Perhaps the hardest thing about doing a PhD in Toronto is finding decent housing and paying for it with the kind of income the university’s funding package and TA work provides. Since the 2008 financial crisis, governments around the world have undertaken exceptional monetary and fiscal stimulus to try to sustain employment and economic growth. Those ultra-low interest rates, however, have affected asset prices in at least two ways. First, since they cannot even earn the rate of inflation from savings accounts, people have been prompted to invest in all manner of speculative assets, from frothy tech stocks to bitcoin to the housing bubbles inflating around the world. At the same time, low interest rates have facilitated massive borrowing for house purchases, also helping to drive up the level of house prices.
Those dynamics have several unwanted current and future impacts. For one thing, I worry that the sense of affluence it fosters among house owners is contributing to an erosion of empathy. It is also worsening the intergenerational inequalities between people who bought houses decades ago and have experienced a huge jump in wealth as a result and the younger people who in past generations would have been entering the housing market now. When interest rates do finally need to rise (once inflation rises above target levels) many home owners risk being in the unfortunate position that the 2008 crisis caused for so many: being ‘underwater’ with a mortgage now larger than the market price of their home.
I think it would be prudent for governments to pay more attention to asset price levels alongside the inflation and employment rates when setting policy. Their efforts to juice their way out of the last crisis seem to be setting up the next one. It would also be desirable for countries to start requiring comprehensive disclosure of wealth as a prelude to wealth taxation.