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郑风田

公告: 本博客主要关注民生话题,还顺带介绍点国际万象.本人开放博客中所有文字的转载权(标“转”的除外)。任何人想转载我的文字,请各取所需。需要咨询的朋友请联系zft@sohu.com,zft2020@sina.com .,微信公众号:zhengfengtian, 微信号:zft2000 谢谢!--郑风田

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买房者越多失业率越高?  

2009-05-05 11:03:54|  分类: 社会热点问题评论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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全球房地产市场目前什么走势?为什么欧美不少国家出现住房拥有率与失业率成正比现象?

郑风田 郎晓娟 中国人民大学

 

目前中国的房地产市场一直口水战不断,房界大佬任志强雇佣写手肆意藐视国人智商,搅得国内房地产市场一片混乱,骂声震动天地,还真没有见过这么不要脸的富人。老百姓辛苦一辈子却买不起房,这也是世界一大奇观了。那么其他国家的情况又如何呢?我们只知道这次的全球危机与美国卖房的次贷危机有关,但目前欧美的房地产市场又是一个什么现状?最新《经济学人》的几篇重头文章对此进行了介绍,挺有价值的。

 

过去认为政府多鼓励民众买房,对社会稳定有好处。但大家都买房,在不良的金融监管下却是助纣为孽,破坏经济,加重萧条。欧美房地产有一个奇特的规律:买房者数量的增加却同时伴随着失业率的提高,住房拥有率上升最快的几个州,恰好也是萧条期失业率大幅攀升的几个州。

一些观点认为,政府多鼓励民众买房,对社会稳定是有好处的,跟租房的人相比,买房的人可能更容易和邻里相处,更多地参与社区公共事务,而且,由于整个周围环境的变好,对买房的人来说,可以带来房价的进一步升值,因此他们更有动力参与社区环境建设,而租房的人则没有那么积极,周边环境的改善,对他来说,很可能只会造成房租上升。还有一条最有吸引力的:有研究发现,和租房的人相比,买房的人家,小孩子在学校里面的表现更好——天下父母心都是一样的,若这一条真能证实了,那做父母的为了孩子着想,再怎么也得买套房子安居下来。可是也有人反对,说上面这些联系是从数据上看着有那么回事,但可不一定真是因为买房带来的好处,人德国的租房率就挺高,而且都是一租好多年,那就和买房的没啥差别,更重要的的是,当前这种萧条期,买房带来的那些好处,还远远比不上它带来的危害。

什么危害?前面说了第一条,房价的大起大落带来泡沫经济,大量资金被吸入其中,一旦泡沫破灭,房市崩盘,经济危机就这么产生了,现如今的经济萧条就是实例,况且60年代至今多次经济危机,房市在里面扮演破坏性角色已经不止一次了。

其次第二条,经济萧条期,最紧迫的是增加经济活力提升就业,但民众买房的多了却会造成反效果,由于房子的限制,人们不能自由流动去寻找新的工作,于是,房地产市场越发达,劳动力市场显得越僵化,甚至,买房者的增加会和失业者的增加紧密相连,冰岛、希腊和西班牙从19801990年的数据似乎可以证明这一点,增加的买房者数量同时伴随着失业率的提高。相反,美国和瑞士在这一阶段的买房率相对平稳,同时逃过了这一长阶段的失业率上升,而等到美国人也开始大举买房的时候,那些住房拥有率上升最快的几个州,恰好也是萧条期失业率大幅攀升的几个州。

尤其,在目前这种房价大跌的情况下,已经买房的人就更不愿意卖掉正在大幅贬值的房子,也就更加地被滞留在某一地点不愿前往其他地区寻找工作机会,劳动力市场也就变得更为僵化,还有,随着经济的持续萧条,无法偿还贷款最终导致用作抵押的住房被银行收回的家庭也越来越多,住房的收回进一步造成其价格下降,如此恶性循环下去,经济萧条也就被进一步地延长并且加深了。

 

有关实体资产不会贬值的美梦成为一个笑话,欧美房价还会继续下跌40——55%,房奴比我们还多,房价都变疯了,当然买房子的人更疯了。美国两百三十万个家庭的房子因还不起贷款被收走。

