Audit D.C. Notes: National Journal Uncovers Who Makes What on K Street; WaPo on What We Think About Homeownership, NYT on What to Expect, Etc.

What do they make? It’s what everyone wants to know, especially when it comes to the small world of K Street. National Journal delivers this week with the “Envy List,” its 10th biennial salary survey of the top dogs in Washington’s biggest trade associations, professional societies, think tanks, and interests groups.

Among the top earners in our review are John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, who received a total compensation package of $5.57 million in 2008; Billy Tauzin, the departing CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, who made $4.48 million; and Scott Serota, CEO of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, who took home $3.99 million. The highest compensation went to Marc Lackritz, the now-retired head of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. He received an exit pay package that boosted his total compensation to $6.76 million in 2008.

The eye-popping info goes on and on, including serious salary data for former big cheeses and some juicy nuggets on how Wall Street’s Washington gang fared. NJ requires an expensive subscription**, but you can be sure this issue is being passed all over town. In case you can’t wait: Steve Bartlett, president and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, made $1.63 million in 2008; Timothy Ryan, CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, $2.02 million; and Edward Yingling, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, $2.29 million.

There’s also a useful look at the inside-the-Beltway logic that holds that this is all as it should be:

So, why such fat paychecks? Mainly because Washington is now playing a key role in the economy. “If you look at the size and the scope of some of the public policies being talked about in Washington, they can have a huge impact on an entire industry, and corporate CEOs have come to understand it really matters who is in charge of your trade association,” Doug Pinkham ($355,352), president of the Public Affairs Council, said. Corporate executives want their trade association leaders to help their industry navigate legislative and regulatory processes, and to secure a seat at the negotiating tables where key decisions are made.

Well done, National Journal, for crunching the numbers.

**UPDATE: While National Journal magazine stories are usually behind a firewall, the main story about the salary survey is available free.

—Public attitudes about homeownership have changed since the foreclosure crisis, and a new survey from Fannie Mae tries to sort out exactly how. But in its preview of the survey, The Washington Post takes a lot in stride.

Among the major shifts the survey found is that the public is less likely to view a home as a safe investment. In 2003, 83 percent of those interviewed in a similar study by Fannie Mae said real estate was a safe investment, compared with about 70 percent in the most recent survey.

“That is one of the big changes we have seen in attitudes. We need to figure out whether this is a sustainable shift,” said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s vice president and chief economist.

Isn’t it at least a little surprising that 70 percent still think a home is a safe investment? And what does Duncan mean when he wonders if this is a “sustainable shift?”

Not surprisingly, Felix Salmon looks at the same survey sees a lot of cause for alarm.

It confirms what I’ve been hearing anecdotally: that people still believe in housing as an investment, and that the enormous nationwide housing crash has done much less to alter Americans’ attitude towards homeownership than we might have hoped.

Salmon dives right into the details, starting with the large majority of the public that thinks a high rate of homeownership is important to the economy.

This is horribly misguided, and it’s particularly depressing that even 77% of renters share in the mass delusion. Homeownership is, if anything, a drag on the economy, since it funnels resources into unproductive overconsumption, and helps to impede labor mobility. There is absolutely no reason to believe that countries with high levels of homeownership, like the U.S., have better economies than those with low levels of homeownership, like Germany.

The survey just gets more depressing from there. Americans think now is a good time to buy a house, largely because they think it’s always a good time to buy a house. And they reckon — even now — that house prices are going up, or will at least stay stable.

The Post doesn’t need to pull a full Felix. But a bit more skepticism is in order.

—The Economix blog at The New York Times adds to the housing debate, with a clear, useful lesson in the new normal when it comes to house prices. It might not be what every homeowner wants to hear, or what that Fannie Mae survey says people think.

It has been 10 months since prices stopped their free fall, and there is a lot to like in price stability — not only relative to prices crashes but also relative to price booms. For years, many American homeowners persuaded themselves that real housing prices should rise year in and year out, but there is no reason to either expect or hope for perpetual price gains.

The post, by Harvard economics professor Edward L. Glaeser, explains why, even though houses are assets, they doesn’t mean that, on average, they should appreciate, like stocks do. “Houses pay hefty dividends to their owners in the form of living space — that’s the real return on housing investment — and the basic economics of housing doesn’t point to perpetual price growth.”

There are metro areas where prices have steadily risen over time, and the post helpfully explains why. But the message for the rest of the country is clear: Don’t count on it.

The housing bubble may by now be old news. But it’s good for readers to get a clear analysis of what to expect next.

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Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at