January 11, 2011
How many economists does it take to see an $8tn housing bubble?
The answer to that question has to be many more economists than we have in the United States. Very few economists saw or understood the growth of the $8tn housing bubble, whose collapse wrecked the economy. This involved a degree of inexcusable incompetence from the economists at the Treasury, the Fed and other regulatory institutions who had the responsibility for managing the economy and the financial system.
There really was nothing mysterious about the bubble. Nationwide house prices in the United States had just kept even with the overall rate of inflation for 100 years from the mid 1890s to the mid 1990s. Suddenly, house prices began to hugely outpace the overall rate of inflation. By their peak in 2006, house prices had risen by more than 70%, after adjusting for inflation. Remarkably, virtually no US economists paid any attention to this extraordinary movement in the largest market in the world.
Had they bothered, they would have quickly seen that there was no plausible explanation for this jump in prices in either the supply or demand side of the market. There were no major new restrictions on supply, with the builders putting up homes at near record rates. Nothing on the demand side suggested that prices should rise. The healthy income growth of the late 90s was followed by stagnation in the last decade and population growth was relatively subdued. Finally, there was no unusual rise in rents, which just slightly outpaced inflation over this period.
This article was posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 9:50 am