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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Blinder: The End (of the Recession) Is Near!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blinder: The End (of the Recession) Is Near!

It is near Christmas, a time of optimism and hope for many Americans.  Alan Blinder feeds that hope by focusing on positive developments in recent economic data in his Wall Street Journal column, "The Case for Optimism on the Economy."  His byline states that he is "a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and vice chairman of the Promontory Interfinancial Network, is a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board."  He starts by describing the state of the economy and reasons for optimism.
The U.S. economy is digging itself out of a deep hole. You have probably heard a lot of doom and gloom lately, including talk of a jobless recovery, an L-shaped recovery (which means no recovery at all), or even a W—the feared double-dip recession. The Scrooges have a point: There are serious dangers to the nascent recovery. But you've heard all that many times. Let me offer instead, in deliberately one-sided fashion, the case for optimism. It is, after all, the holiday season.

The case begins with the "slingshot effect" I wrote about on this page last summer ("The Economy Has Hit Bottom," July 24, 2009). When the growth rate of any component of GDP rises, it gives overall GDP growth a boost. And going from sharply negative growth to zero is a notable rise. In July, the slingshot scenario was hypothetical—though likely. In today's economy, it's a real phenomenon...
The second major source of optimism is the amazing performance of productivity during the recession. To be sure, that performance had a downside: While real GDP was falling 3.7%, payroll employment dropped 5%, devastating many American families. But by definition, that discrepancy means that productivity—output per hour of work—rose substantially during the recession, which is pretty unusual.

The last two quarters were even more extreme: Productivity in the nonfarm business sector grew at a shocking 8.1% annual rate. There are two possible explanations. One: The last two quarters were among the most technologically innovative and entrepreneurial in the history of the United States. Two: Fearful businesses pared payrolls to the bone. If the second is closer to the truth, payrolls are extraordinarily lean right now. Which means that firms will need to hire more workers as their sales and production grow. Which means that employment may start growing sooner than the pessimists think...

There is more to the case for optimism. For one thing, less than 30% of February's $787 billion fiscal stimulus has been spent to date; over 70% is still in the pipeline. Pessimists dote on the fact that the rate of increase of stimulus spending has probably peaked and will be lower in 2010. True. But the level of GDP will continue to get support from fiscal policy, and a second job-creation package ("Please don't call it a stimulus!") looks to be in the works.

Then there is the Federal Reserve's stupendously expansionary monetary policy. It is well known that interest rates work on the economy with long lags. But the Fed's last rate cut came a year ago. So isn't the monetary policy pipeline empty? The answer is no, for at least three reasons. First, history suggests that the time lag is closer to two years than to one. So even the normal policy lags are not over...
Blinder states his expectation of growth.
I warned at the outset that I would present a deliberately biased case. So let me admit, once again, that serious downside risks remain. The investment slingshot and the fiscal stimulus will both peter out in 2010. Consumer finances and confidence are shaky. Banks are still failing and commercial real estate is a mess. We cannot count on exports to pull us out of this slump. All true. And all reasons not to expect the kind of exuberant boom that typically follows a deep recession—such as the 7.7% growth spurt in the six quarters following the 1981-82 slump. No one expects that.

So my optimism is guarded. The 3%-4% growth rate that I anticipate for the rest of this year and for 2010 is a lot worse than 7.7%, to be sure. But compared to what we've been through, it will feel a whole lot better.
I agree that 3%-4% growth will make us feel a "whole lot better."

1 comment:

  1. I read this and I must say that I feel as long as we are at war I don't see how we can make a recovery. Here is an idea of how much the war cost in Afghanistan and Iraq cost. I have heard that we make money on war. With what this war is costing I don't see how. Guns, and companies that provide war items for the American soldiers are making money as long as they have a war so I suspect they are war supporters. Here is a link that shows the cost of the war second by second..I think it is time to shut this war down! The ones that profit from it don't care much for the Americans that have lost and will be lost in the war effort. Money creates greed among these people.