Is that it?

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From 1983-85 more than 1.2 million Ethiopians starved to death. Millions more were displaced, and 200,000 children were orphaned. It wasn’t so much drought or climate that caused the famine, but government policy.

TV scenes of hundreds of thousands of pot-bellied, hollow eyed children and their gaunt starving parents shocked the world.  It also prompted (Sir- Saint) Bob Geldof, to first, record with a bevy of other rock stars, the ‘Band Aid’ song ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’, as a fundraiser for humanitarian relief.

With Geldof’s musical connections and passionate leadership, Band Aid morphed into 1985’s Live Aid, a massive intercontinental music concert. It was a mammoth event, huge in its ambition and its execution, one of the biggest linked broadcasts ever. Wembley Stadium in London, JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, and a network of performances rocked around the world. Live Aid was watched in 150 countries by around 40% of the global population. An estimated £150million was raised for famine relief.

The event was a significant musical event for my teenage years. Not just the performances of the biggest rock acts of the time (and the past), but the charitable nature of the co-operation between musicians, linked around the world – it felt like we were witnessing history. Geldof said “We took an issue that was nowhere on the political agenda and, through the lingua franca of the planet – which is not English but rock ‘n’ roll – we were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus’.

In his autobiography, ‘Is that It?’ Geldof talks about meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was a time of austerity politics for those in the United Kingdom, and beyond –  deregulation, privatisation, public service cuts, unemployment and economic contraction. But there was of course still managed, privatised abundance, and Geldof asked Thatcher to release to Ethiopia, some of the wheat stored in warehouses on docks. He paraphrased her response as a dismissive rejection, ‘let them eat cake’.  So Live Aid bypassed politicians and gave redistributive power to the people, and even in countries undergoing the hardship of right-wing reforms, donations came forth. It made us feel like we were one, united through music, and through common concern for people worse off than us.

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Subsequently, Live Aid has been criticised for the poor form of certain acts (Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan). Phil Collins played at Wembley then flew by helicopter and Concorde to play the same two songs in Philadelphia, and epitomised the arrogant, wasteful decadence of 1980’s elites.

One co-host, the BBC’s Andy Kershaw, later said ‘this was another parade of the same old rock aristocracy in a concert for Africa, organised by someone who, while advertising his concern for, and sympathy with, the continent, didn’t see fit to celebrate or dignify the place by including on the Live Aid bill a single African performer.” He also described the event as “irritating, shallow, sanctimonious and self-satisfied” for failing to confront the fundamental causes of the famine and being “smug in its assumption that a bunch of largely lamentable rock and pop floozies was capable of making a difference, without tackling simultaneously underlying problems”.

Live Aid was a massive entertainment, political, humanitarian and broadcasting event, an unprecedented way of bringing attention to and responding to famine. Yet, in his autobiography, Bob Geldof describes how, at the end of the event, a departing punter asked him, ‘Is that it?’.

Live Aid was 35 years ago, last year. Since then, Sir Bob Geldof has lost his wife, Paula Yates – first to a love affair with Michael Hutchence, and then later to a heroin overdose; a curse which also killed his daughter. Other famines have come – and not always gone. Sudan, Yemen, Somalia; pot-bellied and gaunt eyed children and their parents are no longer so shocking on the news. We are in another era of austerity. Every generation seems to have one, a political excuse for the policies that keep wealth and resources scarce in the hands of many, and abundant in the hands of the few. Even though climate change, ecosystem collapse, the biodiversity crisis and environmental feedback continue to challenge our security of survival, it is politics that keeps people poor, or starving, while others are rich beyond a lifetime’s needs.

New Zealand is no different. A housing crisis is perpetuated by policy settings that encourage some people to acquire houses like they are commodities not a basic human right. 30,000 – 40,000 or more ghost houses sit empty because it’s more economical for investors to not rent them out while they wait for their capital gains. Our health crisis is perpetuated by a reluctance to tax adequately for our needs, with the health costs falling disproportionately on those already disadvantaged by socioeconomic status, low wages, hard work, poor housing and powerlessness.

