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Housing Bill Sparks Concern Among Economists

The markets have been giving mixed signals this week: Stocks rebounded, then dropped again. Oil prices fell, then inched up again. So what does this all mean for the economy?

NPR Economics Correspondent Adam Davidson tells Deborah Amos that those upticks and downticks are the things that "the average person should feel free to just go ahead and ignore."

"Economists call that 'noise,' literally," Davidson says. "This housing bill that the House just passed and the Senate is expected to pass tomorrow, that is big. That is, I think, the biggest piece of legislation yet out of this crisis. It's probably the single biggest piece of legislation dealing with housing in America in decades."

However, Davidson says, basically every economist dislikes the bill.

"There is something for everyone to hate, and I've been fascinated to read how left-wing and right-wing and centrist and Democrats and Republicans — every economist hates this bill. But — and this is a big but — many say it is necessary anyway," he says.

"I think it's likened to your kid [coming] home at midnight, saying, 'Hey, I borrowed some money from a loan shark and he's about to break my legs or kill me, can I borrow $10,000?' No one likes that situation, but most parents would give the $10,000 to save their kid. But then they would say, 'Hey, we are going to talk about this in the morning,'" Davidson explains.

"It's the 'let's talk about it in the morning' part that economists are worried about. There's a lot of feeling that the Congress and the administration and the Federal Reserve are not saying enough about how we're going to have to revisit all of this. We're going to have to punish the people, or make the people who took big risks bear the outcome of the risks they took, and that's where economists are very upset about this bill."

The long-term risk of no "talk in the morning," he says, is "that people — investors, shareholders, investment company and mortgage company mangers — have been told, 'Take big risks. You get the upside; the taxpayer will take care of the downside.' And that will make our whole economy more risky and [put] taxpayers on the hook for that."

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