Information asymmetry

House Prices at Risk

Following the boom and bust of the 2000s, there is widespread agreement that residential real estate is a key source of vulnerability in advanced and emerging economies alike. Housing accounts for a significant fraction of wealth, especially for people in the middle of the income distribution, who are much less likely to own risky financial assets (see our earlier post). Furthermore, housing is highly leveraged, creating risks to both homeowners and their lenders.

In the United States, real housing prices have rebounded by nearly 40 percent from their 2012 trough. Today, they are only about 10 percent shy of their 2006 peak. As such, it is natural to ask whether we are once again facing a heightened risk of a crash. Enter “House Prices at Risk” (HaR)—a new worst-case metric created by the IMF to assess the likely scale of a housing price bust conditional on a bad state of the world. Consistent with the IMF’s previous work on “GDP at Risk” (see our earlier post), we view HaR as a valuable addition to the arsenal of risk indicators that allow market professionals and policymakers to monitor financial vulnerability….

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Improving U.S. Healthcare and Coverage

We see health as a basic human right. Every society should provide medical care for its citizens at the level it can afford. And, while the United States has made some progress in improving access to care, the results do not justify the costs. So, while we agree with President Trump’s statement that the U.S. health care system should be cheaper, better and universal, the question is how to get there.

In this post, we start by setting the stage: where matters stand today and why they are unacceptable. This leads us to the real question: where can and should we go? As economists, we are genuinely partial to market-based solutions that allow individuals to make tradeoffs between quality and price, while competition pushes suppliers to contain costs. But, in the case of health care, we are skeptical that such a solution can be made workable. This leads us to propose a gradual lowering of the age at which people become eligible for Medicare, while promoting supplier competition....

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The even cloudier future of peer-to-peer lending

In early 2015, we expressed skepticism about the prospects for peer-to-peer (P2P) lending. Like other efforts to slash financial transactions costs (think “block chain”), P2P was all the rage. The notion was that the lenders and borrowers could cut out the middle man, “disrupting” traditional finance.

For that to work, for P2P investors to get an attractive risk-adjusted return, it would have to embody a technology that can screen and monitor borrowers at a lower cost than do existing intermediaries in the long-established sector of consumer credit. That seemed especially doubtful in a competitive industry like credit card lending, which is what P2P lending often turns out to be...


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The cloudy future of peer-to-peer lending

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is all the rage. The idea is that individuals can bypass traditional financial intermediaries and borrow directly from investors at lower cost (or obtain credit that banks would not provide). Improving the lot of borrowers would be great if it works. But the key question is whether lenders can efficiently screen and monitor borrowers to get an attractive risk-adjusted return on their investment. In effect, individuals would be beating the technology that traditional lenders use. It’s far too early to tell, but there is plenty of scope for skepticism...

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