Leader comment: New Zealand’s ban on foreign property buyers is ominous

Following the capture of Grevillers by the New Zealand Division, Men of the Royal Garrison Artillery pose beside one of the 4.2 inch guns of a captured battery at Grevillers, 25 August 1918. Note the camouflage netting on the ground, which was designed to prevent the guns from being spotted from the air. � IWM (Q 11243)
Following the capture of Grevillers by the New Zealand Division, Men of the Royal Garrison Artillery pose beside one of the 4.2 inch guns of a captured battery at Grevillers, 25 August 1918. Note the camouflage netting on the ground, which was designed to prevent the guns from being spotted from the air. � IWM (Q 11243)
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New Zealand bans foreigners from buying houses as super-rich snap up ‘apocalypse insurance’ properties.

In January last year, the New Yorker magazine published an 8,200-word article entitled “Doomsday prep for the super-rich”.

Some were buying guns, ammunition, gold coins and food. An investment firm boss said he kept “a helicopter gassed up all the time”. A former Facebook manager had bought five acres of woodland on an island, then shipped in generators, solar panels and other equipment for a self-sufficient existence. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, estimated about half of the billionaires in Silicon Valley had bought a bolthole in the US or overseas. Some had gone as far as New Zealand to buy the ultimate “apocalypse insurance” property.

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Survivalism has always had its adherents, but not in the kind of numbers that would ever affect the markets.

However, New Zealand has apparently become so inundated with foreign property buyers – including a Russian oil billionaire, Mikhail Khimich, US financial guru Julian Robertson and film director James Cameron – that it has now taken the extraordinary step of banning house sales to people who are not residents of the country.

Clearly many are buying houses as an investment while others simply want a holiday home, but the idea that the world is becoming increasingly dangerous is not far-fetched. In June, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former head of Nato, warned: “The world is on fire. Wherever you look you have conflicts.” Donald Trump’s stance as “fully fledged American isolationist” was party to blame, he added. “When the US and the democratic world retreats, they will leave behind a vacuum and that vacuum will be filled by the bad guys.”

Right-wing nationalism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism and racism are on the rise in much of the developed world; anger over inequality runs high among many on the left; Vladimir Putin’s Russia and its proxy forces still occupy part of Ukraine; Saudi Arabia and Iran seem locked in a dangerous power struggle; China’s Red Army is building islands in waters disputed by a host of other countries.

The historian Margaret MacMillan, an expert in the start of the First World War, has compared modern times with the prelude to that conflict, when a dangerous confidence in peace meant warnings were missed. The flight of the super-rich to a peaceful and remote corner of the world might just be one of them.

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