The Anatomy of a Credit Crisis
The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2012-08-17
How important is the role of credit availability in inflating asset prices? And what are the consequences of past greater credit availability when perceived fundamentals turn? In our recent NBER paper, The Anatomy of a Credit Crisis: The Boom and Bust in Farm Land Prices in the United States in the 1920s, my co-author, Rodney Ramcharan, and I broach answers to these questions by examining the rise (and fall) of farm land prices in the United States in the early twentieth century, attempting to identify the separate effects of changes in fundamentals and changes in the availability of credit on land prices. This period allows us to use the exogenous boom and bust in world commodity prices, inflated by World War I and the Russian Revolution and then unexpectedly deflated by the rapid recovery of European agricultural production, to identify an exogenous shock to local agricultural fundamentals. The ban on interstate banking and the cross-state variation in deposit insurance and ceilings on interest rates are important regulatory features of the time that allow us to identify the effects of credit availability that we incorporate in the empirical strategy.