Monday, 13 July 2015

All our houses are belong to #YellowPeril

In the 1800s ethnic Chinese living in New Zealand were taxed simply for being Chinese. On Saturday, you would be forgiven for thinking there were a modern move afoot to tax ethnic Chinese for living in New Zealand homes.

On Saturday the Weekend Herald splashed bungled Labour Party “research” across the front page – declaring on basis of foreign-sounding surnames from a single unnamed real-estate agent that foreigners should be banned from buying “our” houses.

I’m sure you’ve already heard that. And I’m sure you, like I did, wondered how desperate Labour must be to want to tap Winston Peter’s racial smears to slither back up the greasy pole.

Your best two go-to responses are Keith Ng’s at On Point, and Thomas Lumley’s at Stats Chat. First, Keith, whose last name sounds Chinese: if people whose “last name sounds Chinese” can’t be a hard-working Kiwi, as if we are taking their houses.
    And if I became a property investor, I hope that I’d be judged like every other property investor, and not hung up as a political scapegoat as if we were some kind of foreign parasites, but they are wise stewards of property reaping the rewards of thrift and hard work.
    I hope they wouldn’t treat us as if we were not them, based on whether our “last name sounds Chinese.”

But they have. They already  have. Just one problem:

You can’t magically MATH your way from a last name to a residency status. They have one piece of real data: “39.5% of last names in a list of house sales sound Chinese”. All the assertions that Labour are making beyond this are complete bullshit. …
    What [Labour’s] Phil Twyford has done is just a sleigh-of-hand with percentages:

  • 39.5% of house buyers are ethnically Chinese…
  • …but the resident Chinese population in Auckland is only 9%.
  • 9% of residents can only buy 9% of houses…
  • …so 30.5% must be non-residents! Ta da!

Here are the same numbers, in absolute terms:

  • 3,500 house buyers are ethnically Chinese…1
  • …but the resident Chinese population in Auckland is 126,0002.
  • 126,000 residents can only buy 126,000 houses…
  • …so, uh, yeah.

It is entirely plausible that 126,000 people can buy 3,500 houses …

There’s a lot more wrong with the “research,” but as Keith says, “Twyford is doing this because all he has is “39.5% of last names in a list of house sales sound Chinese.” Not a lot of hard fact there. An awful lot of stew from one small ill-begotten onion. Twyford “wants it to mean ‘a lot of houses are bought by overseas Chinese.’ But equally, it could mean a lot of other things.

There’s a long list of possibilities, but in the absence of evidence, that’s all they are: Possibilities. Wanting to believe in one doesn’t make it true.

That’s never stopped a politician before. Not when they see poll numbers on the horizon.

Read on here for more of Keith’s take-down. And also digest the points made by the very polite Thomas Lumley at Stats Chat, who asks "So, how much of this is supported by the various data?" Main answers:

  • “we have fairly good evidence that people of Chinese ancestry are over-represented as buyers from this particular agency, compared to the Auckland population.”
  • “there is fairly good evidence that people of Chinese ethnicity are buying houses in Auckland at a higher rate than their proportion of the population.  The Labour claim extends this by saying that many of the buyers must be foreign. The data say nothing one way or the other about this, and it’s not obvious that it’s true.  More precisely, since the existence of foreign investors is not really in doubt, it’s not obvious how far it’s true.”
  • “The simple numbers don’t imply much, because relatively few people are housing buyers: for example, house buyers named “Wang” in the data set are less than 4% of Auckland residents named “Wang.” There are at least three other competing explanations, and probably more.”

Uncomfortably simple explanations the Herald and Twyford ignored as being irrelevant to their scare story. Read them here. Basic problem:

One of the repeated points I  make on StatsChat is that you need to distinguish between what you measured and what you wanted to measure.  Using ‘Chinese’ as a surrogate for ‘foreign’ will capture many New Zealanders and miss out on many foreigners. The misclassifications aren’t just unavoidable bad luck, either. …
    But on top of that, if there is substantial foreign investment and if it is driving up prices, that’s only because of the artificial restrictions on the supply of Auckland houses. If Auckland could get its consent and zoning right, so that more money meant more homes, foreign investment wouldn’t be a problem for people trying to find somewhere to live. That’s a real problem, and it’s one that lies within the power of governments to solve.

After all, they –both Labour and National – have caused it. Neither want to properly address it. And one party, it seems, would rather smear than solve.

PS: So, should you be allowed to buy a house?



Fun fact: “Cresswell” sounds 11.1% foreign, so that’s me cooked.

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