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Another reason Ritchie’s wrong


There’s not enough brickies to build the houses he wants to print the money for.

27 thoughts on “Another reason Ritchie’s wrong”

  1. Assuming there was a significant increase in the number of brickies, the follow on demand for building materials would result in the bricks themselves being prohibitively expensive.

  2. Easily solved: since tax isn’t needed for revenue but instead to ‘balance’ the economy or.take away inflation, we just impose 95% tax rate on the construction industry.

    But you ignore that.

  3. bloke (not) in spain

    Of course history would say you’re wrong.
    Most of the UK’s city inner ring’s went up in a brief span of years around the end of the C19th beginning of the C20th. Those “fine Victorian houses” you all mortgage yourselves to the hilt to buy. As IanB will no doubt confirm, they are the purest crap. The only bit of decent bricklaying in them is at ground level near the front door. The bits you can’t see are…better not seen.
    And to answer BernieG’s point – so you get crap, poorly fired bricks & packing case grade timber.

  4. B(n)is:

    When you say “the UK” do you mean London?

    The “fine Victorian houses” in the suburbs of Glasgow and Edinburgh seem to exactly that. Or is it just survivorship bias that the decent ones are still standing?

    I’m genuinely asking here, as I haven’t a clue about building quality.

  5. “Those shit Victorian houses are still there though, 120-odd years later.”

    The by now entirely dust-based bricks are held together by 120 years’ worth of spack, paint and Polyfiller.

  6. “So perhaps it isn’t a very bright idea to simply print more money to firehose into this sector then?”

    Zactly. This was the biggest problem with Obama’s “shovel ready jobs” BS (besides they don’t use shovels any more). Throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at the construction industry would just inflate the price, and you’d get little more.

  7. But surely there are plenty of brickies in Poland?

    And I know some Romany Romanian tarmac specialists who would be happy to provide the roads.

  8. bloke (not) in spain

    London’s my patch, so my area of knowledge. But most cities had a building spurt at the time. You can see by the designs. Bits of mass produced classical, out of the builder’s merchant’s catalogue, stuck on as decoration. I’ve got an original copy of one of those. Amazing what you could get in the way of cherubs rampant. The stuff from the earlier part of the century’s much better, but it went up over a much longer period. I once took a complete sash window out of one. Due to it’s inaccessible position, shouldn’t think the exterior had seen more than two coats of paint a century. Could have dusted it off & reinstalled it somewhere else. Good matured pine. Not the matchwood the late Viccies favoured.
    It’s certainly true, housing of that period survived bombing remarkably well. I’ve worked with a few had near misses & it’s fairly obvious the flexibility gained by having mortar that mostly sand, with a bit of spit in it, is very forgiving when you shake a building up & down a couple of feet.
    But mostly it’s because they’re all ongoing maintenance projects held together with Pollyfilla & prayer. When you get called in to make your own contribution, it’s an archaeological puzzle of all the previous attempts.

  9. Tim

    I have raised this with him and Reed time and again – they seem to be under the misapprehension:

    1/ Bricklaying is a ‘low skilled job’

    2/ That the unemployed could easily be persuaded to do it if the wages were high enough.

    It doesn’t matter what practical objections you put to how they would implement ‘QE’ (be it People’s or Green) – the need to import Labour, the shortage of Raw materials, shortage of trained operatives and transport/storage facilities, planning constraints, health and safety and other employment legislation, procurement guidelines – the list goes on.

    These people don’t have any practical experience of any kind – and their attention to detail is non-existent – At the risk of provoking the usual whinge of ‘exaggeration and paranoia’ from that classic stool pigeon, Lawrence, this adapted quote (with acknowledgement to AJP Taylor) seems to describe it and Murphy thus, especially if Corby beats the odds to prevail:

    ‘Maybe the world would have been saved a great deal of trouble if Murphy could have been given a job in an equivalent of Chatham House whereby he could have speculated harmlessly for the rest of his life’

    I’ll leave people to guess the original work that quote is taken from….

