Where Krugman Went Right: On Housing Policy

Since 1999, when economist Paul Krugman started writing for The New York Times, he has been drawing the criticism of free market-oriented economists (and recently the president of Estonia) for glaring deficiencies in economic analysis and for writing what amounts to “fiction” (economist and Estonian expert Steve Hanke’s word to describe Krugman’s trashing of Estonia’s recent robust economic growth and counter Keynesian fiscal reforms).

The Krugman-Estonia kerfuffle raises an interesting question: Has Krugman ever sided with free market economists against government activism in his Times forum?

In Back from Serfdom, my Atlanta colleague Robert Dell quotes a Krugman column from June 2008 to support the case for termination of government affordable housing policies. The normally predictably partisan pundit Krugman appears here to be channeling AEI’s Peter Wallison:

“Why should ever-increasing homeownership be a policy goal? How many people should own homes, anyway?

Listening to politicians, you’d think that every family should own its home—in fact, that you’re not a real American unless you’re a homeowner. . . . and that is reflected in U.S. policy (MP: Which drove homeownership to unsustainable levels and created the housing bubble, see chart above). Because the I.R.S. lets you deduct mortgage interest from your taxable income but doesn’t let you deduct rent, the federal tax system provides an enormous subsidy to owner-occupied housing. On top of that, government-sponsored enterprises — Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks — provide cheap financing for home buyers; investors who want to provide rental housing are on their own. In effect, U.S. policy is based on the premise that everyone should be a homeowner.

But homeownership isn’t for everyone. In fact, given the way U.S. policy favors owning over renting, you can make a good case that America already has too many homeowners.”

We can only hope Krugman will direct a future critical blast toward the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) for continuing to promote home ownership on its web site.

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About Mark J. Perry 262 Articles

Affiliation: University of Michigan

Dr. Mark J. Perry is a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan.

He holds two graduate degrees in economics (M.A. and Ph.D.) from George Mason University in Washington, D.C. and an MBA degree in finance from the Curtis L. Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

Since 1997, Professor Perry has been a member of the Board of Scholars for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan research and public policy institute in Michigan.

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