The landlord aristocracy is the third phase of institutionalised exploitation in the western world, in the one sense it is the overarching system itself, and in another sense it is the people that make up the support structure of this system. The Landlord Aristocracy is the latest in the exploitation continuum – it follows centuries on from serfdom, whose fate was sealed by the French revolution beginning in 1789, and from the industrial servitude of the late Georgian and Victorian eras. The horror of the British factory system was gradually quashed by the proliferation of tiny, intimately organised trade unions, the factory act of 1833 (which limited children of 9-13 years of age to only 9 hours work per day), and the eventual rise of the Labour movement and the political consolidation of the anti-exploitation workers’ movement under Marxism. How the Landlord Aristocracy will meet its end is yet to be determined.
The landlord aristocracy is, concisely, the real estate investors (small and large) and those who support them in politics, lobby groups and the media. The aim of this group is the same as the factory owners of the industrial revolution: to take the fruits of other people’s labour for themselves. The landlord aristocracy is assisted by ancillaries like advertisers and real estate brokers, who can sometimes act as honorary lobbyists.
Like all capitalist movements, the landlord aristocracy can only succeed by turning people against themselves. It does this by demanding a constantly increasing population and ensuring a relative scarcity of the key resource (housing). The scarcity is maintained by imposing strict and onerous regulations on the construction of new dwellings, making it difficult or expensive to borrow, centralising opportunity in large population centers, and restricting access to free land, which may actually exist in great abundance. An increasing population is mostly ensured by an overly generous migrant intake, with high and increasing levels of foreign students, tourists and temporary workers also contributing to the head count at any one moment.
The landlord aristocracy can not readily succeed if the population is in decline or static, if land is freely available or if an opposing political movement takes control, bearing in mind that the bulk of the landlord aristocracy is not in elected government positions.
The landlord aristocracy benefits from the domination of the neoliberal philosophy which emerged in the later part of the 20th century and continues to this day, which promotes population increase, the free movement of people and labour, military adventurism, and a free market. Neoliberalism abrogated governments of the responsibility of preventing or ameliorating societal problems, instead relying on ‘market’ mechanisms to find solutions. Neoliberalism finds one of its last bastions in Australia.
In the industrial revolution, factory owners protested restrictions to child labor and improved workplace conditions by invoking two kinds of arguments. The first was the (false) economy argument – their goods would become expensive and uncompetitive if the new measures came into being. The second was the (false) compassion argument – that workers would lose jobs, and goods would become harder to afford.
The same wicked duplicity characterises the narrative of the landlord aristocracy. Attempts to, for example, tax some investors out of the market is met with the claim that there will then be less investor owned houses available to rent – driving up rent prices to the disadvantage off tenants (for whom they find a sudden compassion). Calls to regulate interest rates (to keep them low) are met with the claim that this will only add to house price inflation as buyers pile into the market to take advantage of low borrowing costs.
The first absurdity here is that the landlord aristocracy actually pretends that it does not relish higher real estate prices and higher rents. The second is that they ignore the tremendous savings that buys make by avoiding high interest payments. The third, is that the rental demand falls as people buy their own homes, pushing rents down, and making rental investments less attractive – taking investment buyers out of the market. So we can see that the landlord aristocracy’s attempts to play to the financial fears of renters and non-investor home buyers only reveals that they are fully aware of the plight of their victims.
The economic argument, its worst element in particular, is that a perpetually increasing population is needed to drive economic grown (GDP) – while the issue of GDP per capita, disposable income, or quality of life is never addressed. Also not addressed is the question of the ultimate consequence of an ever-increasing population – explosion and collapse.
Under the neoliberal model, individuals are seen as units of economic capital rather than human beings, and as such there is often an emphasis on skilled immigrants (although, the main point is that there are immigrants of any kind), with little thought to the removing of them from other countries. Those other countries may have a greater need for their skills – for example Romania suffered after 2011 as other countries pro-immigration policies lead to a massive doctor shortage when thousands of doctors left the country. But, the selfish neoliberal gives no thought to this.
The ‘skills shortage’, sometimes also rebranded as an ageing population problem, is a perpetual narrative used to justify high immigration that is never tackled by serious attempts to satisfy any such shortage by nascent means such as education and training.
In regard to local economics, the landlord aristocracy never acknowledges the benefit to local economies that results when people have more disposable income to spend in their communities. If, instead of putting so much money into the bank accounts of real estate investors, who in many cases already have a relatively saturated pattern of expenditure, it is spent locally, money becomes more evenly distributed and communities become more dynamic
Since growing local economies (growing faster relative to other areas) often result in higher residential property prices, as people seeking opportunity enter the area, said property prices are often taken as a gauge of the economy by politicians. The landlord aristocracy, then, attempts to portray rising housing costs as a positive change for society, rather than an increasing financial burden, or a cancellation of any benefits workers may see from wage growth.
The landlord aristocracy attempts to instil fear into homeowners when any possibility of implementing price reducing reforms emerge, for example tax reform. As such, they seek to bring in support from homeowner voters to continue the political paradigm that suits the landlord aristocracy’s interests. That same political paradigm may, if there is sufficient outcry from the victims of housing exploitation, implement band-aid measures such as public housing projects which, although are of merit, don’t come close to resolving the problems of a widespread expensive housing market.
With all this in mind, it becomes clear why the landlord aristocracy has not been defeated. Those who do question the situation are often assuaged by the band aid measures and political lip service tossed their way. Others fall for the false narratives, both emotional and economic, that the landlord aristocracy uses to explain why the system should not be challenged.
Political movements that were anti-exploitation to begin with, are now densely populated by the exploiters themselves. These same movements only see (or pretend to) social exploitation as a phenomenon of the workplace, and as such they don’t present anything by a superficial challenge to housing exploitation.
Worst of all is the deep permeation of the landlord aristocracy into broader society – this aristocracy is not a tiny cabal living in castles and travelling in helicopters – it’s members are on every street. For investing in real estate, and using another person’s labour to pay off a mortgage has become a standard ambition in society. In a world where socialism has been demonised for decades, there is no social analysis to identify this market as a zero sum game – a system where one person’s win is another’s loss. Our capitalist system fosters a lack of introspection, and a callous indifference to the human cost of real estate investment. It’s as true for housing, as it is true for arms manufacturing – now being justified by pure economics rather than military outcomes.
The existing political players in the system aren’t going to change the machine – because they profit from it. The only chance for change is for the victims to see the true faces of the politicians, to clearly see their charlatanry, as exposed by the contradictions of their own policies, and for the victims to place their political capital on themselves instead of on their oppressors.