The Herbert Hoover of the housing bust

Now that HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has resigned, the pile-on party can begin.

Topics: Globalization, How the World Works, Washington Post,

Alphonso Jackson, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was everything you could want in a Cabinet member: vain, possibly corrupt, and sublimely inattentive to matters of national importance that fell directly under his responsibility.

At least that is the picture drawn by the Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonig on Sunday. Calculated Risk’s Tanta, who has been following the mortgage crisis closer than just about anyone, told her readers to check it out, and I did, and was suitably appalled. While most press coverage of Jackson, who resigned under fire last month, has focused on charges of cronyism, the Post expands his lists of faults to include major policy errors and his predilection for fine food and a full security detail.

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In late 2006, as economists warned of an imminent housing market collapse, housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson repeatedly insisted that the mounting wave of mortgage failures was a short-term “correction.”

He pushed for legislation that would make it easier for federally backed lenders to make mortgage loans to risky borrowers who put less money down. He issued a rule that was criticized by law enforcement authorities because it could increase the difficulty of detecting and proving mortgage fraud.

Economist Dean Baker tells us it is unfair to pick on Jackson:

Secretary Jackson’s tenure as HUD secretary was a disaster and he deserves to be held accountable for his performance, but it is ridiculous to single him out for ignoring the housing bubble and the fallout from its inevitable collapse. This blame is better directed at the Fed, the economics profession as a whole, and the economic reporters who lacked the ability to independently assess arguments about the existence of a housing bubble.

Fair enough. But I have a different gripe. Why weren’t we getting a more rigorous review of how Jackson was (not) confronting the housing crisis while he was still in office, instead of after he has already resigned in disgrace?

Andrew Leonard
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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