如今的全球房价直线跳水,无论对已经在高位贷款买房的还是对放贷的银行来说,都不啻为一场噩梦,从华盛顿到伦敦,所见俱是一片惨淡,有关实体资产不会贬值的美梦成为一个笑话,在美国,一些人似乎看到了房价触底的希望,大多数人则认为未来还遥遥无期,在英国,一项最近的评估认为房价还会继续下跌40——55%,这也意味着,一些以住房为抵押贷款的家庭,其住房价值已经跌破了当初的贷款额。

中国的房地产市场大起大落,种种声音你方唱罢我登场,有叫跌得好的,有说政府该出来救市的,有说压根就该鼓励民众租房而非买房的,无独有偶,老外们如今也为他们的房子而疯狂,就说这席卷全球的金融海啸,其最初的导火索,也是与房贷息息相关的次贷危机,到现在全球经济一片萧条,各国房价大幅回落,对于政府究竟该怎么做,同样地是争吵不休,  《经济学人》认为在当前的经济萧条期,政府与其大量投资救市,不如鼓励民众租房的好,且看它是怎么说的:

 

英国目前房价跌了21%,美国已降30%,还未探底。欧美买房者不少资产贬值,债务压身。

我们总说中国人的文化传统使人们更乐于拥有自己的住房,其实老外也一样,“拥有自己的屋顶、墙和壁炉”同样是他们的梦想,可是,当梦想破灭,昔日的避风港湾,在萧条来临时,很可能成为难以承受的沉重负担。

传统上,人们总觉得买房算是有赚无赔的保值投资,殊不知此次金融海啸一来,各国房价暴跌,那些在高位贷款买房的,可真是有苦说不出。在英国,自200710月以来,房价已经下跌21%,美国要慢一些,不过降价幅度更高,从2006年中旬到现今,降价30%,有两类人在此过程中损失惨重,一是在房价顶峰时的购房者,二是相关次贷衍生品的购买者。大约有1000万美国人卷入其中,到如今,其贷款的成本已经超出其所购住房的价值,在英国,则有3%的家庭面对同样命运。对这些人来说,房子现在已经成为负担而非资产。而那些无法继续偿还贷款的人,则同时失去了自己的房子,存款以及多年来的信用率。最糟的是,当房价上涨的时候,会给房主带来一种“我变富了”的错觉,于是更多地消费甚至通过贷款来超前消费,而一旦房价开始下跌,即使尚未跌破原值,他们也会因心理落差而大幅缩减开支,这对经济带来的影响是显而易见的。

 

奇怪的现象:尽管美英政府错误地激励百姓买房,导致今天的危机出现,但这些国家的政府似乎不知悔改,目前鼓励民众买房:奥巴马计划投入2750亿支持房地产市场,而法国萨科奇向穷人推广“零利率”房贷。

《经济学家》批评说,正是美国、英国等国政府当初采取了错误的激励政策鼓励民众买房,才导致了房市的扭曲,并进一步造成今天的混乱局面,甚至可以说,整个金融海啸和全球经济萧条的发生,这些“添乱”的各国政府都难辞其咎。

正如美国的次贷危机,原本是设计来让穷人也能获得自己的住房的次级贷款,最后却引发一系列金融海啸,酿成全球性的经济衰退。到2008年,两百三十万个家庭最终失去了他们的住房或者面临抵押品赎取权丧失,与危机爆发前的2004年相比,美国的住房拥有率反而下降了1.5个百分点。而在其他许多发达国家,如英国、冰岛、西班牙等,政府提供诸如税收优惠、补贴等鼓励政策,进一步扭曲了房地产市场,为这种狂热火上浇油,使得房价一路攀升,消费者的购买力也跟着出现繁荣和扩张,讽刺的是,原本以促进储蓄为目标的鼓励购房政策,在分期付款等金融方式的作用下,反而促进了消费的超速扩张,而一旦经济从繁荣转向衰退,消费紧缩的幅度也就越大,对经济的伤害也就越深。

现在,尽管饱受经济学家和评论家们批判,政府似乎还没有从中吸取教训,二月中旬,奥巴马提出一项提案,计划投入2750亿美元支持美国房地产市场,而在法国,萨科奇则向穷人推广“零利率”房贷以鼓励他们买房。看来尽管从种种理由来看,鼓励租房都要比鼓励买房对经济更有利,政府层面却总是有他们自己的考虑,而未来走向究竟如何,却不是我们现在所能预见到的了。

(编译者郑风田为中国人民大学教授;郎晓娟为中国人民大学博士生)

 

Housing

 

