Sunday, May 10, 2009

Home on the Deranged

Steven Malanga details the decades long obsession American politicians have had with home ownership, and its unintended consequences. Predictably, no one seems to have learned:
...before we’ve even worked our way through this crisis, elected officials and policymakers are busy readying the next. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts congressman who serves as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has balked at proposals to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which would eliminate their risk to taxpayers and their susceptibility to political machinations.

Why? Simple: the government uses them to subsidize the affordable-housing programs that Frank supports. California congressman Joe Baca, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, also opposes reining in affordable housing lending. “We need to keep credit easily accessible to our minority communities,” he asserts.

Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, have scrambled to reignite the housing market through ill-conceived tax credits and renewed federal subsidies for mortgages, including the Obama administration’s mortgage bailout plan, which recalls the New Deal’s H[ome]O[wner's]L[oan]C[orp].

As Harvard economist and City Journal contributing editor Edward Glaeser has observed, mortgage lenders have finally “recovered their sanity”—only to have government dangling subsidized low interest rates and tax credits in front of them and their potential customers all over again. Behind these efforts is a fundamental misconception among politicians that housing drives the American economy and therefore demands subsidy at virtually any cost.

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