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Let's Get Congress Out of the Housing Market

Posted By Conn Carroll On October 9, 2008 @ 10:15 am In Economics | Comments Disabled

Defending $150 billion worth of unrelated tax benefits that Congress stuffed into the already $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) told the International Herald Tribune [1]: “If you don’t want politics in this process, you probably shouldn’t be handing it over to 535 politicians. That’s democracy.” We couldn’t have come up with a more succinct explanation for ending government intervention in the market if we tried.

University of Chicago professor of law Richard Epstein elaborates for Forbes [2]:

Disasters like this latest financial meltdown don’t just happen. Mistakes this huge require an impoverished political philosophy to grease the skids. Fannie and Freddie didn’t design their horrific lending policies by chance. No, behind this lending fiasco lay the strong collective preference for the “patterned principles” of justice that Robert Nozick attacked so powerfully in his 1974 masterpiece, Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

In his perceptive Wall Street Journal [3] op-ed, How Government Stoked the Mania, Russell Roberts noted that the current congressional fixation called for a relentless increase in homeownership relative to renting, with certain minimum fractions allocated to low-income families. Pray tell, what patterned principle dictates that we should have 12% of all mortgages made to low-income borrowers in 1996, 20% in 2000, 22% in 2005 and 28% by 2008?

The grand objectives articulated by Congress–and to be fair, by Republicans who preach the virtues of the “ownership society”–are not freebies that can be satisfied at no real cost. Quite the contrary. Once Congress set in place a destructive lending policy, we could count on private parties to issue bad loans from which they profited, knowing that dear old Fannie and Freddie would happily pay face value for paper that everyone knew was worth a whole lot less.

But Congress lived in a dream world. It forgot that the quality of the paper would deteriorate as its ambitious social objectives let its underwriting go south. So, too late in the game, we learn from yet another case where Congress should have done good by doing nothing at all. Let people rent or buy in unsubsidized markets and then watch with supreme indifference what residential patterns emerge. That distribution would have been a lot less toxic than the brew generated by our fevered political leaders. So says our frustrated libertarian.


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URL to article: http://blog.heritage.org/2008/10/09/lets-get-congress-out-of-the-housing-market/

URLs in this post:

[1] International Herald Tribune: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/10/05/business/nocera.php

[2] Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/opinions/2008/10/06/congress-nozick-bailout-oped-cx_rae_1007epstein.html

[3] Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122298982558700341.html

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