Monday, January 31, 2011

Stewardship of Public Assets

Wow! I must have been busy on other things. Clearly it has been a long time since my last post.

Have you ever noticed that no one looks after your stuff the way that you do? Have you ever lent something to a friend and it has not come back in the state it left you? Or maybe you have the experience of being a landlord and you have found your property has deteriorated more than it would have had you been the occupier?

I have experienced both of these.

It leads me to the conclusion that if everyone owns it no one cares for it (a nail in the coffin of socialism). It is also my conviction that private ownership leads to good stewardship, lower costs and more efficiency.

Owners of assets steward them. In the instance of my experience as a landlord certain legal restraints did not allow me to exercise the stewardship I would have preferred of those assets, and the rental income I charged did not have the desired effect of engendering in the tenants some sense of responsibility for someone else's possession.

I support the Government's proposed asset sales. But I think there are some smart ways they can unload some of our social burdens and make people more responsible for themselves.

The Government is a landlord. From my observation many of the houses that the taxpayer owns and the Government rents on our behalf are badly stewarded by the tenants. Often the Government is actually paying the tenant to pay the rent, by way of Unemployment Benefit and then Accommodation Supplement.

My proposal would be the following:
1. The Government gifts the house to the current tenant (subject to the house being suitable for the current needs of the tenant i.e. not overcrowded and not uninhabitable)
2. In exchange for the taxpayer's generosity the new owner of the house agrees to never rely on the taxpayer for the provision of accommodation again and agrees on behalf of their offspring (current and future) the same. Two generations will be able to use the taxpayer's gift to ensure they are adequately housed.

The new owner will have a house which they can care for and dispose of or use as they see fit. If their family expands they can borrow against the house to extend it or they can sell it and buy a more suitable home. They could borrow against the house to get their children a tertiary education or to assist them into their own homes.

The Government will no longer have to provide houses. They won't have to maintain their property portfolio and they won't have to collect rent. I would go even further to identify private rentals where the Government is effectively the tenant i.e. by paying the Unemployment Benefit and/or Accommodation Supplement and acquire these properties under the Public Works Act and gift them to the current tenant.

This may seem like a costly proposal. I don't have the resources to cost this and determine whether the Government and taxpayer will be better or worse off under this proposal, but I think there are huge merits to it. An initial investment of some capital could remove a lot of on-going costs from the system that seem perpetually guaranteed to grow.

There is a huge amount of injustice in this too. What about the "battlers" who are scrimping and saving to by their own home to get off the rental treadmill? Well, life is not fair! But maybe this proposal will free up more savings by reducing your taxes allowing you to save faster.