Daily Archives: February 13, 2015

Implicit Assumptions and Biases about Liar’s Loans Lead Journalists into Error

By William K. Black
Bloomington, MN: February 13, 2015

The website “538” has one claim to fame – interpreting data.  In the mortgage fraud context it got this horribly wrong in a way that should be an object lesson to the dangers of implicit assumptions that implicitly exclude alternative theories of causation.  This typically happens because of an unrecognized bias.  Ben Casselman and Andrew Flowers provided the object lesson in their discussion of a new study (behind a pay wall) by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi entitled “Fraudulent Income Overstatement on Mortgage Applications during the Credit Expansion of 2002 to 2005”

“What they found: Mortgage lending surged in low-income, less creditworthy areas of the U.S. between 2002 and 2005. But systemic differences between incomes reported on mortgage applications and incomes reported to the IRS indicate that much of this “subprime” lending was reliant on borrowers fraudulently overstating their income.

Why it matters: Between 2002 and 2005, there was a tsunami of money for prospective U.S. homebuyers. This surge of mortgage credit was strongest in less creditworthy, low-income areas. But some economists have argued that incomes of homebuyers were increasing in these areas. After all, by looking at income as reported on mortgage applications, the areas with lower credit scores seem to have robust growth of homebuyers’ income. But new research from Sufi and Mian — the authors of “House of Debt” who have written for FiveThirtyEight — confirms that, no, economic improvement wasn’t behind these improving income numbers. It was fraud. Specifically, the fraud of homebuyers overstating income.”

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Return of the Coin?

By Joe Firestone

The last few weeks have seen at least two posts calling attention to the potential use of the platinum coin in America’s political economy. The first to appear was Rob Urie’s piece in Counterpunch provocatively titled: “The Trillion Dollar Catshit Coin” And the second was Mike Sandler’s post in The Huffington Post called “Greece and the U.S. Senate: Economics for the 99%.

Let’s begin looking at these with Sandler’s effort. He reports on two challenges to austerity. The first is from Syriza’s victory in Greece and its promise to Greek voters that it will end austerity. The second:

The austerity mindset faces a new foe in the U.S. Senate as well. The re-shuffle of the last U.S. election that put austerity-minded Republicans in power has ironically resulted in a new anti-austerity economist being hired by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Senate Budget Committee — Professor Stephanie Kelton of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Professor Kelton is a proponent of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), a very pro-stimulus economic approach. Her hiring represents the biggest step forward for MMT, since the PR coup of the Trillion Dollar Platinum Coin in 2013. At that time, Kelton reportedly created the #mintthecoin hashtag that was featured in columns by Paul Krugman and others.

Sanders’ hiring of Kelton is a break from the more conciliatory “balanced budgeting” approach of some Democrats, such as former treasury secretaries with ties to Wall Street and fiscally-conservative “deficit hawks.” Kelton and her MMT colleagues go beyond the traditional Keynesian stimulus of short-term deficit spending. They seek to unleash the power of monetary policy to circumvent the scarcity mindset imposed on government action, perhaps even bringing the Trillion Dollar Coin back into the discussion.

Of course, Sandler means to say fiscal policy in the above, since MMT economics greatly favors reliance on fiscal, rather than monetary policy, in spite of the “monetary” in its name. But apart from that, he projects that we may see the platinum coin come back into prominence soon. Continue reading