Heather Boushey reviews “House of Debt”
Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, reviews “House of Debt: How They (And You) Caused the Great Recession, And How We Can Prevent it From Happening Again” by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, in The Atlantic.
Why are nearly 10 million people still out of work today? Was it because in September 2008, the U.S. government failed to bail out the insolvent investment bank Lehmann Brothers? Was it because the two U.S. housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guaranteed too many mortgages securitized by Lehman and other Wall Street firms to low-income borrowers in the run up to the housing and financial crises? Or does blame rest with the Federal Reserve’s too-easy-money policies in the wake of the brief dotcom recession in the early 2000s?
Princeton University professor Atif Mian and University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor Amir Sufi pin the blame squarely on policymakers, but not for any of these three reasons, all of which are variously popular with policymakers on different sides of the political divide in Washington. Instead, in their just-released book, House of Debt, they argue that the Great Recession was the result of a sharp fall-off in consumption due to the unevenly accumulated household debt in the first six years of the 21st century. In that period, mortgage-credit grew more than twice as fast in neighborhoods with low credit scores than in neighborhoods with high credit scores, a marked departure from the experience of previous decades. When the housing bubble popped, the economic consequences were sharply magnified by the way debt was distributed across households and communities.
Click here to read the full review.