  10. @ GlenDorran and b(n)is
    Yes, the fine Victorian housing that you see around Glasgow *is* survivorship bias because there were massive slum clearance schemes in the 1930s and 1950s to tear down the Victorian slums and replace them with council houses.
    Some of the council estates have themselves now been bulldozed.

  11. Those shit Victorian houses are still there though, 120-odd years later.

    That appears to be the British housing standard: if it doesn’t collapse, it must be okay.

  12. @john77:

    Yes, I’ve seen close up some of the 60s tower blocks now being pulled down.

    I guess I was probably asking if the surviving Victorian houses were amongst the better built ones that b(n)is mentions or if the Glasgow/Edinburgh ones are just as bad as those elsewhere in the country.

  13. bloke (not) in spain

    Come to think of it, I’m sitting in an example of the 80s building flurry. Four bed, 2 bath* cloak, double garage, no front fence. Typical high end estate sprawl. Structurally it’s….OK. But the finish. Jeez! There’s not a door’s square in the frame. Ceiling’s textured paint over plasterboard. Exterior woodwork’s sound but the re-painting cycle’s had to be frequent because the original primer/undercoating’s been skimped. It peels. I remember that period. Couldn’t hire decent tradesmen for love nor money. Muddling through with chancers from the JobCenter
    Some mug’s going to be paying 3/4 mil, for this. (You Brits, eh?) I’ll be laughing all the way back to my Malaga Alameda apartment. Converted from a C17th town house. The marble & pillars & the original water tank in the atrium core’s like a Roman villa. Stunning. And the brickwork’s so good – longer & shallower than ours & a warm red – the architect’s left panels of it cleaned & bare as a feature.
    And the rent’s loose change.

  14. You guys are well out of date. No houses are built by brickies any more. There may be purely decorative skins of bricks, but the structure is now a load of shit timber and preassembled parts. They whack up the timber frame and stick a skin of bricks around it to make it look like a brick house. None of the bricks are structural so its not crucial to have skilled labour doing it. And the timber used gets thinner and thinner every year. Joists are now a piece of chip board about 10 inches deep with a sliver of 2″x1″ top and bottom. Manufactured crap, rather than sawn timber. Looks great on a CAD screen, shit in real life. First time your bath overflows the ceiling will collapse (the whole thing not just the plasterboard) because the chipboard part will disintegrate. If you have a leaky pipe dripping onto one of those for a few months you might get in your bath and suddenly be in the living room.

    Auf Wiedersehen Pet is a historical document now, of how houses used to be built.

  15. bloke (not) in spain

    Van P’s comment provokes a thought. For those preening with their 3 years of uni behind them. It takes about 5 years to be vaguely competent in the building trades. Ten & you probably know what you’re doing. And you never stop learning. Maybe Murph should be directing his People’s QE into more accountants, lawyers, actuaries, investment managers..Quicker returns. Anyone can hack unskilled work like that. Oh, hang on. Anyone can. That’s why there’s so many of them looking for jobs. Anyone know where you can find a good plumber?

  16. Heh.

    A plumber once said to me:

    “Your job will be taken over by either Indians or computers. As long as people keep drinking, washing and shitting then I’ve got a job for life.”

    Couldn’t really argue with him.

  17. “Tomorrow’s issue features the interim results of house builders Persimmon and Bovis. Do slightly disappointing return on capital metrics at Bovis, and slower house-price growth at Persimmon, presage a correction for this sector? Persimmon’s shares have risen nearly six-fold over the past five years, after all. Or will the good times continue?”

    House builders sitting on land banks, in a time of rising house prices, and only releasing the number of units they need to maintain profits are finding it tough. Why would they ever increase output unless there were a guarantee of higher prices?

  18. @ GlenDorran
    I was talking generally rather than about Glasgow when I referred to the massive slum clearances although it was true of Glasgow as well.
    But the fact that you refer to houses in the suburbs of Edinburgh and Glasgow suggests to me that they are per se likely to have been houses for the middle-class or skilled working-class, therefore the better-built ones. The poor had to live within walking distance of the factory/shipyard/mine.

