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The global financial crisis of 2007–2009 helped usher in a stronger consensus about the central role that housing plays in shaping economic activity, particularly during large boom and bust episodes. The latest research regards the causes, consequences, and policy implications of housing crises with a broad focus that includes empirical and structural analysis, insights from the 2000s experience in the United States, and perspectives from around the globe. Even with the significant degree of heterogeneity in legal environments, institutions, and economic fundamentals over time and across countries, several common themes emerge. Research indicates that fundamentals such as productivity, income, and demographics play an important role in generating sustained movements in house prices. While these forces can also contribute to boom-bust episodes, periods of large house price swings often reflect an evolving housing premium caused by financial innovation and shifts in expectations, which are in turn amplified by changes to the liquidity of homes. Regarding credit, the latest evidence indicates that expansions in lending to marginal borrowers via the subprime market may not be entirely to blame for the run-up in mortgage debt and prices that preceded the 2007–2009 financial crisis. Instead, the expansion in credit manifested by lower mortgage rates was broad-based and caused borrowers across a wide range of incomes and credit scores to dramatically increase their mortgage debt. To whatever extent changing beliefs about future housing appreciation may have contributed to higher realized house price growth in the 2000s, it appears that neither borrowers nor lenders anticipated the subsequent collapse in house prices. However, expectations about future credit conditions—including the prospect of rising interest rates—may have contributed to the downturn. For macroeconomists and those otherwise interested in the broader economic implications of the housing market, a growing body of evidence combining micro data and structural modeling finds that large swings in house prices can produce large disruptions to consumption, the labor market, and output. Central to this transmission is the composition of household balance sheets—not just the amount of net worth, but also how that net worth is allocated between short term liquid assets, illiquid housing wealth, and long-term defaultable mortgage debt. By shaping the incentive to default, foreclosure laws have a profound ex-ante effect on the supply of credit as well as on the ex-post economic response to large shocks that affect households’ degree of financial distress. On the policy front, research finds mixed results for some of the crisis-related interventions implemented in the U.S. while providing guidance for future measures should another housing bust of similar or greater magnitude reoccur. Lessons are also provided for the development of macroprudential policy aimed at preventing such a future crisis without unduly constraining economic performance in good times.


Esteban Rossi-Hansberg

The geography of economic activity refers to the distribution of population, production, and consumption of goods and services in geographic space. The geography of growth and development refers to the local growth and decline of economic activity and the overall distribution of these local changes within and across countries. The pattern of growth in space can vary substantially across regions, countries, and industries. Ultimately, these patterns can help explain the role that spatial frictions (like transport and migration costs) can play in the overall development of the world economy. The interaction of agglomeration and congestion forces determines the density of economic activity in particular locations. Agglomeration forces refer to forces that bring together agents and firms by conveying benefits from locating close to each other, or for locating in a particular area. Examples include local technology and institutions, natural resources and local amenities, infrastructure, as well as knowledge spillovers. Congestion forces refer to the disadvantages of locating close to each other. They include traffic, high land prices, as well as crime and other urban dis-amenities. The balance of these forces is mediated by the ability of individuals, firms, good and services, as well as ideas and technology, to move across space: namely, migration, relocation, transport, commuting and communication costs. These spatial frictions together with the varying strength of congestion and agglomeration forces determines the distribution of economic activity. Changes in these forces and frictions—some purposefully made by agents given the economic environment they face and some exogenous—determine the geography of growth and development. The main evolution of the forces that influence the geography of growth and development have been changes in transport technology, the diffusion of general-purpose technologies, and the structural transformation of economies from agriculture, to manufacturing, to service-oriented economies. There are many challenges in modeling and quantifying these forces and their effects. Nevertheless, doing so is essential to evaluate the impact of a variety of phenomena, from climate change to the effects of globalization and advances in information technology.


Charles Ka Yui Leung and Cho Yiu Joe Ng

This article summarizes research on the macroeconomic aspects of the housing market. In terms of the macroeconomic stylized facts, this article demonstrates that with respect to business cycle frequency, there was a general decrease in the association between macroeconomic variables (MV), such as the real GDP and inflation rate, and housing market variables (HMV), such as the housing price and the vacancy rate, following the global financial crisis (GFC). However, there are macro-finance variables, such as different interest rate spreads, that exhibited a strong association with the HMV following the GFC. For the medium-term business cycle frequency, some but not all patterns prevail. These “new stylized facts” suggest that a reconsideration and refinement of existing “macro-housing” theories would be appropriate. This article also provides a review of the corresponding academic literature, which may enhance our understanding of the evolving macro-housing–finance linkage.