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Asset building policy did not cause the foreclosure crisis

In the course of the last couple weeks I’ve presented findings on asset poverty in Canada. The findings usually evoke a number of responses. One of the most troubling is that asset building policy caused the foreclosure housing crisis in the US. Most recently, on day 2 of the 2013 ABLE, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said (paraphrasing):

We need to be introspective and self-critical. We have interventions that don’t work. The home and foreclosure crisis showed us the limitations of home ownership and asset building for low income families.

The mayor is absolutely correct about the need to be self-critical. Only through understanding our failures can we develop more effective interventions to reduce financial exclusion and vulnerability. A major problem is that our failures are rarely documented and published. Understanding what goes wrong is probably more important than understanding our successes. (see the excellent Admitting Failure site). Few would disagree with this part of his speech. However, we also need to get the facts correct about the extent to which asset building policies influenced the foreclosure and housing crisis in the US. Consider the following points.

1. To date asset building policies have not reached massive scale in the US.  There is no single asset building policy that could cause the scale of the foreclosure crisis (12.5 million foreclosure starts from 2007 to 2012) .
2. Little innovation in mortgage markets was observed in the 2000s and government policy toward the mortgage market did not change much in the 1990s and 2000s. The major mortgage innovations happened in the 1990s and the major government asset building policies of Federal Housing Administration and GI Bill expansions occured in the post-war era 1940’s and 50’s. (See Atlanta Federal Reserve Working Paper)
3. Research has shown that Individual Development Account (IDA) homebuyers were much less likely to experience foreclosure (1/2 to 1/3 lower) than a comparison group of low-income homeowners constructed from government data gathered via the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Over a period of 1999 – 2007 3.1% of IDA homes in the sample entered foreclosure compared to 6 – 9% for the comparison group.  Importantly, only .2% of IDA homeowners secured subprime loans compared to 10% in the comparison group. Additionally, IDA homeowners were much less likely to have high interest rates.
4. Evidence from an experimental design longitudinal IDA study[gated] (1999 to 2009) showed that home ownership rates for the treatment and control group both increased through the Recession. If asset building policy has provided incentives for otherwise unqualified people to buy homes then we would have seen different ownership trends in the treatment group and not the control group. This did not happen.
5. From the same study the IDA program had no statistically significant effect on likelihood that a homeowner was late on a mortgage payment or went into foreclosure.

Overall, it’s dangerous and counter-factual to blame asset building policy for the home foreclosure crisis. The evidence suggests far more expansive and complex social and economic forces were at play.

Week 11 Memos

## Week 11
1. Pg. 324 of the Sen reading in DeFellipis states: “In so far as freedom is seen to be intrinsically important, the observation of the chosen functioning bundle cannot be in itself an adequate guide for the evaluative exercise, even though the freedom to choose a better bundle rather than a worse one can be seen to be, in some accounting, an advantage even from the perspective of freedom.” Explain in your weekly memo what this passage means to you as a social worker who is interested in reducing poverty.
2. Chaskin defines community capacity as the “interaction of human capital, organizational resourcs, and social capital existing within a given community that be leveraged to so solve collective problems and improve or maintain the well-being of a given community. It may operate through informal social processes and/or organized effort.” P. 295 Do you feel this is a useful definition? Why or why not?

Week 10 memo questions

## Week 10
1. Midgley and Livermore explain that social capital is not an “explanatory model”. Why is this important/not important for social work intervention to fight poverty?
2. Can you think of an intervention that builds social capital? Briefly explain. More importantly, do you think that social work/poverty interventions should invest more or less in interventions that purport to promote social capital. Explain with 2-3 points.
3.  How might access to higher education relate to concepts of social development and asset building?

Week 9 Memo questions

## Week 9
1. Sherraden makes a strong case that assets matter for well-being. To what extent do you see asset-based approaches to anti-poverty strategies in Quebec / Canada? If you do not see any examples, speculate why not.
2. The asset-based approach to social welfare policy is a social work contribution to poverty intervention. What are the most compelling arguments for asset policy? What concerns do you have about asset-based approaches to poverty?
3. We have spent considerable time this semester discussing different poverty measures. Describe 2-3 takeaways from my presentation on asset poverty measurement in Canada. Indicate any questions that remain.

