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Nov 8 / Jonathan

It’s the Housing Bubble, Not the ***** Credit Crunch!

Dean Baker is sounding a little frustrated, don’t you think? Not without reason…

It’s the Housing Bubble, Not the ***** Credit Crunch!

No one will lend me $1 billion, that’s how bad the credit crunch has gotten. There are probably reporters at major news outlets who would print that.

The news media almost completely missed the housing bubble. They relied almost entirely on sources who either had an interest in not calling or attention to an $8 trillion housing bubble or somehow were unable to see it. As a result they did not warn the public that their house prices were likely to plunge in future years.

Having dismally failed in their jobs to inform the public, reporters are still relying almost exclusively on sources that completely missed the housing bubble. As a result, they are still badly misinforming the public, first and foremost by attributing the economic downturn to a credit crunch.

This is truly incredible. Homeowners have lost more than $5 trillion in housing wealth. There is a very well established wealth effect whereby $1 of housing wealth is estimated as leading to 5 to 6 cents of annual consumption. This implies that the loss of wealth to date would cause consumption to fall by $250 billion to $300 billion annually (1.7 percent to 2.0 percent of GDP). If you add in the loss of around $6 trillion in stock wealth, with an estimated wealth effect of 3-4 cents on the dollar, then you get an additional decline of $180 billion to $240 billion in annual consumption (1.2 percent to 1.6 percent of GDP).

These are huge falls in consumption that would lead to a very serious recession, like the one we are seeing. This would be predicted even if all our banks were fully solvent and in top flight financial shape. Even the soundest bank does not make loans to borrowers who it does not think can pay the loans back (except during times of irrational exuberance).

Obviously the problems of the banking system make the situation worse, but the real cause of the downturn is the collapse of the housing bubble, and the reporters who talk about the economy should know this. (Of course, they should have seen the housing bubble too.)

—Dean Baker

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