14 June 2014

The Biggest Policy Mistake of the Great Recession

By David Dayen, The Fiscal Times
June 6, 2014

The popular conception of the Great Recession explains that it stemmed from a financial shock. Housing prices stopped going up, and then Lehman Brothers fell, triggering paralysis in the credit markets. This spilled onto Main Street, and the effects still linger in terms of elevated unemployment and sluggish economic growth.

But this history of the recession can’t be right, say two economics professors who have studied the data. In their new book House of Debt, Amir Sufi of the University of Chicago and Atif Mian of Princeton point out that consumer purchases dropped sharply well before the September 2008 Lehman bankruptcy, and most deeply in places where home prices fell the most. They found that steeper declines in net worth — many homeowners were completely wiped out by falling home prices — led to far sharper reductions in consumer spending, and bigger job losses. But even those with no debt suffer when fire-sale foreclosures drop home prices, and lower overall demand spreads out across the country.


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