After four years in power and post-Covid policies that have turbo boosted house prices, the Government has recognised the need to intervene. Its housing policy announcements note ‘there’s no silver bullet’ to the housing crisis, and that the aim at best is to ‘tilt the playing field’ away from housing speculation. But there’s no real political desire for house prices to go down. There are mixed views on whether the policies will have worse unintended consequences, by driving rental prices up. There’s a net flow of wealth from young, and non-homeowning people to those lucky enough already to own property – or perhaps 200 of them. The announcements, for all their necessity, and bravery are in reality, modest, overdue, and incremental. They barely touch the sides of the structural causes of homelessness; the housing crisis; or housing, wealth and power inequality. There’s no mass house building programme, no Universal Basic Income, no welfare reform. There’s insufficient wage reform to keep up with house price inflation and no rent caps. The Accommodation Allowance will continue to subsidise landlord’s expensive rents.

When I was out today, a local said ‘we all love Jacinda, but she’s not doing much’. In this case, Saint Jacinda reminds me of Saint Bob Geldof. Both are charismatic and clear leaders. Both Live Aid, and Labour’s housing announcement, are seminal acts in time. But despite their magnitude, both are just a ‘band aid’, and leave me wondering, ‘Is that it?’.

38 COMMENTS

  1. Good comment.

    For good governance, and a system that really improves peoples lives, look to the Peoples Republic of China.

  2. 30 or 40 000 houses empty is just about the number needed to solve the problem .
    A long time ago I bought a little book titled “Poverty and the Planet”. It made the point that in a famine people did not starve to death because there was not enough food; they starved because they had no way of establishing a right to any food.
    Christine’s comparison with our housing crisis is valid.
    D J S

    • +100
      Those ‘ghost houses’ might be a bloody good place to start when attempting to solve the housing emergency.
      And there are “levers to pull” at both local and central gummint level that would make owning a ghost house unattractive – just not the will. Ghost houses are probably the hardest thing for any “investor” or “speculator” to justify because they’re examples of housing being nothing more than a commodity.

    • David as you know its not new.
      Look at the famine in Ireland where a million died and another million left seeking homes elsewhere around the globe as refugees, All the while the English were exporting food from Ireland and selling it abroad.

      In the 1600 Cromwell set out to suppress the Irish further killing 60% of the population. That genocide was far worse than any so called Holocaust since.but it is not talked about nor used as a lever for gaining privileges at expense of others.

    • David Stone: “30 or 40 000 houses empty….”

      I’m dubious about the veracity of this number. Where does it come from? A member of this household has worked in local government: there is no mechanism by which even Councils – let alone any other entity such as utility providers – could know with certainty which houses in their areas are unoccupied.

      This sounds anecdotal to me.

  3. Maybe we should have something like the 1960s American Civil Rights movement, occupying ghost houses and challenging the police to send in the dogs on prime time TV. I’m sure the PM would love being cast in the role of the Southern sheriff, protecting the property rights of the plantation owners.

    • Great idea, to paraphrase Michael Savage ‘now go out and make me do it’, re: building council housing.
      Maybe Jacinda Blair needs to be made to care more for the homeless in NZ than the wealthy elites from around the world who want a tax free capital gains on a housing boom. n.b. The CGT for foreign ownership was NOT back dated or made retrospective, unlike CGT on precious metals and the transfer of UK pensions. Seems housing is Mammon, even if foreign interests over ride decentness and care for Kiwis.
      Jacinda legacy is starting to look as BAD as ShonkeyJonkey. How to waste political power. I hope she’s being paid enough for her sole!
      From a left wing supporter.

      • Kevin the right wing wealthy elite and their organisations run the show. Labour has to avoid their ire of the privately owned press and the shills in RNZ will demolish them.

        A much more militant groundswell is needed amid the organised propaganda soaked up by the Kiwi in the street.

        The propaganda is well heeled and fabricated lies mainly.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y30SZSSzXRk

    • Chris Harris: “…occupying ghost houses and challenging the police to send in the dogs on prime time TV.”

      First: find those unoccupied houses. Easier said than done.

      However. We have evidence – both Ihumatao and Shelly Bay – that the police would do nothing to end unlawful occupations. It appears that they don’t give a toss about the legitimate owners.

      So: even were people to correctly identify and occupy empty houses, it’s unlikely to attract much attention.

      Knock yourselves out, I’d say.

