Two Things on Peter Baker’s Article on Obama’s Economic Team: Housing, Demand.

Peter Baker has a large 6,500 word piece in the upcoming Sunday New York Times Magazine, The White House Looks For Work, about the Obama economics team and the quest to get jobs created.

I went to see Geithner one evening in late December in his high-ceilinged office at the end of the third floor in the Treasury Building…All the second-guessing, he said, missed the point. “Everybody now has these cool ideas — why didn’t we do it in this way, why didn’t we do it bigger, why didn’t we have a different mix,” he said, thinking about the stimulus. “All of that is marginal.” What was important, he said, were speed and force. As for nationalizing or liquidating the banks, he said, “They both would have been catastrophic.”

1. Marcy Wheeler points out that the words “foreclosure”, “housing” or “HAMP” don’t come up in the piece at all.  How telling is that?  We just had a housing bubble collapse, and the signature post-collapse stories are the fraudulent ways the securities were made in the first place, the obvious flaws in the servicing models blowing-up, and the record numbers of foreclosures across the entirety of Obama’s first term in office.

There’s the obvious problems of spillovers, cascading housing price depreciation, lack of mobility, abandoned properties and the effects on neighborhoods, etc. There’s also the greater issue that households are in a balance sheet recession, where they are saddled with worthless housing debt that will keep the housing market depressed. As foreclosure spin out of control, housing values plummet further, putting households further underwater, decreasing consumer spending, etc.

Atif Mian and Amir Sufi have recently written an economic letter for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Consumers and the Economy, Part II: Household Debt and the Weak U.S. Recovery:, where they find:

Overall, the county evidence strongly suggests that credit demand is weak because of an overleveraged household sector. This view is supported by survey evidence that the main worry of businesses is sales, not financing. The October 2010 National Federation of Independent Business survey (Dunkelberg and Wade 2010) shows that almost no small businesses viewed credit availability as their primary problem. In fact, the NFIB has reported that weak sales were the top problem facing small businesses throughout the recession. Weak consumer demand also helps explain the enormous cash balances currently held by U.S. corporations (see Lahart 2010). These results have important policy implications. If the main problems facing businesses relate to depressed consumer demand due to a household sector weighed down by debt, investment tax subsidies and lower interest rates may have a limited effect on business investment and employment growth.

The evidence is more consistent with the view that problems related to household balance sheets and house prices are the primary culprits of the weak economic recovery.

2. I’m going to write more about this later, but it’s amazing how locked in the “supply-side” logic is with our opinion leaders, even when dealing with our current recession. The article spends a lot of time with the Chamber of Commerce and Obama dealing with business leaders, with the idea that Obama needs to get business confidence back. It doesn’t mention that the number one self-reported problem facing small businesses, by a mile, is poor sales.  The article is really stuck on the idea that the problem must be the deficit, or the “populist” tone Obama has taken with Wall Street, or the financial reform bill, not depressed consumer spending.

Embedded in that assumption is that the only thing that would hold back a full employment economy is government action; deregulate enough, and supply will create its own demand. It’s too bad that doesn’t describe our situation.

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6 Responses to Two Things on Peter Baker’s Article on Obama’s Economic Team: Housing, Demand.

  1. gingerguy says:

    How can one square the fact that even in the face of one of the most expensive lobbying efforts in history, the Obama administration still can’t find a populist narrative?

  2. Mike:
    What will it take for the WH to listen to you or Dr. Krugman?

  3. Dan Kervick says:

    it’s amazing how locked in the “supply-side” logic is with our opinion leaders, even when dealing with our current recession.

    If one publicly recognizes an obvious elephant-sized problem, then one no longer has an excuse for not taking the obvious solutions to that problem. The obvious solutions in this case are programs of debt-restructuring and forgiveness; and programs designed to redistribute wealth from places where it exists in abundance to places where it is desperately needed. Since these are measures institutional Washington is incapable of so much as considering, much less taking, it goes better for them personally to pretend the elephant isn’t there.

    The supply side logic is not just a case of inadequate ideas taking hold of the stubborn but well-meaning expert mind. It’s rather an ideological defense mechanism that helps its possessors avoid an embarrassing and uncomfortable confrontation with the iron rule of the sanctity of private property, an institutional and ideological fixation that is paralyzing the capacity for effective policy.

    The chief aim of most of the governing classes in Europe and the United States right now is to protect the assets of creditors from the clamoring of debtors, even if that protection requires sustaining high levels of unemployment and driving down the wages and salaries and standard of living of most of their citizens. I guess we’re all Tories now.

  4. rootless_e says:

    Timing is perfect
    ————
    U.S. manufacturing, viewed as a lost cause by many Americans, has begun creating more jobs than it eliminates for the first time in more than a decade.

    As the economy recovered and big companies began upgrading old factories or building new ones, the number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. last year grew 1.2%, or 136,000, the first increase since 1997, government data show. That total will grow again this year, according to economists at IHS Global Insight and Moody’s Analytics…
    ———–

    the idea that reinflating the housing bubble is a feasible alternative strikes me as weird.

  5. Pingback: Growth in the Naughties - NYTimes.com

  6. Pingback: O crescimento na década de 2000 « Paul Krugman

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