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.
Carlos Garriga and Aaron Hedlund
William Quinn and John Turner
Financial bubbles constitute some of history’s most significant economic events, but academic research into the phenomenon has often been narrow, with an excessive focus on whether bubble episodes invalidate or confirm the efficient markets hypothesis. The literature on the topic has also been somewhat siloed, with theoretical, experimental, qualitative, and quantitative methods used to develop relatively discrete bodies of research. In order to overcome these deficiencies, future research needs to move beyond the rational/irrational dichotomy and holistically examine the causes and consequences of bubbles. Future research in financial bubbles should thus use a wider range of investigative tools to answer key questions or attempt to synthesize the findings of multiple research programs. There are three areas in particular that future research should focus on: the role of information in a bubble, the aftermath of bubbles, and possible regulatory responses. While bubbles are sometimes seen as an inevitable part of capitalism, there have been long historical eras in which they were extremely rare, and these eras are likely to contain lessons for alleviating the negative effects of bubbles in the 21st century. Finally, the literature on bubbles has tended to neglect certain regions, and future research should hunt for undiscovered episodes outside of Europe and North America.
The historical evolution of the role of central banks has been shaped by two major characteristics of these institutions: they are banks and they are linked—in various legal, administrative, and political ways—to the state. The history of central banking is thus an analysis of how central banks have ensured or failed to ensure the stability of the value of money and the credit system while maintaining supportive or conflicting relationships with governments and private banks. Opening the black box of central banks is necessary to understanding the political economy issues that emerge from the implementation of monetary and credit policy and why, in addition to macroeconomic effects, these policies have major consequences on the structure of financial systems and the financing of public debt. It is also important to read the history of the evolution of central banks since the end of the 19th century as a game of countries wanting to adopt a dominant institutional model. Each historical period was characterized by a dominant model that other countries imitated - or pretended to imitate while retaining substantial national characteristics - with a view to greater international political and financial integration. Recent academic research has explored several issues that underline the importance of central banks to the development of the state, the financial system and on macroeconomic fluctuations: (a) the origin of central banks; (b) their role as a lender of last resort and banking supervisor; (c) the justifications and consequences of domestic macroeconomic policy objectives - inflation, output, etc. -of central banks (monetary policy); (d) the special loans of central banks and their role in the allocation of credit (credit policy); (e) the legal and political links between the central bank and the government (independence); (f) the role of central banks concerning exchange rates and the international monetary system; (g) production of economic research and statistics.
Jeanet Sinding Bentzen
Economics of religion is the application of economic methods to the study of causes and consequences of religion. Ever since Max Weber set forth his theory of the Protestant ethic, social scientists have compared socioeconomic differences across Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, and Christians, and more recently across different intensities of religiosity. Religiosity refers to an individual’s degree of religious attendance and strength of beliefs. Religiosity rises with a growing demand for religion resulting from adversity and insecurity or a surging supply of religion stemming from increasing numbers of religious organizations, for instance. Religiosity has fallen in some Western countries since the mid-20th century, but has strengthened in several other societies around the world. Religion is a multidimensional concept, and religiosity has multiple impacts on socioeconomic outcomes, depending on the dimension observed. Religion covers public religious activities such as church attendance, which involves exposure to religious doctrines and to fellow believers, potentially strengthening social capital and trust among believers. Religious doctrines teach belief in supernatural beings, but also social views on hard work, refraining from deviant activities, and adherence to traditional norms. These norms and social views are sometimes orthogonal to the general tendency of modernization, and religion may contribute to the rising polarization on social issues regarding abortion, LGBT rights, women, and immigration. These norms and social views are again potentially in conflict with science and innovation, incentivizing some religious authorities to curb scientific progress. Further, religion encompasses private religious activities such as prayer and the particular religious beliefs, which may provide comfort and buffering against stressful events. At the same time, rulers may exploit the existence of belief in higher powers for political purposes. Empirical research supports these predictions. Consequences of higher religiosity include more emphasis on traditional values such as traditional gender norms and attitudes against homosexuality, lower rates of technical education, restrictions on science and democracy, rising polarization and conflict, and lower average incomes. Positive consequences of religiosity include improved health and depression rates, crime reduction, increased happiness, higher prosociality among believers, and consumption and well-being levels that are less sensitive to shocks.