Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernacke called for stronger regulation to avoid future asset bubbles, such as the housing bubble that precipitated the international financial crisis (the Great Recession) in an Atlanta speech.
The Chairman appears to miss the fact that regulation itself was a principal cause of the Great Recession. The culprit, however, was not financial regulation, but rather land use regulation, which drove house prices so high in highly regulated markets. When households that could not afford their mortgages defaulted, the losses were far too intense for the mortgage industry to sustain, and thus the Great Recession.
This is not to ignore the role of Congress and others, which fueled more liberal mortgage credit, and created the excess and credit-unworthy
additional demand for home ownership.
This higher demand, however, was only a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for creating the bubble, which when burst, precipitated the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In many markets, there was relatively little increase in house prices relative to incomes, as prices remained at or below the historic Median Multiple (median house price divided by median household income) standard of 3.0. In other markets, however, prices reached from 5 to 11 times incomes.
Already, a new bubble may be on the way to developing. Even after the huge losses, house prices in California were only beginning to return to sustainable historic levels (3.0 Median Multiple). Since bottoming out, however, prices in California have risen 20%, at an annualized rate greater than that of any bubble year.
Perhaps the first principle of regulation is understanding what to regulate. In the case of the housing bubble, it was land use regulations themselves that needed to be regulated.
To avoid future housing bubbles, no more effective action could be taken than to repeal the restrictive land use regulations, without which the last bubble would have been, at most, only slight compared to the destructive reality that ensued.