Prices as virtuous

Yves Smith, excerpted from her post Boston Fed’s New Excuse for Missing the Housing Bubble: NoneOfUscouddanode. This part caught my eye in addition to the critique:

The problem is that mainstream economics sees prices as a virtuous. Everything can be solved by price. If there is some unbalance in the economy, it merely means prices need to rise or fall, the impediment must be stickiness or some other inefficiency that is preventing the magic price setting mechanism to do its magic work. Mainstream economists also believe that price mechanisms lead to optimal outcomes from a social welfare standpoint. There is a reason that this line of thinking. aka neoclassical economics, became dominant (and Keynsianism is merely a branch; Keynes himself believed economies were fundamentally unstable, while the neoclassical types believe that markets are always and every self correcting). It’s very favorable to the business community. (Note this is a simplification; ECONNED provides a long form treatment of this topic).

Second, some very unfashionable schools of economics, namely the Austrians and the Marxists, both recognized the imbalances in the economy prior to the bust. It wasn’t just housing; the negative personal savings rate and the widening trade deficit with China were red flags.

Third is the through-the-looking glass logic: “Well, it took those (supposed) few who saw the bubble a long time to be proven right!”

Yves here. Now there are other measures that regulators can use to attack bubbles, since the ones that are most damaging involve borrowed funds. They can take measures to restrict the gearing used in the markets that are superheating. But Macfarlane’s comment about the resistance to intervening rings true. Just imagine the howling you would have heard from homebuilders, realtors, bankers, home decorators, land speculators, you name it, had the authorities been able to severely restrict no-doc loans and had required a minimum downpayment, say, of 10% for non FHA loans. It isn’t yet clear we have the political will to take on the people who win short term from borrowing binges.

WSJ article is here