Building castles of sand

Apr 16th 2009

From The Economist print edition

 

Governments spent a fortune encouraging people to buy houses. That was a mistake they now risk repeating

 

BANKERS, frauds, predatory insurers: there has been a stampede to punish the villains of the global meltdown. Yet one culprit is not only rarely seen as an offender, but is also being cosseted and protected. Governments’ obsession about home ownership has contributed as much to the meltdown as any moustache-twirling financier.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The bust began in America’s housing market and soon spread to government-sponsored institutions created to increase home ownership, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Part of the problem came about because of policy. In most rich countries the state subsidises private housing. Some places (America, Ireland and Spain) give tax relief on mortgage-interest payments. Others, such as Britain, eliminate or lower the tax on capital gains from sales of someone’s main house. Still others use state-backed outfits to direct credit to housing or to make it easier for first-time buyers or the poor to buy their own homes. Subsidies are not to blame for everything—the housing bubble affected a range of markets regardless of how much they were subsidised—but the distortions aggravated the boom and bust by making housing artificially attractive.

 

Governments subsidise home ownership because they think it encourages stable, more law-abiding neighbourhoods. The children of homeowners do better at school than the children of renters do. Homeowners are more engaged in local democracy. And, because homeowners must pay off their mortgages, housing supposedly encourages people to save more than they otherwise would.

 

Yet as our article argues, the benefits of subsidies have proved smaller than expected and the costs much greater. Home ownership may indeed instil neighbourly stability (though Germany with its high levels of stability and renting suggests the two need not go together). But who said local stability was so desirable? A stable neighbourhood may be one in which people refuse to move in search of jobs.

 

Government backing sucked money into housing, boosting prices. Since millions use their homes as collateral for general loans, the house-price boom also exaggerated the consumer boom while it lasted, and amplified the bust when that came. Perversely, public policy even undermined the very things governments were trying to encourage. Housing policy aims at boosting savings. Yet home-equity loans and “negative amortisation” mortgages boosted spending.

 

Battering-ram required

In their efforts to stem the financial crisis, governments have thrown money at everything, including housing. Some of this is justified, but they are making their ultimate task harder. The state should in the medium term be aiming to slash subsidies for housing. That means, in America, cutting the size of the loan on which people can deduct mortgage interest from $1m now to, say, $300,000 and ideally to zero. There is no argument for a tax break worth, in practice, ten times as much to the rich as to the poor. Countries should start phasing out the unlimited capital-gains tax advantages given to houses—which people treat partly as an investment. And any government weighing whether to create institutions to boost home-ownership should take note of the disasters elsewhere.

 

A homeowning democracy is a bulwark against an overmighty state. Yet all those subsidies produce not just bloated home ownership, but dependence on public handouts.

====================================================================

House prices

 

Caught in the downward current

Mar 19th 2009

From The Economist print edition

 

The global housing market goes from bad to worse

 

WHEN we last looked at global house prices, only six of the countries we surveyed had recorded year-on-year declines. Three months later that figure has risen to 16.

 

In America some saw signs of a bottom in a report on March 17th showing sharp rises in housebuilding starts and permits in February, after months of decline. Others, however, just saw a bigger stack of apartments for sale which no one will be very keen to buy. In truth, the outlook has long been dismal from the banks of the Potomac and the Thames, and now it is starting to look grim from the banks of the Huangpu.

 

Gone is the optimism of yesteryear. Book titles such as “Are You Missing the Real-Estate Boom? The Boom Will Not Bust and Why Property Values Will Continue to Climb Through the End of the Decade — And How to Profit From Them” (2005) are destined for the annals of folly, next to asset-bubble classics such as “Dow 36,000”. Fear has replaced frenzy, and house prices may overshoot on the way down. A recent report by Numis Securities estimated that British house prices could fall by a further 40-55%, saddling millions with properties worth less than their mortgage debt. Long was the uphill march, long will be the downhill descent.

 

Home ownership

 

Shelter, or burden?

Apr 16th 2009

From The Economist print edition

 

The social benefits of home ownership look more modest than they did and the economic costs much higher

 

Illustration by Bill Butcher

IN A scene from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, a happy couple is about to enter their new home. Jimmy Stewart, whose firm has sold them the mortgage, reflects that there is “a fundamental urge…for a man to have his own roof, walls and fireplace.” He offers them bread, salt and wine so “joy and prosperity may reign for ever”.

