“We have to consider the possibility…”

From the NY Times:

A Time for Bold Thinking on Housing

WE have to consider the possibility that the housing price downturn will eventually be as big as that of the last truly big decline, from 1925 to 1933, when prices fell by a total of 30 percent.

As of this August, domestic home prices were already down 5 percent from their peak 14 months earlier, according to the S.& P./Case-Shiller Composite Home Price Index, and prices were falling at a faster rate in the months leading up to August. (Updated data will appear on Tuesday.)

This crisis should be an occasion for some inspired thinking about fundamental changes in our real estate institutions. The actions that have already been taken are not impressive. The housing market is worsening, and more and more home owners are getting into trouble with their mortgages.

The public response to the housing downturn of 1925-33 provides an important lesson in what government and private institutions can accomplish. Back then, people weren’t content with temporary palliatives. They were thinking big, and revolutionary changes were made in real estate institutions. Without those fundamental changes, the Great Depression would have been much worse than it was, and we would be in a more vulnerable situation today.

The radical financial innovations of the 1930s were possible because the real estate crisis and other economic problems of the Depression created a sense of urgency. Innovation, after all, tends to come in troubled times.

We should take full advantage of the innovation opportunities stimulated by our current troubles. We would emerge much stronger and better for it.

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