Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Biggest unintended consequence ever

I feel sorry for the Chinese. They are in the midst of a real estate bubble that may seem obvious to us but they are still irrationally exuberant about. It's a shame that many of the people buying at these prices are setting their lives up to be ruined (and of course the government is subsidizing prices which further fuels the fire):

Home prices in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai have easily doubled over the last year as families and investors rush to grab a piece of the Chinese dream. A typical 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in the capital now costs about $274,000. That's 22 times the average annual income of a Beijing resident.

Unlike in the United States, where home buying traditionally takes place after marriage, owning a place in China has recently become a prerequisite for tying the knot. Experts said securing an apartment in this market signals that a man is successful, family-oriented and able to weather challenging financial circumstances. Put succinctly, homeownership has become the ultimate symbol of virility in today's China.

The article goes on to point out that many women are requiring prospective husbands to own homes, which is creating an entire frustrated class of bachelors. What the article does not mention, is that there is a significant gender imbalance in China due to the one-child policy. Child-rearing couples have a significant bias toward male children, and since they can only have one child there are many more boys than girls. This is the direct result of China's social policy and is perhaps one of the most interesting and unfortunate cases of unintended consequences ever.

But this is what happens when the first instinct of government is to "fix it with policy". When your only tool is a hammer, every problem can be fixed with a nail.