From the Economist:
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.
(Hat tip to xmonger for the link)