 

That embodies the Anglo-Saxon world’s attitude to home ownership. Owning your own roof, walls and fireplace, it is thought, is good for householders because it helps them accumulate wealth. It is good for the economy because it encourages people to save. And it is good for society because homeowners invest more in their neighbourhoods, engage more in civic activities and encourage their children to do better at school than do renters. Home ownership, in short, benefits everyone—not just the homeowner—and the more there is of it, the better. Which is why it is usually encouraged by the government. In America, Ireland and Spain, homeowners can deduct mortgage-interest payments from taxable income.

 

Yet the worldwide crash was bound up in this supposed miracle of social policy. The disaster began with defaults on American subprime mortgages, a financial instrument designed to spread home ownership among the poor. It gathered pace after the failures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-sponsored enterprises that provide cheap home loans. As a result, the home-ownership rate in America has fallen for four years, the first time that has happened in a quarter of a century. In 2008, 2.3m families lost their homes or faced foreclosure—double the average before the crisis—reducing the home-ownership rate from 69% in 2004 to 67.5% at the end of 2008. The number of owner-occupied dwellings also slipped in Britain in 2007-08 for the first time since the 1950s.

 

 

Subsidised castles

So attempts to expand home ownership have contributed to the wider economic crisis without succeeding in their own terms. How does that affect the arguments for supporting home ownership? Should it still be deemed a public good?

 

No, say several economists and commentators. “Given the way US policy favours owning over renting,” writes Paul Krugman, 2008’s Nobel laureate in economics, “you can make a good case that America already has too many homeowners.” Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard University, talks about “the madness of encouraging Americans to bet everything on housing”.

 

So far, policymakers are unmoved. In mid-February Barack Obama proposed a $275 billion plan to support America’s housing market. Outside the Anglo-Saxon world Nicolas Sarkozy, who campaigned for the presidency to turn France into a property-owning democracy, has expanded zero-interest housing loans for the poor.

 

The main economic argument for home ownership is that, in the words of Thomas Shapiro of Brandeis University, “it is by far the single most important way families accumulate wealth”. This argument now looks as weak as house prices.

 

In Britain prices have fallen 21% since their peak in October 2007. Prices in America have fallen more slowly but further, down 30% since their peak in mid-2006 (see chart 1). This has reduced the total value of the country’s housing stock from over $22 trillion in 2007 to $19 trillion at the end of 2008. In the past few weeks, housing markets on both sides of the Atlantic have seen signs of life, but there is every chance that prices have further to fall before they finally reach their low.

 

The collapse in house prices matters most directly to two overlapping groups: those who bought property at the peak of the market and now face “negative equity”; and those (in America) who took out subprime mortgages. Roughly 10m Americans are in negative equity—ie, the cost of their mortgage exceeds the value of their home. In Britain about 3% of households are in negative equity. For homeowners, negative equity makes houses more like a trap than a piggy bank. Those who cannot meet their payments lose their house, their savings and (in America, usually) their credit rating for seven years.

 

The other area of concentrated distress is subprime mortgages, which increased their share of the American mortgage market from 7% in 2001 to over 20% in 2006. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the delinquency rate was 22% in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with only 5% for prime loans. Many people have concluded that, in Mr Krugman’s words, “home ownership isn’t for everyone.” However, a study by the Centre for Community Capital, part of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, casts some doubt on that conclusion. It compared a group of people who took out subprime loans with a group of borrowers from the Community Advantage Programme (CAP), a government-backed scheme that lends to the sort of people who might have had a subprime mortgage. The default rate for CAP borrowers was only a quarter what it was for subprime mortgage holders, even though the incomes and backgrounds of borrowers were similar. Since the real problem lay partly in the mortgages, rather than the borrowers, this suggests the subprime crisis was a financial-market mess, as well as a housing one.

 

Does that also imply that home ownership has the economic benefits that its proponents claim? Two pieces of evidence seem to support such a view. The first is that housing has fared better in the crisis than other assets. Share prices are around 50% below their peaks in many countries, so compared with shareowners, homeowners have not done badly. However, home ownership in a downturn has one big disadvantage: most people buy shares outright but homes on margin (ie, they put down a small stake, if anything). If share prices fall by 10%, you lose 10%; if house prices fall by 10%, you may lose your entire savings. The value of American homeowners’ equity in their own houses has slumped from a peak of $12.5 trillion in 2005 to just $8.5 trillion at the end of 2008. This undermines one claim that homeowning is economically beneficial.

