In the recent years clamour over the soaring costs of houses when related to incomes, two salient factors are overlooked. The first is that house-building is a highly labour intensive activity.

When I was a child living in a Lower Hutt state house district, for a period of 2 years in the post-war years we hardly saw our father. Like my mother, he had left school at 12 years of age. For those 2 years he was absent when my sisters and I woke, and not home 4 nights of the week when we went to bed. Why? Because he was employed in an Upper Hutt factory involving a half hour bus trip, working seven days a week and four nights over-time.

In return we lived a spartan existence. So too with our neighbours, all working class folk, including 3 who were carpenters, or in other words; skilled tradesmen. In short wages back then were meagre compared with today.

Two significant things have changed.

First, global trade has massively reduced the costs of everyday goods and technology has similarly played a major cost-reducing role. For someone of my generation, reading the full-page Warehouse advertisements and noting the costs of everyday items is like looking at a fairy story.

These factors enabled substantial wage increases for skilled tradesmen and, house-building being labour intensive has seen its cost compared with low wages yesteryear increase dramatically.

The second reason is hard reality and I’m not taking the mickey.

That is that productivity is dramatically down thanks solely to bloody cell-phone addiction.

I’ve told this story before but it’s worth repeating.

Driving with well-known former Auckland lawyer Geoff Cone about a decade back I made this point and claimed that on any building site at any given time, at least half the workers would be bawling into cell-phones. Geoff accused me of hyperbole.

Then we came across an apartment development in its final stages. Various sub-contractors’ vehicles surrounded it. So I had a bet with Geoff that at least half the workers would be babbling on phones.

We duly entered and counted 20 tradesmen, many self-employed, of whom 19 (I’m not making this up) were slouching against the wall, bawling into phones. If you don’t believe this then walk onto any building site and see for yourself.

My company spends many tens of millions annually on building works (fit-outs, correcting architects design errors etc) and are well familiar with this.

If cell-phones could somehow be dismantled by a government action for a year, theoretically there would be a massive increase in productivity.

But then again the law of unintended consequences would probably come into play, namely a huge shortage of workers as so many of them would end up in psychiatric outfits suffering from extreme withdrawal symptoms.


to bloody true

Add to this Facebook and reading blogs.

It’s funny because it’s true.
It is also tragic and ominous….. because it’s true.

Agreed. 100% agreed.

The old days time waster was cigarette smoking. Roll your own, fire it up, long drags = zero productivity. Quite often on an hourly basis

When we built a new house a few years ago, I was onsite every day with a hammer in my had doing th menial jobs that usually an apprentice would do.
It annoyed me the amount of time the main builder spent on his phone, and I was paying about $60 per hour for the privilege.

There are elements of farce in the cost of living index.But comparison of prices against wages of the time is certainly sobering. In the early 50s a tradesman without overtime earned about L14 per week; a new car was L700 or so usually without heater or radio, plus a trade in at forced discount. Tyre for a light car typically L8 and half the life of moderns..I have a basic mantle radio; albeit wood cabinet; L43 in 1949!!.

    Inflation is only good for the politicians, banksters and multiple property owners….until their customers are broke, and it’s pretty close to that …

Technology has alot to answer for ..

Most have been sucked in by it…pun intended…

And look at me here as well….

The reality is my best times are away from cellphone reception…

The issues today is everyone is use to instant gratification, and if you are self employed and you don’t answer you phone or email people will go elsewhere… there is very little loyalty these days…

It’s a long road back….and I’m not sure it’s possible….if only for a few ..

Perhaps if the cost of living wasn’t so high compared to wages, the self employed might be able to use more of the skills they are best at…

Just come from a job in waihi where to better than average paid couple are living in a caravan to afford a home….. because the cost to build is outrageous…..

Say no more

I had a similar experience in Auckland when hiring a firm of carpenters on a development. One carpenter in particular spent half a day on his mobile. When I queried him to stop answering his mobile in my time he blurted out it was another business he was dependent on. Consequently I asked his boss to please remove him from my job and replace him with another.

Back on the days before cell phones I would would be on the phone at 6 in the morning, make a whole lot of calls, go to work come home and be on the phone til 11 at night, go to bed, repeat. Now most of the business is taken place between 7 and 6. And workers who use cell phones indiscriminately get their arses kicked.

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