Falling Housing Market is Not Bad News

The drop in housing prices in October has almost uniformly been interpreted as a bad sign for the economy in 2011.  I’d like to offer an alternative viewpoint: I think the drop in housing prices may be a tough but necessary step in the healing process.

Consider this. The false boom of the 2000′s was built on rising home values. Americans borrowed against those high home values, which enabled them to maintain a higher standard of living than they could really afford.  The borrowing flowed into mortgage-backed securities, which were in turn bought by overseas investors, effectively lending America the money to finance the trade deficit.  On a country level, we maintained a higher living standard than we could afford.

We’re still doing it, though now housing, consumption and imports are being propped up by federal government borrowing.  We still haven’t made the big jump to investing in our future–knowledge capital and productive physical capital.

From this perspective, a rise in housing prices is a signal that the “bad money pump” has started again. It means we are falling back into the same bad habits of borrowing money from overseas to finance housing, which in turn is used as collateral for debt to buy imports. We don’t want that!

I’d welcome anyone who would explain to me why  housing prices  are a good signal of the underlying long-term strength of the U.S. economy.

About Michael Mandel 127 Articles

Michael Mandel was BusinessWeek's chief economist from 1989-2009, where he helped direct the magazine's coverage of the domestic and global economies.

Since joining BusinessWeek in 1989, he has received multiple awards for his work, including being honored as one of the 100 top U.S. business journalists of the 20th century for his coverage of the New Economy. In 2006 Mandel was named "Best Economic Journalist" by the World Leadership Forum.

Mandel is the author of several books, including Rational Exuberance, The Coming Internet Depression, and The High Risk Society.

Mandel holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

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