    • I would suggest that the moral judgement there is valid but why only apply that judgement to the relative bottom of the pile. The widespread organisation causing the shift of wealth from the workers to the uber wealthy is the problem.

      The wealthy trans national groups are left unscathed.

    • I have a feeling most of those ghost homes are those that were purchased by the chinese coming over on buying trips that National denied were happening. Pretty hard to manage a property from overseas so just easier to leave it empty.

      • Mark: “….the chinese coming over on buying trips that National denied were happening.”

        Lest we forget: it was the Lange government in the 1980s which lifted restrictions of overseas purchase of NZ housing.

        In the late 1980s, we were living in Auckland, in a subdivision with a mix of new builds and slightly older houses. Real estate agents used to bring busloads of prospective buyers on tours of areas like ours. They showed our house to such people. Stories of multiple buy-ups, in particular in East Auckland, were legion.

        So the Natz aren’t to blame for starting the buying up of NZ by offshore people, even if they did nothing to rein it in.

  4. Yeah Led Zepplin sucked in the 80s. John Bonham drunk himself to death, Jimmy Page was wasted on heroin most of the time, and Robert Plant lost his voice. Kind of like the working class, underclass and poor of AO/NZ today.

  5. “It wasn’t so much drought or climate that caused the famine, but government policy.”

    Yup. Many years ago, I read somewhere that famines are always political and never about availability of food. Witness also the Irish Famine in the 19th century.

    “….Band Aid morphed into 1985’s Live Aid, a massive intercontinental music concert.”

    At that time, we were wrestling with gigantic interest rates (26% interest on overdraft) and a bank account never less than $10,500 in the red for an entire year. A bucket load of money in those days.

    We’d just built a new house and, predictably, had run out of money. Being only just able to keep our heads above the financial waters, we were short of both the readies and much sympathy for, or attention to, the plight of the Ethiopians.

    I took a more sceptical view of what Geldof and his fellow musicians were doing. To the astonishment of younger friends and workmates. I considered it to be aimed at symptoms rather than causes, and (in addition to publicity-seeking) the musicians were doing what my late mother used to refer to derisively as “slumming”. My view hasn’t changed.

    “A housing crisis is perpetuated by policy settings that encourage some people to acquire houses like they are commodities…”

    When we were young marrieds in the 1970s, there was concern that speculation in housing was driving up prices, to the extent that a government (may have been Rowling’s) introduced a law levying a tax on speculators. Which turned out to be unenforceable, sadly.

    Note that at that time, it wasn’t boomers, but our parents and grandparents, who were speculating.

    When the first settlers arrived here, there was nothing: certainly no houses. They had to set to and build them. We’ve been playing catch-up ever since. I’ve mentioned before on this site that one set of my grandparents lived in a tent for a while after they married. That would have been late 19th – early 20th century.

    There was also a shortage of decent housing during my childhood in the 1950s.

    Regarding property-as-investment, since neoliberalism laid waste to such industry as there was here, people have invested in housing because there’s been bugger-all else in which to invest. Germany this ain’t. The only other places to put one’s money in anticipation of growth have been the stock market or bank deposits. And we’ve all seen what’s happened to interest rates.

    Successive governments are at fault for failing to invest in housing for their citizens. They have abrogated that responsibility and left it to “the market”. Now the current government (which, to be sure, has been left holding the housing baby) has the cheek to blame investors for behaving like investors. Declaring war on property investors! How could this government set out to pit one sector of society against the rest? What on earth is it thinking?

    And the PM stands up at press conferences and urges us to be “kind” to one another. Bah bloody humbug! She should take her own advice.

    “….30,000 – 40,000 or more ghost houses sit empty….”

    Where does this figure come from? It sounds anecdotal. It isn’t clear to me how anybody could know for sure how many empty houses there are in NZ. Certainly Councils have no idea, provided utilities are paid for.

  6. Hi Christine
    This is a great article, but depressing. I get the same feeling when I watch the news articles predicting the extinction of the mighty African elephant, just for their ivory. And extinct everything. So desperately sad. I agree with the critiques of Geldorf re objectification of the poor, but you have to give points for these people having their hearts in the right place, at least for a little while.

    • Hi Liz, sorry – it didn’t mean to read so tragic. I definitely feel desperate when I think of the elephants too.
      Sir Bob is still a hero to me. What they did, for all its faults, was still noble and motivated by high ideals.

