Two of Donald Trump’s economic advisers, Lawrence Kudlow and Stephen Moore, have revived an idea about the source of the financial crisis that really should have been put to rest long ago.
In a column published and rebroadcast by many politically sympathetic sites, they lay the blame for the credit crisis and Great Recession on the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law designed in part to prevent banks from engaging in a racially discriminatory lending practice known as redlining. The reality is, of course, that the CRA wasn’t a factor in the crisis.
What’s so wonderful about their article, which is an attempted take down of the Clintons, is that they miss the very obvious ways Bill Clinton’s administration did contribute to the financial crisis. But doing that would have been at odds with their anti-regulatory philosophy.
Here’s the heart of the Kudlow and Moore case:
The seeds of the mortgage meltdown were planted during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Under Clinton’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary, Andrew Cuomo, Community Reinvestment Act regulators gave banks higher ratings for home loans made in “credit-deprived” areas. Banks were effectively rewarded for throwing out sound underwriting standards and writing loans to those who were at high risk of defaulting. If banks didn’t comply with these rules, regulators reined in their ability to expand lending and deposits.
They then argue that this was part of a broader campaign to make loans to unqualified low-income folk, which in turn caused the crisis.
Let’s just be clear about what the CRA does and doesn’t do. It simply says that if you open a branch office in a low income neighborhood and collect deposits there, you are obligated to do a certain amount of lending in that neighborhood. In other words, you can’t open a branch office in Harlem and use deposits from there to only fund loans in high-end Tribeca. A bank must make credit available on the same terms in both neighborhoods. In other words, a “red line” can’t be drawn around Harlem, a term that dates to when banks supposedly used colored pencils to draw no-loan zones on maps.
Showing that the CRA wasn’t the cause of the financial crisis is rather easy. As Warren Buffett pal Charlie Munger says, “Invert, always invert.” In this case, let’s assume Moore and Kudlow are correct, and the CRA did require banks to lend to unqualified, low-income buyers. What would that world have looked like?
Here’s what we should have seen:
• Home sales and prices in urban, minority communities would have led the national home market higher, with gains in percentage terms surpassing national figures;