 

The other piece of evidence for home ownership’s benefits is that the house-price fall has so far spared most existing homeowners from absolute losses. In America, for example, house prices have fallen back only to where they were in 2004. There were roughly 29m house sales in the United States between 2004 and 2007, compared with 115m households, and anyone who bought before then is probably sitting on a nominal profit. However, as Harvard University’s Martin Feldstein points out, if house prices rise, people feel richer and borrow and spend more. If they feel poorer, they may cut back even if the price of their house has not fallen below what they paid for it.

 

Subsidies to home ownership have thus increased economic volatility. They boosted consumption, as homeowners used their houses as collateral to finance consumption or investment. In America mortgage-equity withdrawals reached $9 trillion between 1997 and 2006—equal to more than 90% of disposable income in 2006. This gave homeowners more to spend in the good times but less in bad ones. In Britain home-equity withdrawals added the equivalent of 3% of post-tax income to households in the fourth quarter of 2007 but subtracted 3% a year later. So changes to house prices aggravate the economic cycle. Recent research by the IMF finds that a quarter of the 100-odd recessions since 1960 have been associated with house-price busts and that these contractions “are deeper and last longer than other recessions do”.

 

Subsidies to home ownership have also weakened financial services. They encouraged more people to buy houses (which was the point), but, logically enough, also encouraged lenders to take greater risks with housing. This was fine while house prices were rising, but the fall exposed how vulnerable banks’ balance sheets had become.

 

Moreover, if public policy aims to create wealth, there are other ways of doing it. People could invest their savings in the stockmarket and rent their homes, for example. Had they done so in the past two years, they would have done worse than homeowners. But for three decades before that, equity prices easily outstripped property prices (see chart 2), so in the long run equities have been a better bet than houses. (Admittedly, this strips out the effects of share dividends and imputed rents, which favour property.) Housing suffers from two further weaknesses as an investment. It sucks up disproportionately large amounts of money, falling foul of the idea that investors should diversify: in America the equity tied up in houses accounts for 45% of the net worth of the average householder. And it is illiquid. If you need to raise money, you cannot sell a room or two, whereas you can always sell a few shares. It is hard to argue houses are the best asset for building wealth.

 

Perhaps the most compelling argument for housing as a means of wealth accumulation”, argues Richard Green of the University of Southern California, “is that it gives households a default mechanism for savings.” Because people have to pay off a mortgage, they increase their home equity and save more than they otherwise would. This is indeed a strong argument: social-science research finds that people save more if they do so automatically rather than having to choose to set something aside every month.

 

Yet there are other ways to create “default savings”, such as companies offering automatic deductions to retirement plans. In any case, some of the financial snake oil peddled at the height of the housing bubble was bad for saving. Subprime, interest-only and other kinds of mortgage instruments allowed people to buy their homes without a down-payment and without building up equity. “Negative amortisation” (neg-am) mortgages even let people pay only part of their interest each month and to add the rest to the principal, increasing their debt, not their savings. Home-equity loans had the same effect.

 

Where the heart is

The main arguments for home ownership, though, are not primarily economic, but social. Home ownership, argue those who want to expand it, benefits society because it encourages stable, more law-abiding communities; it makes people more likely to vote in local elections and join clubs; and it benefits future generations because, it turns out, the children of homeowners do better at school and have fewer behavioural problems than children of renters.

 

On the face of it, the evidence for these claims is strong. In America homeowners are less likely to move than renters, so areas with a lot of homeowners are more stable. According to the 2007 American Housing Survey, homeowners stay where they are for about nine years whereas renters move every two.

 

More stable neighbourhoods are more law-abiding. According to a study of New York City, the home-ownership rate was second only to income as an explanation for different crime rates.

 

The link between ownership and political participation is stronger still. In America in the early 1990s, 69% of homeowners voted, compared with only 44% of renters. Homeowners are more likely to know who their representatives are; more likely to support local causes or parent-teacher associations and (this being America) more likely to go to church.

 

Perhaps the most surprising link is between ownership and children. One study in America found that, in 2000, the mathematics scores of the children of homeowners were 9% higher than those of renters’ children; reading levels were 7% higher. This had nothing to do with income: the research controlled for that. In another study homeowners’ children were 25% more likely to graduate from high school and more than twice as likely to go to university. Their teenage daughters were also less likely to become pregnant.

