Books like Treasure Islands: Tax Havens & The Men Who Stole The World by Nicholas Shaxson describe the City of London as the centre of a corrupt global system that is shifting wealth upwards and the risks of doing business downwards. The financial crisis of 2008 is a classic example of this. Not only did the programme of financial ‘liberalisation’ still lobbied for by the City of London and its cronies lead to the crash, the institutions that failed were bailed out by ordinary tax payers; while those responsible for this crisis still fail to contribute anything useful to the world due in part to their exploitation of ‘offshore’ jurisdictions. Shaxson describes dissent as being bought off by an expansion of personal and public debt, an instrument that as it is currently used simultaneously redistributes wealth to those who are already rich while impoverishing everyone else.
The City wants hot money looted by corrupt elites from around the world to pour into London and other global centres, where among other things it can be invested in property and thus hyper-inflate housing markets. As a result rents and mortgages get puffed up, and so do potential profits for financial capital as debt increases. As the last crash showed, the periodic ‘failures’ of this system are often the means by which yet more wealth is transferred from the poor to the rich since ordinary tax payers bail out financial institutions that are ‘too big to fail’. The City and its offshoots such as The Housing & Finance Institute are happy to see London and other urban centres blighted with ghost homes, since these financial instruments force prices up across the board and thereby push ordinary people into debt through overspending on housing. And if all this debt leads to another crash that simply facilitates the further upward redistribution of wealth to the rich.
The arguments of The Housing & Finance Institute and its chair Mark Boleat are disingenuous. Boleat voted in favour of granting Taylor Wimpey‘s The Denizen planning permission and argued that this developer’s luxury apartments were needed. They are indeed needed by the rich as investment vehicles, but not as homes. Ultimately there is no housing crisis in central London, which is blighted with innumerable empty homes owned by out-of-town investors. What we have is a shortage of affordable housing not a shortage of housing per se. In central London the so-called housing crisis is best resolved not by building new homes but by redistributing those that already exist on the basis of need; and most of those with housing needs will be more than able to pay for what they require once we burst the current market bubble through a process of expropriation and redistribution. What the likes of Boleat via the Housing & Finance Institute offer as solutions to our housing problems – such as removing democratic controls by stopping local councillors from voting on planning matters – will only make the situation worse for ordinary people, while benefiting the tiny minority with elite wealth. Since this is exactly what the City and its supporters want to happen, it explains why the Housing & Finance Institute is chaired by a former head of the Corporation of London, and is funded by this local authority too.
We should not be surprised that the City of London gave Taylor Wimpey permission to replace 110 social housing units with safe deposit boxes in the sky in the form of The Denizen, but rather that the vote to do so was so narrowly in favour. Indeed there were even potential conflict of interest issues with a number of the yes votes. The Denizen is going to overshadow social housing, a park and schools, but City ideology means many of its supporters feel good about shitting in their own backyard since this is a way in which they can demonstrate their power. Above and beyond The Denizen degrading our community assets, there is absolutely no need in this neighbourhood for more luxury housing that will be bought by investors and left empty. What developers dub the City Fringe (mostly Finsbury in south Islington) and the adjacent parts of the City of London are already awash with them. These ghost flats aren’t being developed to service a need, they’re about a cynical capitalist ideology of greed. Not just in the City but across London, our fight is to stop social housing being bulldozed and replaced with these investment vehicles!