Felix Salmon takes John Carney of Clusterstock to task for latching on to the right-wing effort to blame the housing bubble and financial crisis (or at least a good part of it) on the Community Reinvestment Act, a law passed in the year of my birth thirty-two years ago.
I thought we had dispensed with this discredited argument, but Carney brings it up, so here’s his smackdown.
The fact is that the CRA did not encourage banks to extend the kind of toxic loans which ended up being such an important component of the financial crisis. Indeed, most of those loans weren’t made by banks at all — they were made by unregulated subprime lenders who had no CRA responsibilities whatsoever.
Salmon does a good enough job of demolishing Carney’s argument, but let’s see how deep we can bury it.
Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture goes off on Carney here with a “CRA Thought Experiment”:
In reality, the precise opposite of what a CRA-induced collapse should have looked like is what occurred. The 345 mortgage brokers that imploded were non-banks, not covered by the CRA legislation. The vast majority of CRA covered banks are actually healthy.
The biggest foreclosure areas aren’t Harlem or Chicago’s South side or DC slums or inner city Philly; Rather, it has been non-CRA regions — the Sand States — such as southern California, Las Vegas, Arizona, and South Florida. The closest thing to an inner city foreclosure story is Detroit – and maybe the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler actually had something to do with that.
Ritholtz, fairly, asks for one bit of evidence that CRA is responsible in any significant way for the bubble and resulting crisis.
Daniel Gross took a whack at the CRA speciousness back in October over at Slate.
The Community Reinvestment Act applies to depository banks. But many of the institutions that spurred the massive growth of the subprime market weren’t regulated banks. They were outfits such as Argent and American Home Mortgage, which were generally not regulated by the Federal Reserve or other entities that monitored compliance with CRA. These institutions worked hand in glove with Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, entities to which the CRA likewise didn’t apply. There’s much more. As Barry Ritholtz notes in this fine rant, the CRA didn’t force mortgage companies to offer loans for no money down, or to throw underwriting standards out the window, or to encourage mortgage brokers to aggressively seek out new markets. Nor did the CRA force the credit-rating agencies to slap high-grade ratings on packages of subprime debt.
And it must be said:
These arguments are generally made by people who read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and ignore the rest of the paper—economic know-nothings whose opinions are informed mostly by ideology and, occasionally, by prejudice.
Here’s Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth A. Duke talking to the American Bankers Association in February, noting that a tiny minority of loans were under the CRA:
I would like to dispel the notion that these problems were caused in any way by Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) lending. The CRA is designed to promote lending in low- to moderate-income areas; it is not designed to encourage high-risk lending or poor underwriting. Our analysis of the data finds no evidence, in fact, that CRA lending is in any way responsible for the current crisis…. In fact, the analysis found that only 6 percent of all higher-priced loans were made by CRA-covered lenders to borrowers and neighborhoods targeted by the CRA. This very small share makes it hard to imagine how CRA could have caused, or even contributed in a meaningful way, to the current crisis. Further support for this conclusion comes from our finding that serious delinquency rates for subprime loans are high in all neighborhood-income categories, not only those in lower-income areas, as might be thought if the CRA were a contributing force to the subprime crisis.