Like most Robert Samuelson columns, I like significant portions and despise the rest. Usually I like his analysis and despise his proposals. The former rests on economics. The latter rests on government. Yesterday’s column is no different. His conclusion, which is the sanity:
All this is telling. The administration and Congress, though pledging to restore economic growth, care more about protecting foreclosure victims and promoting homeownership among the young and poor. Politics trumps economics.
That is spot-on. But his proposal is that the Obama administration and Congress are trying wrong sort of political interference in the economy. He suggests this:
The simplest way is to bribe prospective buyers not to wait. For example: Give them a 10 percent tax credit, up to $15,000, on the purchase of a new home. Anyone who bought a $150,000 home would get a $15,000 tax break. The credit would expire in a year. Waiting would be costly. Buyers would delay only if they thought home prices would drop as much or more.
The $15,000 tax break is problematic on its own. But the 1 year expiration date shows the true problem. This proposal is an attempt to manipulate the market into preferred behavior now, believing that the possible short-term boost will not result in a long-term letdown. But purchasing a home is not a spur-of-the-moment decision. Treating it that way politically and financially is a large reason we’re in our current mess. There are consequences of this behavior. For example, if artificially rising home prices encourages more people to attempt to sell their homes, are we better off?
Somehow, we need to cut bloated inventories (13 months of supply for unsold new homes), curb falling prices and stimulate new construction. …
In the short term, I doubt we can manipulate two of those at the same time. But cutting bloated inventories and stimulating new construction are mutually exclusive as concurrent political strategies. I vote against trying to cheat on either, but considering them demonstrates only a desire to promote home ownership over renting. Home ownership is not the valid choice for everyone, so this still places politics over economics.