Garett Jones  

Reviewing Mark Zandi's Newest Book

A Critique of Wisdom... Mr. Sumner Goes to Washington...
My latest book review for Barron's is here ($, probably).  Zandi's Paying the Price adds some value; this post excerpts some positive parts of the review:

"Regulatory, legal, and policy uncertainty was holding business back." That's author Mark Zandi, Moody's Analytics chief economist and CNBC-TV commentator, describing the economy in 2012. Uncertainty over the fiscal cliff, the implementation of Dodd-Frank regulation of the banking sector, the Affordable Care Act--Zandi says all these forces of uncertainty are restraining growth....

[Zandi's] firm, Moody's Analytics, advised top banks during the bank stress tests of 2009....He says the tests "seemed a gimmick to me until I heard the loud screaming from the bank executives"...

There's a lesson here, one that Europe's wimpier stress tests didn't take to heart: When it comes to capital ratios, if the executives of the too-big-to-fail banks aren't screaming, you're probably not doing it right....

Contrary to the claims of some, you don't end bank bailouts forever by passing a law that ends bank bailouts forever. As we saw in 2008, if you're against bailouts on 99.999% of the days and in favor of bailouts on 0.001% of the days, you're basically in favor of bailouts. 

You can buy Zandi's book here.  Don discusses the more critical parts of my review over at Cafe Hayek.

I'll dive into my criticism later this week; but if you're looking for a preview, check out this underappreciated March 2012 report (PDF) by the Federal Housing Finance Agency's Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG).  Key quote: 

FHFA-OIG found that the number of Fannie Mae's variances - and in effect its underwriting standards - have fluctuated substantially over time.  For example, in 2005 when standards were loose, Fannie Mae authorized over 11,000 variances.  Between January 2005 and August 2007, Fannie Mae began rescinding variances, which tightened underwriting standards.

Did that tightening help pop a worldwide bubble?  Did the earlier laxity help inflate the worldwide bubble?  Let's add those to the list of Important Questions To Which We Don't Know The Answers.

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CATEGORIES: Finance , Macroeconomics

COMMENTS (2 to date)

Apart from the debacles with Fannie and Freddie, I've recently been thinking about the FHA's role in the housing bubble. While I haven't gathered any supporting data, it seems plausible that the reduction in required down payments, from ~20% to 3.5% could have led the private market. Any thoughts?

Garett Jones writes:

I've wondered the same thing, but it ends up being similar to the argument that if the government 'sets a standard' by paying higher wages, making jobs safer, etc., that will change the private sector.

That's not true for, say, fair wage laws in government contracts: such laws won't raise wages for non-government workers, it'll just create queuing for government jobs without changing private wages (in a simple case, of course).. Similarly, cheap government-backed loans for a lucky few should create queuing for those few good government-backed mortgages.

Might blog a greater length later--been thinking of this for a while.

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