement at the expense of anyone that follows in her footsteps.
It hasn’t even occurred to her that she is but one of millions of grains of sand in the machine. This is simply what all our political incentives align to achieve.
I still think this is true. Most people do not think with data. They think with heuristics and motivated reasoning. Strangely enough, it is easier to believe in the moral failure of a generation, than in tougher economic and political circumstances.
Of course, in the video, the interest rates of the mid-nineties were mentioned as if that was a sustained plateau of housing costs, like young people see today, rather than a spike. A painful spike, yes, but a relatively transient period of pain that, if you were able to survive it, as most were, led to a secure path to long term homeownership.
The young today, if they are even lucky enough to have climbed the boomer-greased pole of homeownership, will actually see a comparable impact on their monthly mortgage payments as mid-nineties homeowners, because of the larger notional amounts (house prices) interest rates are being applied to.
And, once adjusted for MIRAS, we see that a generation shafted by high notional prices, is about to be shafted once again, on even these historically low interest rates. Welcome back to the nineties, this time with a side-order of seventies.