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Care-full Markets: Miracle or Mirage?

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The 2010 Tanner Lectures are concerned with the compatibility, or otherwise, of market-dominated economies with an ethic of care. A key question is whether economic wrongs can be righted, and financial ills made good, not by arguing against markets, but by making a bid for them. Housing markets provide the touchstone for discussion. After all, the ‘noughties’ financial crisis stemmed from events in the housing economy; just as the sustainability of recovery depends on the effective management of home assets and mortgage debt.

Lecture 1 Moral maze: dealings in debt

It is easy to see that debts are dangerous; but can lending and borrowing never be ‘right’? Addressing such questions, this lecture tells the tale of three markets: housing markets, which are poorly understood; mortgage markets, which account for the majority of personal debt; and financial markets which have failed spectacularly to manage the risks this implies. The conventional wisdom is that housing, mortgage and financial markets are too closely integrated; that households’ accounts are too-precariously entangled with global financial flows. And this may well be true. But where borrowing is concerned, the balance sheet is complex: there is virtue as well as value in the bottom line; even doubtful means can achieve care-full ends.

Lecture 2 Ethical investment? attending to assets

Asset-based welfare is a popular idea, but is attending to investment returns always a ‘good’ thing – even where the assets are as safe as houses? This lecture weighs up four visions for housing’s financial future, arguing that only an arrangement which differs radically from the status quo can repair the damage associated with ownership-centred housing systems. But what would that be? Conventionally, when efficient markets fail, politicians create welfare spaces outside them. When social policies pall, an injection of market principles generally perks them up. But there is perhaps another way. Nations of property owners, indeed markets of mortgagors, might make way for societies of home stewards – clusters of institutions and individuals for whom calculation is tempered by compassion – if only economics could embrace an ethic of care.

This talk is part of the Tanner Lectures series.

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