The Washington Post is reporting that President Obama has assigned his staff with the task of designing a new set of government guarantees behind the U.S. mortgage market. Although as the Post also reports the “approach could even preserve Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” That’s correct. Despite their role in driving the housing bubble and the already $160 billion in taxpayer losses, President Obama appears to be considering just putting the same failed system in place. Of course, we’ll be promised that it will all work better this time.
When government officials come up with what they claim to be a wonderful new idea, I often think of an old Saturday Night Live skit from 1990 poking fun at commercials for blue jeans. The skit’s scene is a group of middle-aged buddies getting ready to play basketball in their new “Bad Idea Jeans.” Each guy optimistically announces a plan to do something that is actually a “bad idea.” For example, a character says “I don’t know the guy but I’ve got two kidneys and he needs one, so I figured…” and “BAD IDEA” flashes across the screen. (The skit can be watched here.)
On Tuesday, Case-Shiller released their monthly housing price index. Surprise, it fell by 4.2% in the first quarter of 2011. I’ve been predicting a decline of about 6% over the course of 2011 (might need to adjust that). Of course, this should come as no surprise. We’ve spent the last couple of years trying to re-create the bubble, with little success.
A year-long investigation by the Washington Post into the Department of Housing & Urban Development’s HOME affordable housing program uncovered systemic waste, fraud, and abuse. The tale is yet another example of why the federal government should extricate itself from housing policy and allow the states to chart their own course.
Local officials, like their federal and state counterparts, spend other people’s money. Policymakers are naturally unlikely to spend other people’s money as carefully as they would their own. This situation is exacerbated when local officials spend money obtained from federal taxpayers. At least when local taxpayers foot the bill, they have an incentive to keep an eye on how their money is spent. That incentive is largely nonexistent when the money comes from Washington.
The Daily Caller asked me which federal department or agency I would most like to see eliminated. If I actually had the power to eliminate one department or agency, I would choose the Department of Health & Human Services, which houses two key pillars of the federal welfare state (Medicare and Medicaid). However, I decided to choose the Community Development Block Grant program for the purpose of bringing attention to the desirability of eliminating federal subsidies to state and local government:
Everybody likes a free lunch. Local government officials really like a free lunch, particularly when that lunch is paid for by federal taxpayers. Spend other people’s money on projects that you don’t have to tax your constituents to pay for? What a deal!
As Congress and the White House continue to debate the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, one of the oft heard concerns is that if we eliminate all the various mortgage subsidies in our system, then the cost of a mortgage will increase. There certainly is a basic logic to that concern. After all, why have subsidies if they don’t lower the price of the subsidized good. Of course some, if not all, of said subsidy could be eaten up by the providers/producers of that good.
That’s what the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s recently retired inspector general had to say in response to rampant malfeasance and mismanagement at public housing authorities uncovered by a joint investigation by ABC News and The Center for Public Integrity.
A common rationale for federal policies to expand homeownership is the desire to reduce observed racial differences in homeownership. Receiving the most attention has been the gap in homeownership rates between white households and African-American. The current homeownership rate for whites is 76.5 percent (2007), while that for African-Americans is 54 percent, leaving a gap of 22.5 percent.