This last Tuesday the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by my friend Gary Shilling and Richard LeFrak. They offer a simple solution for the housing crisis: give foreigners who will come to the US and buy a home resident status (green cards). This is a very important proposal and one that deserves national attention and action. Gary was kind enough to send me two lengthier white papers offering more facts. In this week's letter we are going to look at this proposal in more detail than the small space that an op-ed can offer. And while this letter will be somewhat controversial in some circles, I ask that you read it through, giving me the time to make the case. I will also add a few thoughts as to why this could not only help solve the housing crisis, but help put the nation back into growth mode.
Long-time readers know that I have been growing more and more bearish of late. I have been writing for a long time that we are in for a long period of slow Muddle Through growth as the twin crises of the housing bubble and credit bubbles require time to heal. Today we look at a serious proposal for cutting the time to healing for at least one of those bubbles (housing), and at least keep the other (credit) from getting worse. This is the most serious idea I have seen that could actually make a real positive contribution to the economy and help put us back on a growth path.
I will post Gary's papers and a link to the actual op-ed piece for those who want to do further research, but let me make one point at the beginning that he did not emphasize: the US is already allowing roughly 1 million immigrants a year into the country (which for a variety of reasons I and most serious economists of all stripes believe is a very good thing). We are suggesting that we simply change the nature of what constitutes the conditions for acceptance, so as to jump start the housing industry and the economy. We are not suggesting additional immigrants, although nothing would be wrong with that. I will also post a link for you to send this e-letter to your congressmen and senators.
Let me put up front a few benefits of a program that would allow legal status to immigrants buying a home. Housing values would stabilize and in many cases rise. The massive losses because of bad loans that are being subsidized by US taxpayers would be stemmed, saving many hundreds of billions, if not a trillion or more dollars. The excess inventory of homes would quickly disappear and the millions of jobs that were lost as home construction fell into a deep depression would come back. If housing values rise, many families would be able to refinance their homes at lower rates and have more income left over after paying their mortgages. $12 billion in commissions would end up in real estate agents' pockets, helping a very battered and bruised group. Hundreds of billions will flow into local businesses, as these new immigrants will need to furnish their homes. This could mean as much as a half trillion dollars in sorely needed stimulus in the next few years, without one penny of taxpayer money and actually adding taxes back to governments from local to national. And we are not bringing in 1 million foreigners, we are attracting 1 million mostly middle-class new Americans, which, if we are smart in how we do this, will result in more jobs for all Americans. So let's jump right in and look at the details.