Economist Robert Shiller presented a paper today on human behavior in real estate bubbles at the KC Fed conference in Jackson Hole. Economist James Hamilton was there, and he filed this skeptical report:
One thing I have never understood is the source of Shiller’s confidence that he is able to rise above these cognitive pitfalls in a way that market participants can not. Nor does his quantitative evidence help me to understand his position any more clearly. He notes for example a 1988 survey which found that the median new homebuyer in Los Angeles expected 11% price appreciation over the next 12 months, whereas the median buyer in Milwaukee expected only 5%. Since the OFHEO house price index shows a 13.9% appreciation for Los Angeles and a 6.2% appreciation for Milwaukee during 1989, it’s hard for me to see how these survey results are supposed to convince us of people’s lack of rationality. I also am unsure how Shiller’s concept of real estate price bubbles in “superstar” cities is to be reconciled with the fact that the problems with mortgage defaults initially proved to be most serious in rustbelt areas where there had been very little real estate price inflation.