Arnold Kling  

Subprime Daily Briefing, Dec. 24

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Becker and Posner.

Gary Becker writes,


the most sophisticated banks and investment companies, including Merrill Lynch, Citibank, and Morgan Stanley, have written down their housing investments by billions of dollars. No one can reasonably claim that these banks lacked the skills and knowledge to evaluate all the terms of, or the likelihood of repayment, on the subprime and other mortgages that they originated or held as assets.

...it is ironic that only a few years ago, banks were being investigated for "redlining"; that is, for avoiding lending to blacks and other residents of poor neighborhoods. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination in lending, and The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 requires banks to use the same lending criteria in all communities, regardless of the living standards of residents. As a result of the present crisis, however, banks and other lenders are being criticized for equal opportunity lenient lending to all, including black residents of depressed neighborhoods.


The latter point was made by commenter John Fast on one of the previous posts in this series.

Rev. Jackson admits that

"Many of the victims of aggressive mortgage brokers were single women, seniors on fixed income, young couples, Latinos and African Americans."

Well, I accept his apology for his previous arrangements that ordered mortgage brokers to aggressively pursue members of minority groups.

But, of course, I'm not the one he should be apologizing to. He should really be apologizing to all the single women, seniors, young couples, Latinos, and African Americans that he victimized.

However, I assume that now he agrees that members of those groups should be protected from predatory mortgage brokers.

"In neighborhood after neighborhood in Chicago, foreclosures have soared to more than 50 per square mile."

Good point. In fact, perhaps we should draw lines around such neighborhoods and prevent, or restrict, loans in such areas. Will the Reverend supply the red pencils?


Meanwhile, Richard Posner writes,

The subprime mortgage "crisis" follows a classic pattern that should help us to understand the inevitability of intelligence failures (Pearl Harbor, the Tet Offensive, the Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack on Israel in October 1973, 9/11, and so on ad nauseam). These failures typically are not due to lack of essential information or absence of warning signs or signals, but to lack of precise information concerning time and place, without which effective response is impossible except at prohibitive cost. Alarms over risky mortgage practices had been sounded for years, and ignored for years. Someone, whether a home buyer or an investment bank buying home mortgages, who had heeded the warnings when they were first made, or indeed until years later, would have left a good deal of money on the table.

That is a point I have made before--if you were warning about risky mortgages back in 2001 or 2002, by the time 2005 rolled around you did not have much credibility.

Both Becker and Posner are worth reading in their entirety.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Jim writes:

re: Posner

This is the first time I have read of a parallel between intelligence-failures/attacks and the current mess that is/was a housing inflation bubble coupled with creative financing.

Mostly I read about tulips, Dot Com stocks and other price bubbles.

Amazing writes:

[Comment removed for rudeness and for supplying a false email address. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog. Please email the webmaster at econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges.--Econlib Ed.]

Mike writes:

Arnold

Reading the observations of John Fast concerning the on-again off-again need for red lining (even if said tongue in cheek) made me think about your excellent discussions about Douglass North and economic growth. Specifically institutions and beliefs create an environment condusive to or an obstacle to economic growth.

Our economic system's strength has been its ability to rapidly adapt to change in part because of its laissez faire orientation which leaves it vulnerable to getting blindsided by unintended consequences such as sub-prime lending fallout.

If we setup an environment that is more "sensitive" to political correctness through oppressive regulation to avoid the inefficiencies imposed by things like avoidance of redlining it will be less able to quickly respond to market needs and thereby render the economy less friendly to growth.

The good side of lassiez faire is the responsiveness of the economy to changing needs of the market and the bad side is the unintended consequences. You have to take the good with the bad. Unfortunately, the forces that wish to protect us from the bad undermine the good. The end result is a decay into bureaucratic morase and regulation which chokes off innovation and dynamic efficiency.

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