Posts Tagged ‘josh rouse’

Feeling 1932 (updated, Aug. 1)

28 July 2011

I’ve written already that the best deal on the debt ceiling would simply be to raise it (or better still, abolish it), without attaching it to a bill that punishes the economy further by slashing spending and/or raising taxes. The last thing this ailing economy needs is a Grand Bargain to reduce the current deficit. It was disastrous policy during the Great Depression — first by Congress and President Hoover in 1932, then by Congress and President Roosevelt in 1937. I would have thought those historic blunders would not be repeated, but I guess it’s always a mistake to assume that politicians know economics or history. But I’ve said all that before.

What I want to point out here is that we’re due for some ill-timed spending cuts (and maybe tax increases), regardless of what Congress does in the next week. Remember that $787 billion stimulus package that Congress passed in early 2009? It was spread out over two years, so roughly $400 billion a year, about $250 billion of which was spending and $150 billion tax cuts, almost all in 2009-2011. So that stimulus is just about “spent.” The main tax cuts, like extending the patch for the alternative minimum tax, will probably be maintained because they’re politically popular, but the spending almost surely will not. So that’s an abrupt drop of about $250 billion in government spending, or about 2% of GDP, over the next year. This chart from James Fallows’ blog for The Atlantic shows the projected big drop in fiscal stimulus from “Relief measures.” That’s the trouble with stimulus — it’s finite. Congress passes these things reluctantly, and if the economy still needs stimulating when it’s over, people are more likely to conclude that it failed rather than that it was too small (which it was) or that it spared us even worse devastation (which it did).

Now it is possible, perhaps even probable, that Congress will fail to pass any deficit-reduction deal and will end up raising the debt ceiling anyway — after all, that’s what’s happened virtually every previous time that a debt-ceiling vote has come up. But even if Congress ends up not inflicting any new wounds on the economy, we’re looking at big-time deficit reduction that will do plenty of damage on its own.

UPDATE, 1 Aug. 2011: Actually, it looks like it’s already happened. In the dismal GDP figures released last week, the government’s contribution to real GDP growth was negative 1.2 percentage points in the first quarter of 2011, with about two-thirds of the decline coming from the federal government. Government purchases account for about 20% of GDP, so cuts in government purchases reduce GDP. “Fiscal drag,” the economists call it. Federal government purchases fell 9.4% in the first quarter (the unwinding of the stimulus surely had much to do with this), and state and local government purchases fell 3.4%. (In the second quarter federal purchases rose 2.2% and state and local purchases again fell 3.4%.)

P.S. The title’s musical inspiration is forty years off and I’ve used it before, but hey, it’s a good song.


Feeling 1982: Fifteen million unemployed

2 July 2009

Another BLS employment report, more bad news.  In every month since April 2008, the U.S. unemployment rate has either risen or held steady.  It’s currently at 9.5%, the highest since late 1982, and 14.7 million people are unemployment (or 15.1 million if one uses the non-seasonally-adjusted data, i.e., the data that count the actual unemployed without filtering for seasonal fluctuations).  For adult men, the unemployment rate is an even 10%. Nonfarm payroll employment fell by 467,000, about 100,000 worse than economists had expected.

U.S. unemployment rate, 1980-2009

U.S. unemployment rate, 1980-2009

It gets worse still. Think of 5% unemployment as the benchmark, as many economists consider 5% to be the “natural” rate of unemployment, i.e., about the lowest unemployment rate that the economy can sustain without generating higher inflation.  The unemployment rate has been that low or better quite often in recent years, including about four years in 1997-2001 and about three years in 2005-2008 (click chart to see it properly).  Right now, however, 5 percent (actually 5.1%) is the long-term unemployment rate, i.e., the number of people unemployed 15 weeks or longer divided by the total labor force.