Thursday, January 6, 2011

ZenTiger The worst ideas in the world - The Midgley Award

The Darwin Awards commemorate those who yield to natural selection and "remove" themselves from the gene pool, ensuring that the next generation is fathered by one less idiot unless they were idiotic enough to father a child before they eradicated themselves. (Funny how we assume Darwin candidates are male, or is it a fact?)

What a great concept. In that tradition, I propose "The worst ideas in the world award" which could suitably be named "The Midgley Awards".

Thomas Midgley Jr. came up with some truly bad ideas. He was an engineer and chemist by trade, doing his "best" work from the 1920's. Thomas Midgley managed to severely damage the environment by synthesizing chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and also came up with the idea of adding TEL (lead) to petrol, killing people and the environment with spectacular success.

He is the perfect poster boy for this award, as he also qualifies for a Darwin Award. After contracting polio, probably due to the lead poisoning, he invented a bed with an elaborate system of strings and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. His invention was the eventual cause of his death when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55.

I'd also like to lead with the first entry for this award for 2011. This has to be one of the worst ideas I've read all year, but don't let the fact it is early January fool you into thinking the quality of the entry may be substandard. It is truly bad, and there are many Greenies already excited by this idea, so I don't think I'm exaggerating here.

Entry: A new housing policy for the UK
Entrant: George Monbiot writing in The Guardian
Link: Let's take the housing fight to people with spare rooms
Link2: Home Rule
Quote: While most houses are privately owned, the total housing stock is a common resource [Translation: Your privately owned house is a resource for the State to allocate most efficient usage]

George writes (excerpts only):

There are two housing crises in Britain. One of them is obvious and familiar: the walloping shortfall in supply. Households are forming at roughly twice the rate at which new homes are being built. In England alone, 650,000 homes are classed as overcrowded.

The other crisis is scarcely mentioned. It’s growing even faster than the first crisis - at a rate that’s hard to comprehend. The issue is surplus housing: the remarkable growth of space that people don’t need.


First debate framing statement - calling building a more spacious home "surplus housing".

The definition of under-occupied varies, but it usually means that households have at least two bedrooms more than they require. Nearly 8 million homes - 37% of the total housing stock - are officially under-occupied

Second debate framing statement: Officially under-occupied. But who exactly decided these homes have two more bedrooms than required? Perhaps they run a home business with an office, perhaps they have children at boarding school or college. Perhaps they are simply filled with memories?

..But public and social housing account for only 11% of the problem. The government reports that the rise in under-occupation “is entirely due to a large increase within the owner-occupied sector”. Nearly half of England’s private home owners are now knocking around in more space than they need.

And how did the government allow this to happen, we must ask.

Why is this happening?

See, I told you.

This appears to leave just one likely explanation: money. My guess, though I can find no research or figures either to support or disprove it, is that the richest third of the population has discovered that it can spread its wings.

Yes, instead of a bigger garden, they opt for a bigger house. Criminal really, when you don't stop to think about it.

While most houses are privately owned, the total housing stock is a common resource. Either we ensure that it is used wisely and fairly, or we allow its distribution to become the starkest expression of inequality.

Whilst this statement alone qualifies George for the Midgley Award, I'm surprised he hasn't taken a look at the bigger picture behind his idea. The advantage he rails against is wealth. Wealth allows people to spend money on things and thereby become a stark expression of inequality. We don't need to trim extra space from houses, we need to stop people at the source. Take all their money so they can't express any form of stark inequality. That is what George is saying, even if he is a bit too dim to get there in one go. He'll figure it out though, and I think George has the capacity to be a multiple award winner (unlike the Darwin Awards, for obvious reasons).

We have allowed the market and the market alone to decide who gets what, which means that families in desperate need of bigger homes are crammed together in squalid conditions, while those who have more space than they know what to do with face neither economic nor social pressure to downsize.

"The market alone"? What a stupid thing to say. There are economic and social pressures for nearly everyone in these times. Council Rates, and property taxes, interest rates, housing subsidies, first home owner grants, welfare payments, child based bonuses, the impact of east divorce and increase in single parent families using up housing stock, state housing, land zoning rules, immigration policies, rental laws and tax handling of investment properties, and many other factors create pressures that collectively form "the market alone". That government intervention in the property market is already rife means that George's implication that it's the "free market alone" that he blames is debatable anyway.

First we need to see the problem. I suggest a new concept: housing footprints. Your housing footprint is the number of bedrooms divided by the number of people in the household. Like ecological footprints, it reminds us that the resource is finite, and that if some people take more than they need, others are left with less than they need.

Central Planning, here we come comrade. If black and white rules prove to be unfair, don't worry, the bureaucracy will grow to implement armies of inspectors backed by countless regulations.

Those who use more than their fair share should pay for the privilege, with a big tax penalty for under-occupation. If it prompts them either to take on a lodger or to move into a smaller home in a lower tax band, so much the better.

Tax is always the first step to solve problems for the progressives. Still it could be worse. They might demand that you let strangers into your house who will eventually throw you out in a new twist on squatting rights. Oh no, spoke too soon:

Instead of paying rent, lodgers, who are vetted and checked by the charity which runs the project, help elderly home-owners with shopping, cleaning, cooking, gardening or driving

And emptying out their bank accounts and managing their finances and drinking their sherry.

Typically they agree to spend ten hours a week helping out, and to sleep in the house for at least six nights out of seven. This helps older people to stay in their own homes and lead an independent life, gives them companionship and security and relieves some of the pressure on social services and carers. It provides homes for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

But if the old person doesn't play along, then the taxes will force them to sell, and move in with a family who will accept them providing the old dear does 10 hours work a week for their board.

But we can’t solve this problem unless we start to discuss it. It needs to be researched, debated, fought over. It needs to turn political.

Hope I'm helping out here George. Happy to contribute.

So it’s up to us to give them no choice, by turning under-occupation into an issue they can’t avoid. It cannot be left to the market, as the market works for the rich.

Ah, is that a glimmer of a big idea I see George? Working up to a new idea? Surprise, it wont be new at all. Been tried time and time again. I'll leave you to do the research.


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First spotted this story at Liberty Scott: Moonbat says share your house

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