It's Not the Credit Crisis, Damn It!

Why do reporters keep telling us that the economy's problem is a credit crisis? Yes, consumers and businesses can't get credit as easily as they could a year ago. There is a really good reason for tighter credit.

Tens of millions of homeowners who had substantial equity in their homes two years ago have little or nothing today. Businesses are facing the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

This matters for credit decisions. A homeowner with equity in her home is very unlikely to default on a car loan or credit card debt. They will draw on this equity rather than lose their car and/or have a default placed on their credit record. On the other hand, a homeowner who has no equity is a serious default risk.

In the case of businesses, their creditworthiness depends on their future profits. Profit prospects look much worse in November 2008 than they did in November 2007 (of course, to clear-eyed analysts, they didn't look too good a year ago either).

While many banks are obviously at the brink, consumers and businesses would be facing a much harder time getting credit right now even if the financial system were rock solid. The problem with the economy is the loss of close to $6 trillion in housing wealth and an even larger amount of stock wealth.

Economists, economic policy makers and economic reporters virtually all missed the housing bubble on the way up. If they still can't notice its impact as the collapse of the bubble throws into the worst recession in the post-war era, then they are in the wrong profession.

--Dean Baker

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