Posted by Steve Sailer on June 22, 2008
Uncovering the roots of the disastrous home mortgage bubble that popped last year will keep economic historians busy for decades. Yet, one factor has so far been largely overlooked: the bipartisan social engineering crusade to drive up the rate of homeownership by handing out more mortgages to minorities.
More than a negligible amount of the blame for the mortgage meltdown can be traced back to multiculturalism: government-mandated affirmative-action lending, demographic change, illegal immigration, and the mind-numbing effects of political correctness.
The chickens have finally come home to roost.
About half of all mortgages for blacks and Hispanics are subprime, versus roughly one-sixth for whites. Not surprisingly, the biggest home price collapses have occurred in heavily Hispanic cities such as Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.
The mortgage bubble was essentially a bet on the purportedly increased creditworthiness of the bottom half of the American population. After three decades of the home ownership rate stalled at around 64 percent, a series of federal initiatives to increase minority and low-income ownership helped push the rate up to just below 70 percent.
As this graph from a 2006 article by three economists with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows, the great bubble of the last dozen or so years was driven by bets on marginal households well below the median.
Economist William T. Gavin, a vice president at the St. Louis Fed wrote in 2006:"One of the stated goals of current and past administrations since the Great Depression has been to increase home ownership. After remaining relatively stable around 64 percent, the rate of home ownership has risen to 69 percent in the past decade. This uptrend has been driven by a sharp rise in the rate of home ownership among young, minority and low-income households."
In contrast, at least the previous bubble, the Internet stock boom of the 1990s, had a bit of prima facie credibility. It was a largely a wager on a three-phase business plan:
1. The smart fraction of American society would invent amazing new online services.
As it turned out, bright young people really did start up lots of websites that did things that almost nobody in 1994 had imagined. The problem turned out to be getting from Phase 1 to Phase 3. So many of them became competent at website creation that few (with the huge exception of Google) ended up with the kind of lucrative quasi-monopoly of which investors dreamt.
The housing bubble, on the other hand, never made much sense. The lower half of American society, where the new homeowners had to come from, isn’t getting better educated, is not settling down to more stable family structures, and is not developing a more rigorous code of honor about paying debts.
Nor was the government doing much of anything to help the bottom half earn more in order to afford home ownership. Indeed, by not enforcing the laws against illegal immigration, the Clinton and Bush Administrations were flooding the country with unskilled workers who competed down the wages of blue-collar Americans.
The home construction industry lured in Mexicans to build new exurban houses for Americans trying to get their children away from public schools overrun by the children of illegal immigrants—in effect, a Ponzi scheme that had to break down eventually.
It turned out, not surprisingly, that contrary to the assurances of the Great and the Good of both parties, many of these marginal homebuyers should have continued to rent.
Pushing black and Hispanics into buying was risky for all concerned. Economist Edward N. Wolff calculated that in 2004 the median net worth of black households was only $11,800, exactly one order of magnitude less than the median net worth of whites. (Hispanics were similar to blacks.)
Yet, pointing out that expanding credit to minorities was likely to lead to a debacle is not the kind of thing a prudent corporate manger would put in an email--too great a chance it would be discovered in a discrimination lawsuit.
For four decades, political leaders have viewed subsidizing minority home buying as insuring social peace. The Wall Street Journal reported on white flight from a Chicago neighborhood on March 2, 1977:The whites in Marquette Park are particularly embittered over the Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance program, which they claim is causing neighborhood deterioration by subsidizing home purchases by blacks too poor to maintain them. Long conservatively run and an engine of the post-World War II suburban housing boom, the FHA program was liberalized shortly after the 1968 urban riots to encourage lower-income black home ownership (‘if they own it they won’t burn it’ was the maxim of the time).