Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Is it "human nature" to live in groups of people "like you"?




It seems strange to me that anyone would seem to think that the reason that we "choose" where we live is down to anything other than simple economics, rather than human nature. If there is a human nature in anything about where we choose to live, it's that we always want the best we can afford. Capitalism is built on the fact people want to maximise what they get from the money they have to spend it on, we see this human nature all too regularly.

But when it comes to housing, do we choose anything? If we are lucky maybe we have plenty of different options to look at, but the reality is that you'll have a budget, and this will give you a radius around your desired area to buy from. We go for the best we can afford, and this generally means we live with people who have similar earning potential to us...though there are still a legacy of 1980-1990's home buyers that live in areas that are no longer within their pay grade due to the crazy rise of the housing market over the last several decades.

Are these people like us? I guess there is a chance they are, more so the further up the scale of expense you go when owning your home. But is this your active choice, or just a coincidence? Do you vet your neighbours for their views on free markets? the EU? Their religion? hobbies and activities they enjoy? Of course not.

We make some assumptions, if we're moving in to a city center location then we assume our neighbours will be professionals with a penchant for some evening partying. The 'burbs? Family folk. A house in a village? Friendly retirees and those trying to enjoy the slower life. But we don't *know* do we?

In fact let's look at that list again. City center living? You're moving there because YOU want to be in the nightlife, and a quick roll out of bed to your work's doorstop. Does it matter that everyone else may be like that too? Not at all. In the 'burbs? You're probably moving there because you can't quite afford the out-of-center life, because you have an eye on that school near by. Does it matter to you that other people might be doing the same? No, you're moving there because of what YOU need. And moving to a village? YOU want the quiet life. YOU want to be away from the hustle and bustle.

This isn't about what other people are like, because unless you can visibly see that your neighbours are likely to trash your garden, or hold all night raves, or bug you to do some civic duty when you just want to sleep off a hangover, you choose a place because it suits your needs, within your budget. Location, Location, Location.

The problem right now in the housing market is that the choice for where you can live, affordably, is dwindling. School places are too few, and it's driving the price of housing nearest the best schools sky high, creating a defacto social rift that means over the next decade or so your parents' wealth is one of the key factors that will decide how well educated you are. Snapping up property in estates in new psuedo-towns and developments is an art-form in order to keep your commute down to around about the hour mark, if you're lucky, because it is the nearest place you can get to your work. There is no choice here, there is only inevitability.

Meanwhile housing benefit is reformed, those who are poor are being kicked out of homes in areas that allow them to be close to work and schools and forced into these non-choices to live much further away than they need to be, with the extra costs that entails, creating slightly more choice for those on middle incomes and above, but less choice for those below. Surely if this were all human nature, those poor people wouldn't want to live where they are being kicked out of anyway, those around them "aren't like them" after all, are they?

It's sad to see how humans compare themselves reduced to a single factor.. the repayments they can afford each month based on a lump sum of cash they've managed to save.

I for one think that this doesn't tie us together at all. We can find great affinity with those who are running FTSE 100 businesses just as well as those who are struggling to raise 3 kids and are unable to find jobs...because our lives and our loves are not defined by what is in our wallet. And worse than this, we *know* that diversity in demographics is a positive when it comes to progressiveness and equality. We know, for example, that a lack of women in tech jobs is actually hampering the progress of creation of ideas...the extra diversity of a group helps drive the group to more and better solutions.

The same can be said for the rest of our life. Benefit hate, banker hate, immigrant hate... how much of this is because we just don't realise how similar we all are any more? If more of us had to live next to one another, regardless of our job, our status, our wage... would we perhaps spend more time focusing our frustration and anger on the real problems facing us, instead of the scapegoats of these various groups of people we never see because a faulty housing market has conditioned us to all be separate?

Our human nature is to fear the unknown, I think I'd welcome any move that helps us know each other better, and nurture that other bit of "human nature"... compassion.