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“Stay in your lane” is a frequently heard refrain nowadays, normally a piece of advice directed at those who, by virtue of some aspect of their identifying characteristics or profession or beliefs, express views which are deemed unwelcome. “Stay in your lane” is not often fair and appropriate advice to be given in debate.
I submit, however, that “Stay in your lane” is usually fair and appropriate advice to give a Marxist who opines on matters which concern the moral, efficient, and effective satisfaction of human wants.
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On a recent Saturday morning, with equal parts amusement, frustration, and resignation, I read novelist Sally Rooney’s analysis of an economic situation. Noting Rooney’s position as a self-described Marxist, it was no shock to see her strident call for the government to reinstate an expiring ban on evictions that had been introduced over winter 2022/23 and her proposed solution to housing shortages—the abolition of private property (where that private property is a rental property). The collectivist impulse is strong with Marxists, no matter the costs to humanity. Indeed, some Marxists regarded it as a great loss when the beautiful perpetrators of the Holdomor, that great atrocity, fell from power.
While Marxists might find the inconvenient truths of reality and husbandry hard or unpalatable to grasp, they remain in force as they have done for millennia. Satisfaction of human wants (the end) requires means. Producing means requires time and other goods and resources. Resources that are saved and not consumed allow the production of goods which satisfy the ends. Landlords are people who have husbanded and accumulated their resources and chosen to provide the use of residential property to those (tenants) who do not have the resources to acquire their own for whatever reasons.
Rooney, our Marxist scribe, views such providers of a residential property as mere “middlemen between existing homes and the people who want to live in them.” The value the landlord—the capitalist, the entrepreneur—provides in investing his resources into a home which allows another (the renter) to use that home when he cannot afford or chooses not to purchase one of his own is utterly lost on our Marxist scribe and Marxists generally.
Our Marxist scribe concludes normal people sell their property only when they “judge that the price of an asset has reached its peak.” This is only half right and ignores the question of why so many are choosing to do so at the same time. More accurately, people sell their property when the expected future benefits of holding fall below those of selling now.
Private landlords look up and see a future of ill-informed, shortsighted invective fueled by a tidal wave of political opportunism, economic illiteracy, and envy, with the sole effect (if not aim and objective) of making it unfeasible to be a private landlord. An Irish landlord already knows that rents can’t be adjusted to account for inflation and interest rate rises.
Landlords see legislators proposing that “no fault evictions” be outlawed (i.e., the landlord’s ability to regain access to their property is to be seriously curtailed and possible only on very limited and prescribed grounds). They see proposals that all sales of rental property must leave the tenants in situ, often at rents far below the prevailing market, which in turn depresses the prices they could receive from a future purchaser. They see proposals to give tenants a first option to buy when a landlord wishes to sell (and it is extremely unlikely that the tenant will be required to be the highest bidder).
Landlords know the system is loaded against them if a tenant decides to stop paying rent. In consequence, landlords are necessarily deciding either to sell up or never become landlords to begin with. I have covered the causes and effects of the shortfall in Irish housing stock and rent control previously.
No matter. Our Marxist scribe asserts there is a fixed stock of property that either exists now or which will be built in the future, and this can only house so many people—be they owners or renters. This is a grotesquely simple and very Marxist assertion. Each and every housing intervention, restriction, and control that has been introduced and argued for by the Left has the effect of limiting the supply of housing stock—and consequently pushing rents up. Marxists never consider how individuals will change their behavior and choices when faced with such restrictions and invariably fail to heed the parable of the broken window. Supply lost due to disincentivizing the production of that supply is invisible to them, and the knock-on effects of reduced supply elude them entirely.
Our Marxist scribe’s piece merely proves the truth of Thomas Sowell’s famous observation, “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” Rooney opines, “Why would the government lift the ban? It’s so unpopular! They can only be trying to curry favor with private landlords to win their votes.” She clearly sees everything through the lens of what is quick, easy, expedient, and popular. In the case of our Marxist scribe, the long-term solution is obvious: the state should acquire any properties owned by the “exploitative” private landlords. There must be no private ownership of rental properties. The state can provide rental accommodation, and at far cheaper rents!
“Free” lunches, such as heavily subsidized rents, are always popular with Marxists and those who are either unable or unwilling to consider where the resources to provide the lunches come from and the implications of appropriating or diverting those resources from other uses. Alas, nothing is ever free; somebody, somewhere, will be forced to bear the costs, and they will do their utmost, as is their right as a sovereign individual, to avoid those costs. The state, described by Frédéric Bastiat as “that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else,” can only plunder resources from taxpayers (current ones through taxation or future ones through borrowing) or from the population as a whole via inflation and then redistribute them, badly.
At least, I trust, Rooney—as a self-described Marxist—does not avail herself of the Irish income tax code’s artist’s exemption. No good Marxist would deny the state tax revenue, of course.
Our Marxist scribe is indeed a novelist whose currency is in the realm of fiction and fantasy, and her forays into the world of reality and logical analysis fall flat. She should stay in her lane. However, it is not her profession as a novelist which suggests she should do so, but rather, it is her Marxism.
About the Author
James Murphy, CFA FRM BA MBS BL is an experienced financial services professional with over 25 years of experience in the banking, finance and hedge fund industry with interests in finance, economics, law, history and politics and the interplay between these fields.
Article cross-posted from Mises.