You know Hilaire Belloc, don’t you? He wrote Cautionary Tales for Children in which naughty children are joyously dispatched by fire, skewering, and devourment by lions.
But he also wrote The Servile State, a 1912 critique of Big Business and its relationship with the State. A problem with this relationship, Belloc writes, is that it builds a nation of grudging, demoralised Wage Slaves instead of engaged, independent-minded craftspeople. He was right, obviously.
And the solution he proposes for systemically ending Wage Slavery is… private property ownership.
I’m yet to decide if that’s an excitingly unconventional position or a drearily conventional one. Every Muggle in Britain today seeks to own property, but those who pursue it most fervently (those who become landlords for example) don’t generally want to end Wage Slavery. So. I’m interested.
“If we do not restore the Institution of Property,” he writes at the very top, “we cannot escape restoring the Institution of Slavery; there is no third course.”
Perhaps he’s saying that, once rent is out of the picture, a person approaches financial independence and can get on with something meaningful instead of toiling full-time. I wonder if Belloc (much like Keynes, who predicted we’d all be on a 15-hour work week by now) did not foresee the delinquent appetites of humans under capitalism. Plenty of people who pay off their mortgage but continue to toil, usually with some other thing in the balance — like a pension or even another mortgage for a bigger or second house.
I’ll say more about Belloc’s argument another time when I’ve come to firmer grips with it. Reader’s voice: what a cop out! It reminds me, however, that we’ve not said anything about the “renting versus owning” issue for a while.
As many of you know, my partner and I recently bought our first apartment after decades of renting. We enjoyed renting and it was our preference: if you see your landlord not as a boss or superegoic parent figure but as a skivvy paid to keep you housed and to repair your washing machine when it breaks, it becomes a most amenable relationship.
Several rent hikes (or pay rises for our skiv), alas, made our continued tenancy unaffordable. Our rent doubled over six years.
The fun of renting is to aristocratically dismiss your worries about the future, but the cost expanded so exorbitantly that we found ourselves worried not just about the future but about the present. This doesn’t mean “ownership wins.” It means the UK rental situation is fucked up beyond measure.
Friend Ian’s email was amusingly useless:
Hope this finds you well. As a communist homeowner I have strong and conflicted views on this, which I meant to share with you following your first email about it, but, obviously, I never got round to it.
[I also wanted] to let you know that I might have clicked on the grieving face emoji in response to how I feel about your Kickstarter campaign. Rest assured this was in error: I intended to click on the happy face, but I’m in a bit of a vaccine fever at the moment, so not at my maximum competence.
PS: ‘grieving face emoji’ was an autocorrect typo; I meant to type ‘frowning face emoji’.
Ah, the vaccine. Heady days. Ian doesn’t go into detail about his conflicted feelings as a communist homeowner, but I imagine they are something like “property is theft but, since we’re economically bullied into committing theft, what are you going to do?”
Reader X wrote:
You may need to clarify – renting for 1000 quid vs. buying for 100 apiece?? Are house prices in Scotland that reasonable?! If so, sign me right up. I’ll draw on my escape fund and we can set up a nice escapological homestead littered with tinkering shops and garden space.
After the rent hikes, our old place was nearing £1,000 a month to rent. It was the cheapest flat on a fairly posh street where rental prices are now around £1,200. Our current mortgage repayments by comparison are £180 a month each (£360 total). I don’t know how typical this is: we wrestled a great deal out of the bastards at the bank. It’s a fixed-rate mortgage too, so we have not yet been hit by the inflation apocalypse.
Property prices in our city are more reasonable than in London though. All I can say is: don’t live in capital cities. Move north! I know the bright lights are exciting but (in my opinion) it’s better to live cheaply in a “workshop city” like Glasgow or Manchester or Liverpool where culture is produced rather than merely sold. To oligarchs.
Reader Q wrote:
As I start to get a bit older I am more in favour of buying. One can quarrel in the mind over the economics until your backyard chickens come to roost. But, you most likely can’t have backyard chickens when you’re a renter.
As renters, our equivalent of a backyard was a spare room. Readers of The Good Life for Wage Slaves will know the importance I place on having ample space for creative work and being able to accommodate friends. We could not afford to buy a place with a spare room though. We sacrifices the spare room to the reduced cost. And we still don’t have a garden. Not that we particularly want one.
My current rented abode is filled with the half-finished intentions and tastes of another couple looking to make a few bucks after upgrading their digs. Sometimes I get a weird eerie feeling like I’m living in someone else’s past with their poor choice of cheap plastic jellyfish chandelier and thick purple wallpaper. But that’s the price of freedom, baby.
Now this I relate to. Our rental was supposedly “unfurnished” but it still came with the landlord’s filthy old roller blinds, lighting fixtures, and tasteless decorative curly things on the ends of the curtain rails. We unscrewed everything on Day One, stashing them away in the flat’s least-useful cupboard. For all we know, the former tenants did the same and these things go up and come down again with every tenant. See also the fireplace and the hole.
For more on “rent versus ownership” and other thoughts about homelife, please buy The Good Life for Wage Slaves to help pay my mortgage.