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The Rise, Fall, and Return of the Public Option in Housing Finance

Working paper #715
Adam J. Levitin and Susan M. Wachter

This paper commences with a discussion of the housing finance crisis that was part of the Great Depression. It then turns to a consideration of the Hoover and Roosevelt regulatory response, which was to create government institutions in the market, rather than engaging in direct regulation or Pigouvian taxation. The paper then traces the fate of the public option approach through the privatization of the public options and the emergence of a new form of private competition. It shows that while the market developed, the regulatory framework did not; housing finance regulation continued to rely on a public option approach even as there was no longer a public option. The result was a functionally unregulated space in which housing finance’s endemic information and agency problems returned in a déjà vu of the Depression-era mortgages.

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