    • “I agree with the critiques of Geldorf re objectification of the poor, but you have to give points for these people having their hearts in the right place, at least for a little while”.

      Liz, I read out parts of Christine’s post to my wife who said much the same. Oh, you would take the negative side she said, at least they tried to do something about it not just criticise. In part correct but IMHO I think she missed the point: the part that really bites is Andy Kershaw’s comment that the event was “irritating, shallow, sanctimonious and self-satisfied” for failing to confront the fundamental causes of the famine and being “smug in its assumption that a bunch of largely lamentable rock and pop floozies was capable of making a difference, without tackling simultaneously underlying problems”. I guess a lot of people just don’t like that level of criticism, especially when its aimed at their heros and heroines.

      How might Christine’s analogy apply to the housing crisis here? And I might add, not only for social housing – although that clearly is a priority – but for affordability full stop. It’s clear enough: just like the distant famines the post describes, in Christine’s own words, the current housing crisis is perpetuated by policy settings that encourage some people to acquire houses like they are commodities not a basic human right. And just like the same old (now rather ancient) rock aristocracy our current political elites just tinker around the edges pulling this lever and that in the hope it all gets better. Surely, the measures introduced are nothing but irritating, shallow, sanctimonious and self-satisfied for failing to confront the underlying problems. Christine is spot on: it that all? For those who support the myriad of practices that commodify housing beyond that of a basic human right best to look into the mirror.

      • Bozo: “…the current housing crisis is perpetuated by policy settings that encourage some people to acquire houses like they are commodities not a basic human right.”

        A family member has read this post and the comment thread. Their observation:

        “Bugger-all can be done in this country because foreign countries have economies of scale on their side and this government won’t protect domestic industry
        .”

        This is true. And because the government won’t protect domestic industry, there is bugger-all in that sector in which to invest. This has been our experience over at least the last 40-ish years.

        So investors have no option but to fall back on housing. Which has been a consistently good investment over our lifetimes, in terms of capital gain.

        With regard to such empty houses as there are, I can understand owners’ reluctance to let them unless they have to. While many renters are perfectly unexceptionable – as were we ourselves, many years ago – there’s no certainty nowadays.

        Anybody who’s had experience with so-called “social housing” tenants will be extremely wary, especially about letting to that sector of society.

  7. Good one Mark
    !
    After all in Africa there is widespread inequality, corruption and the massacre of ethnic groups!
    Hang on! That happens in China too( Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongols, Life style of rural Chinese compared to Chinese elite, continual bribery)
    Of course you harvest and sell people’s internal organs as well( one up on Africa there).
    Actually when I lived in China in 2001 the People’s Republic was still getting UN food aid and in Western China the IMF was financing road building.
    I also remember the new highway between Lanzhou and Yinchuan. It was supposed to be four lanes but ended up as just two lanes because government officials diverted most of the money to their own pockets – pretty well the sort of thing that happens under corrupt, dictorial African governments. Are you teaching corruption to Africans or are you learning from them?
    One thing that interested me about China in the 1990s was the way in which the Chinese Communist Party would one day claim that as a developing country there could be no curbs on industry through controls on pollution and needed special trading advantages.
    The next day there would be masturbationary propaganda about China’s economic rise and increased prosperity under the wankified leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
    So China claims to be a poor developing country when it suits and economic powerhouse too.
    It is called having your mooncake and eating it too.
    ‘For good governance, and a system that really improves peoples lives, look to the Peoples Republic of China.’
    Anyone who talks to the Beijing flower sellers and finds that if they do not sell at least twenty flowers a day they cannot eat that night, Anyone who has visited a village in Gansu where a peasant has killed herself because she cannot pay the latest arbitary tax imposed by local officials, anyone who has spoken to an elderly muslim in Ningxia who was beaten up by the local party thugs( gou tuizi) knows this is gou pi( dog fart).
    Tell you what Mark if lying ever comes an Olympic event you can take gold for China.
    Ten thousand years of life to the Dalai Lama. Fuck the Chinese Communist Party

  8. What a brilliant article, Christine. I was around the same era and playing in a metal band at the time. But that’s by the by.

