Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Depression Era Housing Prices

Caplan at EconLog asks why housing prices held their ground for the most part during the Great Depression. Obviously, no one can say why prices are what they are, but my suspicion is that the mortgages played a role somehow. In fact, early mortgages were made interest deductible because it was primarily a business expense, and mortgages did not become a major homeowner vehicle until after the Great Depression began. From the NYT:
It was not until the 1920's and the spread of the automobile that home mortgages outnumbered farm mortgages. In the 1930's, the mortgage industry got a huge assist from the feds — not from the tax deduction, but from agencies like the Federal Housing Administration, which insured 30-year loans, and, over time, the newly created Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae. Before then, the corner bank would issue a mortgage and wait for the homeowner to pay them back; now savings and loans could replenish their capital by selling their mortgages to Fannie Mae — meaning they could turn around and issue a new mortgage to someone else.
So in part, the stability of housing prices might have been partly due to FHA induced demand for housing stock, relative to other assets and consumption possibilities.

I'll leave it to my Austrian co-bloggers to decide if this fits into a Austrian/Recalculation story of explaining the prolonging of the Depression by changing the relative prices of capital, or if this aided as a form of liquidity the Fed failed to provide.


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