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The Value of a House



Hitler was a horrible man. All one would want to learn from him is how not to do things. Listen to what he once said to his Architect Albert Speer: “If the Finance Minister could realise what a source of income to the state my buildings will be in fifty years! Remember what happened with Ludwig II. Everyone said he was mad because of the cost of his palaces. But today? Most tourists go to upper Bavaria solely to see them. The entrance fees alone have long since paid for the building costs. The whole world will come to Berlin to see our buildings. All we need to do is tell the Americans how much the Great Hall cost. Maybe we’ll exaggerate a bit and say a billion and a half instead of a billion. Then they’ll be wild to see the most expensive building in the world.”

Mad Ludwig’s palaces Hitler is referring to are among the great money-spinning tourist attractions in Southern Germany. One of them was featured in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It is a mediaeval Castle as everyone imagines a medieval castle, except that it is not really mediaeval, but a very expensive nineteenth century stage-set in which mad king Ludwig could live out his fantasies. The people of Bavaria naturally resented all this money being spent on buildings and had him committed.

Hitler was not the only one to argue that ambitious buildings can make money. Therefore we do not have to take this odious man’s word for it. That is a relief as both his horribleness and his argument are incontrovertible: great buildings create value. Admittedly such buildings require huge investment and money is never enough; there are no rules for designing great buildings. The palace of Versailles in France, which makes a good case for being considered great, cost thousands of lives and billions to make. Great buildings give fabulous returns, especially when their sotry is fascinating, if for example they have had an inordinate amount of greed, love, desire or ambition mixed in their mortar. Such buildings often begin to play a part in people’s imagination and after a while become centres of gravity, attracting value.

Should anyone be advocating that Jamaica throw monetary caution to the wind to embark on the most prestigious building spree in history? Should the government fork out huge sums on improbable monuments and outlandish efforts at self-advertisement? Actually, here is a far more outrageous suggestion. Hitler’s argument works, you see, in more ways than one.

An economy which thrives on inclusion and has made quality of life of all of its citizens as the ultimate goal, sees the empowerment and elevation of the poor as a market strategy to improve society on all levels. Increasing the purchasing ability of the poor increases the activity of the economy and benefits everyone. For this to work the poor need to be trusted and given their dignity, as well as the instruments to get on with their lives as they see fit. They need no special progams above and beyond a good education and the freedom to get on with their lives. And, to enforce that freedom fair laws to stop one person’s idea of the good interfering with that of another. If a government chooses to supplement their overall strategy for economic growth by subsidising housing for the poor to kick-start this process, it cannot take short cuts. It is imperative to make houses into marketable commodities, where people can live with dignity in something of lasting value. We are all familiar with the parable of The Three Little Pigs. Badly made and badly maintained low-income housing, where people need to share their most private functions in a state of constant exasperation, is fodder to the wolves pursuing an exclusive economy, which, in the long term, is to the detriment of all of us.



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