Not ready for sub-prime time.
Well I eventually figured out what the youtube link I posted below was about. If you listen long enough to Jim Cramer's rant, he says that 14 million people took out mortgages in the USA in the last three years. Half of them took advantage of so-called 'teaser' rates - introductory low interest periods for the first two or three years. Many of these borrowers were poor credit risks and many didn't understand that the low mortgage payments offered were only temporary. They could be forced to sell their homes when the bills go up.
I can understand his horror at the thought of seven million people being made homeless, but in a lot of cases the only way to have prevented this would be for them never to have had the house in the first place. I can't share his horror at the thought of investment bankers losing their jobs. As far as I'm concerned, the problems at the US investment banks are entirely of their own making. And it would be wrong for prudent people who didn't overstretch themselves to be made to bail out those who were reckless.
The fascinating thing for me is that while the US has had the same credit splurge that the UK has had, house prices have started falling, particularly in Florida. That's because, as one eminent UK economist* put it: 'In Britain we buy and sell houses, but in the US they also build them.' A friend of mine likes to send me spreadsheets showing me the average 'inventory' of US housebuilding firms. 'Inventory' in this case means the number of unsold houses on their books, divided by the average monthly sales rate. The last time he showed me the numbers, the inventory period was over eight months! Typical UK builders have no 'inventory' at all in the part of the UK where I live! He keeps asking me why I don't try to live in the US. Young Americans who have lived within their means and have saved responsibly will soon be rewarded by having a large amount of housing options to chose from. This contrast with the UK could hardly be more stark. One reader of this site recently wrote to tell me:
I thank God that I was not born three or four years later and shudder to think what it must be like to leave college today with £30,000 of debts and no prospect of ever affording a bedsit in Hackney for your trouble.
All of this brings me back to my last piece about land use in Britain. I've had some sensible replies like the one above and some idiotic ones too, like this:
I guess you didn't hear about the flooding in the news? Spare land has important uses other than housing and farming. Flood plains
This is a pure red herring put up by people who have their own homes and who don't want more housing competing with theirs in the market. Of course I'm aware of the flooding. But if you offer someone with no home the choice of continuing to have no home or to have a home that floods for a month once every twenty years, I know what he'll take. In any case, it is not hard to get around the issue. You put a garage on the ground floor and the living quarters one storey higher. Next!
Yes, the UK can import all the food it needs. That assumes that it has the money to afford to do so in the future. It also assumes the cost of transporting globalised food doesn't go through the roof with the record oil prices. Every country in the world wants to be western. That also means importing food so that they can develop their farmland. What happens when every country wishes to import rather than grow food?
The tragedy of the underdeveloped countries is that there are barriers to them selling their food in Europe and the US. As a result they can't earn enough by farming and many of their people chose to flee to Europe as economic migrants. The protection of the European farmer is one reason for the huge movement of people into Europe. If we bought food from overseas then we could release our land for new homes and the poorer countries wouldn't be so poor. The revenues they earn from their food exports would be used to buy our manufactured goods. It's win-win, except for European farmers who fear change. For everyone else it would be a massive gain.
This same person then described me as 'still as selfish as ever'. Incredible! Apparently it's selfish of me to want there to be more homes and more trade with the developing-world with which they could drag themselves out of poverty and give our high-tech export industries a new market! Written no doubt by someone who's got their own piece of middle England (or I suspect southern Ireland) who doesn't want anything changing now that he's on his feet. Who's really selfish?
* Probably Roger Bootle, but it might have been Tim Congdon or Patrick Minford.
at 2:50 PM BST
Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007 3:00 PM BST