    This article sent sadness and shiver down my spine,… the sadness because I had at the time of LIVE AID the same vague feelings of a ‘pantomime a go- go’ sideshow…where were all the worlds govts, the U.N etc?… didn’t they care?

    Apparently not. And they still don’t. In the west of those democracy’s,… they are in for a time and are only concerned with their grasp on power by and large. In autocratic govts, they too, are only interested in their immediate continuation of power.

    The ‘shivers down the spine’ bit is the recognition that after all this time, 3 decades, 36 years, – this neo liberal curse is still with us. That in places like NZ, we have barely changed since Douglas’s usurping of our democracy. That in fact, we have become a steadily worse place for those on lower incomes, that our infrastructure has been slowly left to decay with the citation from those neo liberals ‘ there isn’t any money”,… when in fact,.. Michael Joseph Savage not only showed there is and can be , but also demonstrated the how.

    For all its heady and unrealistic promises and pompous assertations of TINA, … that wealth would be redistributed by making the wealthy even wealthier, – the ‘trickle down’ theory,- it has taken three decades for the lies to be admitted and exposed, and even then, by those people that were reticent and initially critical of it and even demonstrated against it, seem now resigned and accepting that ‘ it has gone so far and there’s no turning back’…

    POPPYCOCK !

    As I said in one of Chris Trotters recent posts,… it took a global Great Depression and a World War of such destruction and magnitude that people DEMANDED change. It was the Great Depression that facilitated John Maynard Keynes to develop his economic theory’s. It had its flaws, but it certainly was better than Hayek’s Austrian school of Economics ‘Lassez Faire’. Which is the ancestor of neo liberalism.

    We have come close to global economic contraction with Covid 19,…sadly,… but not nearly enough personal tragedy ( again sadly for those who have died and /or suffering) and direct economic threat to facilitate the kinds of pressure the Great Depression and World War Two did. It seems it takes a series of massive world rocking events to force political and economic change starting with the grass roots up, – demanding that change and holding those in power to account at the cost of their very political careers for the most part.

    To date?

    I see every consecutive govt in NZ whether they be National or Labour, – and that includes this Labour govt, – as a continuum of the same odious neo liberalism that Douglas set in motion. As for this govt, one may well ask,…

    ”Is that it?”

  9. Thankyou Christine for your erudite contribution during a time of vulgar disparity.
    The phrase “neoliberalism is capitalism on steroids” marks a period in history of unprecedented uncaring of the whole community and an unprincipled focus on a minority.
    Greed as a result of selfish ideology is ultimately speeding towards a brick wall, yet again.
    Another bailout will not fly.
    I live in hope.

  10. and somehow we’re meant to see Labour being different than National?
    The lack of coalition partnerships has laid that bare, Labour IS National.

  11. Love how Fletchers which is more than 50% foreign owned, aka controlled by overseas interests is considered a ‘local’ developer by Granny.

    Local developer caught under overseas investor fee hike
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/overseas-investor-fee-hike-could-cool-foreign-property-investment/T5VIIT72BKLFGNSUFQN7ADQB2Q/

    (Worth looking at just to see the ‘leaky’ looking building in the graphic. )

    Poor overseas people have their fees put up. Don’t worry it is only $56,000 to by up NZ forests.

    Then the government neoliberal advisors can’t work out why we can’t afford or control our wood and construction prices anymore.

  12. I’d rather have the strongest people’s government possible, run by those who believe in that. The 84ists — what do we make of them? Celebrating their own freedom above all. What a fun time it’s all been for our new rulers, including Grant and Jace. I at 17 in 1984 can’t respect anyone who put demo-cracy second to ‘Free-dom!’. Hence I know who I like in clear vision, like Sanders and Corbyn. Why were they the only ones? Because they were wrong (rhet)? The ruling class was entirely corrupted.

  13. Hi Christine that’s a great article, that’s the first time anyone has noticed the insult thrown at African musicians.
    Why, oh why, oh why has nobody noticed the first line of Geldorf’s only song
    pretty much explains everything going down these days.
    In horror and fascination we watch as pop eats itself.
    Thanks.

  14. I think Covid was the best thing that could have happened for the environment globally.
    Will humans take the hint? Not all is well with the planet. Best Gig ever.

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