Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

In the ongoing mythology vs. reality wars…

Posted by Charles II on December 12, 2012

An entry by several NBER members and Sumit Agarwal on the mythology side, countered by Barry Ritholtz on the reality side:

There are two major, critical questions that show up in the literature surrounding the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

The first question is how much compliance with the CRA changes the portfolio of lending institutions. Do they lend more often and to riskier people, or do they lend the same but put more effort into finding candidates? The second question is how much did the CRA lead to the expansion of subprime lending during the housing bubble. Did the CRA have a significant role in the financial crisis?

There’s a new paper on the CRA, Did the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Lead to Risky Lending?, by Agarwal, Benmelech, Bergman and Seru, h/t Tyler Cowen, with smart commentary already from Noah Smith. (This blog post will use the ungated October 2012 paper for quotes and analysis.) This is already being used as the basis for an “I told you so!” by the conservative press, which has tried to argue that the second question is most relevant. However, it is important to understand that this paper answers the first question, while, if anything, providing evidence against the conservative case for the second.

There is a simple step that anyone attempting to make a logical argument about causation should essay before going to an econometric model: does the causal link make any f–king sense? The extinction of the dinosaurs might have caused the Renaissance, but I don’t f–king think so.

I have long been skeptical about the NBER and the involvement of political agendas in its actions. Maybe it’s just that economics has become a more conservative profession in my lifetime, but this paper just adds to my disquiet about NBER in particular.

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2 Responses to “In the ongoing mythology vs. reality wars…”

  1. Lending to poor people didn’t cause the housing bubble. The desperate search of America’s declining middle class to replace their lost wages — falling steadily, ever since the mid-1970s, with a brief respite during the Clinton years — was a cause, but the assault of the rich on the New Deal and on workers in general is at the root of it all.

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