Commentators are taking note of the five-year anniversary of the fiscal stimulus that President Obama enacted during his first month in office. Those who don’t like Obama are still asking “if the fiscal stimulus was so great, why didn’t it work?” What is the appropriate response?
Those who think that the spending increases and tax cuts were the right thing to do have given a number of responses, which sound a bit weak to me. The first is that the stimulus wasn’t big enough. The second was that the Great Recession would have been much worse in the absence of the stimulus, perhaps a replay of the Great Depression of the 1930s. (The media are fond of this line of reasoning because it allows them to escape making a judgment. They can just say “nobody knows what would have happened otherwise.”) The third response is that the fiscal stimulus was short-lived, and in fact was reversed by the Congress by 2010.
The recent release of a revised set of GDP statistics by Britain’s Office for National Statistics showed that growth had not quite, as previously thought, been negative for two consecutive quarters in the winter of 2011-12. The point, as it was reported, was that a UK recession (a second dip after the Great Recession of 2008-09) was nowerased from the history books — and that the Conservativegovernment would take a bit of satisfaction from this fact. But it should not.
With November’s election fast approaching, the Republican candidates seeking to challenge President Barack Obama claim that his policies have done nothing to support recovery from the recession that he inherited in January 2009. If anything, they claim, his fiscal stimulus made matters worse. And, despite recent improvement, the level of unemployment indeed remains far too high.not blame George W. Bush for the recession that began two months after he took office in 2001. There hadn’t yet been time for bad policies to damage the economy.)
This morning the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its first estimate for 2011 GDP. It showed national output for the first time surpassing the pre-recession peak, which occurred in the last quarter of 2007. (See chart below) The expansion in 2011 was led by autos, computers, and other manufactured goods.
Given that the economy hit its trough in mid-2009, the long slow climb since then has been disappointing. The outcome turns out to have been worse than the conventional wisdom that sharp declines tend to be followed by sharp recoveries. On the other hand, the outcome turns out to have been somewhat better than the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis that when the cause of a recession is a financial crisis, the recovery tends to take many years.
The NBER‘s Business Cycle Dating Committee, of which I am a member, announced this morning that June 2009 was the trough of the recession that began in December 2007. It was the longest recession since the 1930s.
It is the fate of the Committee to be teased mercilessly every time we make one of our formal declarations of a turning point in the economy. We get it from both directions: We waited too late to call the end of the recession, or we did it too early. (Occasionally someone makes both criticisms simultaneously!) Even The Daily Show got in on the fun this time.
The NBERBusiness Cycle Dating Committee this morning posted an announcement that it had met in person April 8 - an infrequent event - but that it had not yet decided to call the trough in the recession that began in December 2007. The meeting has led to lots of questions from the press over the weekend, for stories that appeared today, and then more questions today in response to those stories. Here are some of the questions that have come up the most often, and my own personal answers, speaking for myself and not the Committee of which I am a member. Continue reading →
The economy has been on a roller coaster ride since the cyclical peak of December 2007. (See illustration.) The gradual slide of early 2008 turned into a terrifying freefall in the last quarter of 2008 (after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy) and the first quarter of 2009. Now the train is probably at the bottom of the roller coaster valley.
The Index of Leading Economic Indicators, represented by the first car in the train, was this morning reported to have risen for the seventh consecutive month in October. Similarly, consumer confidence is substantially improved relative to February (though it, like all economic statistics, has experienced some bumps in the ride). The important middle cars, which represent measures of aggregate output, probably reached bottom in the early summer, and then started back up. The BEA’s advanced estimate for GDP growth in the third quarter was 3 ½ % .
The rate of decline in employment moderated substantially in May, according to the BLS figures released June 5, to about half the monthly rate of job loss recorded over the preceding six months (345,000 vs. 642,000).The news was received in a variety of ways.
First, the cynics.They tend to wax sarcastic at the idea of “things are not getting worse quite as fast as they were” as a good-news proposition.But a wide variety of recent data indicate that the economy is no longer in the state of free-fall that it entered last September, and this is indeed good news.To begin to level off is the first step toward the start of the recovery.
The Commerce Department this morning announced its advance estimate of last quarter’s real GDP. As expected, the estimate shows that GDP fell in the first quarter of 2009 — by a hefty 6.1 per cent at an annual rate. An implication is that the current recession has just tied the post-war record for longevity.
The previous record-holders were the recessions of 1973-75 and 1981-82, each of them five quarters in length according to the official NBER chronology. In the current downturn, the NBER’s Business Cycle Data Committee determined that the economy peaked in the 4th quarter of 2007. Although the Committee won’t declare the trough of the recession until well after the fact, and the trough could well be a ways off, a negative 1st quarter of 2009 almost certainly means that the five-quarter benchmark has now been attained. (The Commerce Department often revises its GDP figures substantially between the advance estimate and the final number, and we are due for major backward-looking revisions in July. Indeed that is one reason why the NBER always waits so long to issue its findings. In the past, the size of the average revision has been just over 1 percentage point, whether up or down. It is highly unlikely that future revisions will change this morning’s negative number into a positive one.)