 

These studies, though, are not the last word. They find a link between children’s education and homeowning. But is this because, as some suggest, home ownership requires parents to possess managerial or financial skills that they pass on to their children? Or is it because the people with those skills help their children at school and also buy houses? No one knows.

 

Nor is it certain that owners always take better care of their neighbourhoods than renters do. Some studies claim that the effect in fact depends on a few public-spirited people willing to set an example. Renters can be public-spirited too. In America areas with lots of renters tend to be transient because the typical rental period is short. In Germany, though, people rent for years. Stable neighbourhoods and widespread home ownership can go together but do not need to. As Bill Rohe of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill puts it, “evidence regarding the societal benefits of home ownership is highly conjectural.”

 

Still, on balance, home ownership gives people a stake in the state of their surroundings. Thriving streets increase the value of properties, giving owners incentives to improve them further. Renters get no such benefit; they may even have to pay more if the neighbourhood improves.

 

Whether stability is such a good thing in a downturn, though, is a different matter. A decade ago Andrew Oswald of Warwick University argued that owning your own home makes you more reluctant to move, so labour markets tend to become more rigid as home ownership increases. He claimed that increases in the level of home ownership (though not necessarily the level itself) are associated with rises in unemployment. Ireland, Greece and Spain all saw large increases in home ownership in the 1980s and 1990s, and had relatively high unemployment. America and Switzerland had stable ownership rates, and escaped the long-term rise in joblessness.

 

His argument remains controversial. Critics point out that many things other than home ownership might prevent people from moving (children’s schools, friends and so on). Anyway, liquid housing markets should make it possible for people to move, if they want to. It is also possible that, even if people were trapped in distressed areas, jobs should move there to take advantage of the willingness of homeowners to accept lower wages.

 

All that said, Mr Oswald’s arguments seem especially powerful at the moment. The recession in America is bearing down most heavily on two groups of states: Florida, California and Nevada, which had the largest house-building booms in the 1990s; and Michigan, New Hampshire, Delaware, West Virginia and Mississippi, which have the highest home-ownership rates. People are not, in fact, moving as frequently as they used to: the share of those moving house in 2007-08—11.9% of the population—was the lowest since records began. So labour markets look less flexible than they were. Negative equity exacerbates immobility because people are reluctant to move if it means selling at a loss. Researchers at the Wharton School reckon that people in negative equity are only half as likely to move as those who are not. In all these ways, high home ownership may prolong and deepen a recession.

 

The problem remains of how to weigh the economic costs against the social benefits of home ownership. There can be no easy judgment about this but the recent rise and fall of house prices suggests both that the costs are greater and the benefits smaller than once thought.

 

If owning were such a boon, you would expect neighbourhoods with lots of owners to have done better than those with lots of renters during the boom years. That does not seem to have happened.

 

What has happened, though, is that above a certain level, foreclosures have done a lot of damage during the bad years. Recent studies of New York and Cleveland find that, if lenders foreclose on 3-4% of properties in an area, local prices fall even faster and further than average. Rows of For Sale signs almost certainly have the same effect in Britain. In other words, ownership can sometimes be worse for a neighbourhood than renting.

 

Illustration by Bill ButcherA shelter—for your money

Lastly, and perversely, the decade of obsession with expanding home ownership may actually have reduced neighbourhood stability. Nicolas Retsinas, the director of the Joint Centre for Housing Studies at Harvard University, suggests that, until the crash in 2008, Americans were coming to see their homes as financial investments rather than as places to live. That is true in other countries. Neg-am mortgages in America and buy-to-rent arrangements in Britain were based on the assumption that houses were primarily investments.

 

As a result, people seem to have started to buy and sell homes more frequently. Between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, the number of new houses sold almost doubled in America, from just over 600,000 to over 1.2m in 2006.

 

Perhaps that made labour markets more mobile, but it was certainly not what policymakers were aiming for when they set out to increase home ownership. Their efforts in the past few years seem to have weakened, though not destroyed, the best arguments for treating home ownership as something to be encouraged: that it increases people’s savings and creates better neighbourhoods for everyone. But perhaps you should not be surprised by that. As Adam Smith wrote in “The Wealth of Nations” two centuries ago, “a dwelling-house, as such, contributes nothing to the revenue of its inhabitants.”

 

 

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