A Reflection on the Public Goods Game

In a class exercise which required a deck of cards, our class participated in an activity aimed to start a discussion regarding the rationale and strategy behind the choice to contribute to the good of the public or to act in our own self-interest.

The instructions for the game were simple. We were each given four cards, two red and two black. For each round, we were to keep two cards, and to give away two cards to the collective pool. The collective pool represented public goods, which would ultimately benefit all of us. The red cards had monetary value which was four times greater when one kept the red card, rather than giving it to the collective pool (i.e., if you kept the  red card it would be worth $4 for each red card. In the collective pool it would be worth $1). Everyone would receive the amount that was gathered in the collective pool at the end of each round; that is, if there were $10 in the collective pool, everyone would receive $10 each.

This game naturally created an internal conflict. The wealth of the collective or public would be much greater if all individuals gave away their red cards to the collective pool. This would also lead to a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. However, the benefit for the individual is much greater when both red cards are kept.

This activity led to the discussion of several key points. The first was trust. After a couple of rounds we had a chance to discuss as a group, how we could strategize so that we could all benefit equally. Although we came to a decision to give both our red cards away, this was not carried out by everyone. Once we saw that not everyone was cooperating, and that it became evident that there were free riders in our group, we began to trust each other less, which led to a steady decline in the number of red cards in the collective pool. Although not as relevant for this activity, the issue of trust also extends further to not only among individuals in the society, but to those individuals or institutions that have the power to redistribute the contributions back to the public. If we do not trust that we will ultimately benefit from the contributions that we make to the public, individuals are less likely to voluntarily contribute to the collective pool.

Moreover, when the value of the red cards decreased (i.e., from $4 to $2), individuals were more likely to contribute voluntarily to the collective pool. However, ultimately, because of the inequality in the individual contribution to the public good, those who contributed the most were left with the least. For me, this activity demonstrated the interdependence of individual and collective wealth and well-being. Our decisions are not only based on our personal values of equity and justice, but the decisions of others, as we struggle to find the balance between the benefits of acting in self-serving ways, and making decisions that contribute to the greater good of the society.

On the proposal of Guaranteed Annual Income

It’s another year of discussions of poverty in SWRK 626 and so that means it’s time to (again) discuss the merits and drawbacks of the Gauranteed Annual Income or sometimes called Basic Income Guarantee. This year the topic came up when we started discussing possible anti-poverty interventions. Student K. Heyde mentioned the following article in the Globe and Mail. It reminded me of last year’s class when we debated the subject in-depth. I am realizing more and more that when a topic keeps appearing it’s time to write blog post.
This summer at the IRP  I asked the question to Tim Smeeding. We went back and forth and he sent me a few resources (see below) and put me in touch with a graduate student working on a similar topic.
The most relevant to the Canadian context is a report Possibilities and Prospects: The Debate over a Gauranteed Income from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (h/t David Calnitsky). The report succinctly describes the three main concerns with the GAI: (1) work disincentives, (2) reciprocity, (3) and cost.

The idea of unconditional cash transfers has garnered considerable attention lately.
Anne Blumenthal picked up on the NPR story that I previously posted about here. On Anne’s post, she links to the study “Cash Transfers and Child Schooling: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation of the Role of Conditionality”. Development economist Chris Blattman has also been writing on the subject of giving cash to the poor.

In a previous post on this blog, I raised the two concerns about cost and political feasibility. I still have those concerns. In class, I argued that the GAI represents a radical shift in the conceptualization of the welfare state. Not to mention, the idea would put a lot of social workers out of job. I suspect McKnight would favor such a proposal because it would eliminate the iatrogenic social welfare system. Lots to digest here and touching on many of the key elements of social intervention (conditionality, costs, efficiency, implementation, tradeoffs, etc). Surely more to follow on this subject.

02 December update:

CBC the current ran a story (Switzerland considers a mandatory basic minimum income for everyone) this morning on their Project Money project. The story features the 1970s Canada min-come study from Manitoba.

Highly recommended

Nicholas-James Clavet, Jean-Yves Duclos, Guy Lacroix (2013) Fighting Poverty: Assessing the Effect of a Guaranteed
Minimum Income Proposal in Québec.

