– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —
Ben Bernanke may minimize the role of monetary policy in the housing debacle, but he minimizes two key factors: the effect of low rates and the Fed’s policy of cleaning up after but not popping bubbles had on risk-taking.
In what amounts to a defense of his own and Alan Greenspan’s legacy, Bernanke maintains that low interest rates didn’t cause the bubble, which he says required a regulatory rather than monetary solution.
“Borrowers chose, and were extended, mortgages that they could not be expected to service in the longer term. They were provided these loans on the expectation that accumulating home equity would soon allow refinancing into more sustainable mortgages,” Bernanke said in Atlanta over the weekend.
And where, I wonder, did borrowers get the idea that these new-fangled mortgages were good for them and that double-digit house price increases would continue? Greenspan famously sang the praises of mortgage innovation and floating rates for house buyers, while both he and Bernanke missed the bubble and downplayed its potential impact almost all the way to the bottom.