  19. “Survivorship bias…the decent ones are still standing.” A lot of the crap ones too! I virtually rebuilt my ‘artisan cottage’ in South London. It was constructed for ten quid and a sack of ferrets back in 1820, with no foundations and from crap bricks and scraps of wood by local Jack-the-lads. The terrace was envisaged to last for 90-odd years, and leases were issued for a corresponding period. Amazingly these properties survived both age and bombs, thanks in part to lime and sand mortar instead of concrete. They moved with time. When, in the 1980s, Chateaux Gudgeon decided it had had enough and was ready to give up the ghost, under the watchful eye of English Heritage, I had to strip everything back to bare essentials, install RSJs in the roof and hang the internal walls and floors below from said beams by means of metal straps bolted to and supporting the floor joists. Twenty tons of sand and lime, and reclaimed bricks, patched things up. The house is still standing. Probably will do for the next 100 years or so.

  20. bloke (not) in spain

    ” Why would they ever increase output unless there were a guarantee of higher prices?”
    Don’t you have the sign on that reversed? If you’re sitting on a land bank with a guarantee of higher prices, you carry on sitting on your land bank watching your asset appreciate. It’s if you foresee stable or falling prices you build & sell. Because the asset’s costing you money either in interest payments or even simple opportunity cost.
    “(Does) slower house-price growth at Persimmon, presage a correction for this sector?”
    And sounds like that’s happening. If prices are softening, forecast profits are going to be looking a lot less rosy.
    Bearing in mind land costs are a very large proportion of building houses, price movements have a lot of leverage on developer margins.

  21. @ Bernie G
    ““Survivorship bias…the decent ones are still standing.” A lot of the crap ones too! ”
    But a much larger proportion of the well-built ones. The only cathedral that, to my knowledge, the CoE has had to rebuild in the last half-dozen centuries was Coventry. In my second year I lived in rooms in a building that was actually older than the college – it had been changed internally over the centuries and turned round so that the door opened onto the quad insytead of the street but the structure is mediaeval. How many mediaeval slums are still standing?

  22. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Here the decent (and expensive) stuff is poured concrete, RSJs and rebar. ‘Cos of earthquakes. Very sturdy, if a little nuclear-bunkeresque. I’ve been through a couple of 6.5+ tremors with very little damage. It’s a bugger to hang a picture though—I have to bust out my hammer drill.

  23. Some building are meant to last, others are not. My childhood home was my grandparents place. It was the traditional two up/down (occupied by four adults and three children), built during the late 19thC as part of a slum clearance exercise. By the 1950s these homes too had become slums and deemed unfit for human habitation. Demolished in the 60s they were replaced by tower blocks. The high-rise buildings have subsequently been demolished…

  24. Oops! I forgot how recently they rebuilt St Paul’s after the Great Fire. That makes two.
    My point, Bernie, was that as some buildings are designed to last, they are mostly still standing after a couple of centuries while some are not and it’s usually a matter of luck if they are still there a single century later. There aren’t many prefabs left… So a far greater proportion of the old houses still standing were the well-built ones.

  25. bloke (not) in spain

    We’ve been here before on how long buildings are built to last. Yes, cathedrals were. Many of them took a century or more to build. But if you look at the history of spires on cathedrals, a lot of them fell down shortly after being erected. So we can’t be too sure about the intentions of the builders.
    Which is the important factor in the life expectancy of buildings. The people who commission them may, or may not, have high hopes of their longevity. The longer they want it to last, the more it’s going to cost. So, somewhere along the line, there’ll be a compromise.
    Then there’s the uncouth people who actually get their hands dirty & build buildings. I can assure you, they don’t give a monkey’s how long it’ll stay up. As long as it does so long enough to get their money in their pockets & to the end of the street.
    So pretty well all buildings have a life expectancy, when built, of around 40 years or less. It’s roughly the time horizon everyone’s thinking of when it goes up. When it’s going to become “not my problem”.
    Past that it’s luck & how much effort gets put into the inevitable maintenance any structure needs, to prolong its life.
    And I can assure you, John, the bloke built your university college was no different from anybody else. That the building has had a history of re-purposing, proves the point.

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