Steensland, B. (2008). The failed welfare revolution: America’s struggle over guaranteed income policy. Princeton University Press.

Anqi Zhang piece in the McGill Daily (2014). Enough money to survive

Other resources
Hanushek, E. A. 1987. “Non-Labor-Supply Responses to the Income Maintenance Experiments.” In Lessons
from the Income Maintenance Experiments, ed. A. Munnell. Boston:Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Burtless, G. 1987. “The Work Response to a Guaranteed Income: A Survey of Experimental Evidence.” In
Lessons from the Income Maintenance Experiments, ed. A. Munnell. Boston: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Ben-Shalom, Y., Moffit, R., & Scholz, J.K. (forthcoming). As assessment of the effectiveness of anti-poverty
programs in the United States. In Oxford Handbook of Economics of Poverty, P. Jefferson, ed. New York:
Oxford University Press. Currently available as NBER working paper No. w17042, available at: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17042.

Moffitt, R. A. (2003). The Negative Income Tax and the Evolution of U.S. Welfare Policy. The Journal of
Economic Perspectives, 17 (3), 119-140.

ISID speaker series

McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development has a pretty amazing set of speakers lined up this month and next.

Some of these talks seem to go along well with the material from 626. Two of particular interest are:

Oct 17: 10:00-11:30 am. PETH 116
Ravi Kanbur, Economics, Cornell University – Applied Economics and Management: “Can a Country be a Donor and a Recipient of Aid?”

Nov 8: 12:00-1:30 pm. Arts 230
Carmen Diane Deere, Economics, University of Florida – Gender and Development; Latin America: “Property Rights and the Gender Distribution of Wealth in Ecuador, Ghana and India”

Radio pieces on poverty and social development

I’m not sure if it’s my confirmation bias, but it certainly seems that US media are talking more and more about poverty, inequality, and social stratification. Over the last few weeks, I’ve come across the following pieces (they’re great to listen to while doing the dishes!).

On Point from WBUR Boston, interviewed Richard Florida on September 26, 2013. He spoke about a recent article he wrote, at the Atlantic. It’s a nuanced argument. He finds that the post-crash US growth model is working, but that high inequality threatens the sustainability. In the interview at minute 32:00, he recognizes that his previous arguments about clustering (advanced in his work on the creative class) were misguided. Richard Florida is the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s School of Management.

This American Life from PRI did a piece on unconditional cash transfers in developing African countries over the summer. The piece, explains what UCTs are, why they might work, and why charities (in this case, they interviewed someone from Heifer International) by and large are against them. It’s a great, thought-provoking, and complicated discussion. A few weeks ago, an economist from the World Bank came to McGill to discuss findings that show that conditional cash transfers are related to better outcomes for families than unconditional cash transfers.

Planet Money from NPR also has been delving into the issue of poverty with episodes (they’re short!) on the trouble with the US poverty line and welfare. The poverty line episode is a great introduction to why poverty has been measured the way it has in the US and exactly why this methodology is often divorced from current phenomena that better describes deprivation and hardship.

Week 8 memo questions

## Week 8
1. Midgley advocates for the social developmental perspective. To what extent does this philosophy allign with the “activation” policies discussed in class by Plante week 6? Provide at least three key points.
2. By now each student should have decided the context of their poverty manifesto. Use this week’s memo to articulate why the social developmental perspective is useful or not useful in your chosen poverty context.
3. What are the necessary conditions for effective implementation of social developmental policies? Considerations: demographics, politics, inequality, macroeconomic factors, history, etc.

Week 7 Memo questions

## Week 7
1. Ostrom et al introduces us to the idea of common pooled resources (CPR) and how they can be managed. Much of the discussion focuses on solving the CPR problem of free riding. Further, they argue that when individuals face a public good problem are able to communicate, sanction one another, and make new rules then rational choice models no longer predict. Extrapolate what this means for understanding poverty and poverty reduction. Provide at least 3 concrete connections.
2. North defines institutions as “Humanly devised constraints that structure human interaction and that exist to reduce the ubiquitious uncertainty arising from that interaction.” (p. 10). Provide two contemporary examples of institutions that facilitate and 2 that impede development.

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