Why Did the Mortgage Crisis Happen, Part 5

In Part 1, I asked why the mortgage mess happened, and why did it happen when it did.

Part 2 explains the role of the Great Moderation and the mild housing cycle in the 2001 recession.

Part 3 explains the role played by securitization of mortgages.

Part 4 explains how the 2001 recession set up the trigger for the current crisis.

In this final segment, I look at the future and provide some suggestions for policy.


I think
that the Great Moderation will continue, for reasons explained in the Mark
Thoma interview on the Businomics Audio Magazine. However, it was not the Great Moderation alone that caused a
sense of invulnerability regarding housing; it was also the strength of housing
in the 2001 recession. All players in
real estate and mortgages have lost the notion that housing is always
stable. We’ve been slapped across the
face by reality. It will be quite a
long time before anyone in this country thinks that housing is a no-risk

is here to stay. It makes a lot of
sense, especially compared to using the Savings and Loan industry model for
funding mortgages. But investors in the
mortgage market have learned a bit. First, they’ve learned that housing prices don’t always go up. Second, they’ve learned that the senior
tranches can take losses. Third,
they’ve learned that the ratings agencies aren’t very good at evaluating risk
of complex instruments. Fourth, they’ve
learned that combining a bunch of CMOs into a CMO-squared does not remove
systemic risk. It may help reduce the
risk associated with investing in mortgages originated in one location, but it
does not eliminate the risk that the entire country’s real estate market goes

about the trigger? That will happen
again. At some point in the future,
mortgage interest rates will fall at a time when home prices have been
firm. However, we will not have a
mortgage mess of this magnitude again until the lessons of this cycle have been
forgotten. I peg that time period – by
unscientific judgment – at about 20 years.

are some tips for policymakers:

1. This
mess is not as much about subprime mortgages as the overall housing market.

Fraud was present, but was not the cause of the mess.

3. The
people who made big mistakes have learned from their experience.

4. Some
of the practices that enabled the crisis are actually good.

Let me
expand on that last point. We have
three ways to finance homes, unless someone comes up with something smarter:

I) short-term
mortgages, like five years or less.

long-term mortgages financed by depository institutions, which engendered the
Savings and Loan crisis

securitized mortgages

be overzealous in attacking securitization unless you want to return make
mortgages unaffordable to the middle class, or you want another S&L crisis.