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.
December 31 is technically the end of the first decade of the 21st century. It is perhaps an appropriate time to review one’s predictions. It seems to me that I got some things right over the last decade. Indulge me while I review the predictions that came true, before turning to those that did not work out as well.
Stock market peak At the end of the 1990s, I felt that the dizzying ascent of equity prices could not continue into the new decade, that there was “…a bubble component in the stock market” (Nov. 20, 1999). This was four months before the bubble burst in 2000. So far so good.
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 →
At first glance, the job numbers of the last week seem to offer a mixed and confusing picture. On the one hand, today’s headline from the Bureau of Labor Statistics certainly sounds like good news: the unemployment rate finally dropped below 10.0% — to 9.7%. On the other hand, today’s establishment survey of employment, which most of the time is a more reliable measure than the unemployment rate, still shows job change numbers that are negative. Furthermore, recent numbers on claims for unemployment benefits have been discouraging.
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 % .
In the July employment report released by the BLS this morning, August 7, the labor market shows its first encouraging signs. Most commentators will focus on the jobs numbers, which show a decline of less than half the rate that the economy experienced in the “freefall period” of late 2008 and early 2009.
Employment tends to lag behind production. For this reason, as readers of this blog will know, my preferred indicator is total hours worked. The latest numbers show that the length of the workweek has begun to rebound from its record low of two months ago. As a result, the BLS reports that total hours worked in the economy did not decline at all in July, for the first time since the financial meltdown of last September.