|It's Still The Economy, Stupid
Friday, July 11, 2003
Amidst all the Niger Uranium furor I almost missed some interesting economic news. Fortunately, Angry Bear commenter Stirling Newberry alerted me to a story in the Friday Washington Post: Number Crunchers vs. Recession. Said number crunchers are members of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) which, among many other things, is the most widely used source for dating the start and end of recessions. You've probably heard that the latest recession started in March of 2001 (notwithstanding Bush's simultaneous attempts to say that 9/11 caused the recession and that it started under Clinton--on this topic, this Slate story is a must-read). But when, if ever, did the recession end? Well, there are two conceivable ways to get to the end zone in football. Normally a team scores by moving the ball past the goal line. On the other hand, they could keep the ball stationary and simply move the goal line. It looks like the NBER is doing the latter:
"If the committee were to rely on the same indicator to date the end of the slump, the recession would already have lasted for two years and three months, making it the longest since the vastly more serious downturn that began in 1929 and became the Great Depression...
My first thought upon reading this was "Hey, the NBER has the top economists in the country and is largely apolitical, so there's not much of a story here." My second thought was "On the other hand, the current President of the NBER is Marty Feldstein, who was Chairman of Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers from 1982-1984. It sure would be nice for Republicans if the Recession is formally announced to be over before November, 2004."
So I checked into who is on the NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee:
Robert Hall (Chair), Martin Feldstein (President, NBER), Jeffrey Frankel, Robert Gordon, Christina Romer, David Romer, and Victor Zarnowitz.
All members are top-notch economists, but I don't know most of their political affiliations. Fortunately, many economists on both the Left and Right recently decided to reveal their political leanings by signing one of two letters (I blogged about the letters here). Besides Feldstein, no members of the NBER dating committee signed the Republican Letter (scroll down). Frankel, Gordon, and both Romers signed the Anti-Tax Cut Letter. So I think it's pretty tough to argue that the committee was stacked with Republican economists. Also, Prof. Frankel chaired Clinton's CEA in the late 1990s.
Instead, the change most likely reflects genuine confusion induced by the historically unusual confluence of positive GDP and income growth accompanied by rising unemployment.
Still, while probably not politically motivated the focus on real GDP as the single best measure of aggregate economic activity" is troubling because it implies a focus only on the total income in the economy, not the distribution of that income. Under this logic a recession would not be in progress even at 20% unemployment, as long as the other 80% of the labor force had more-than-offsetting increases in income. But at least one in five people in this scenario would disagree with this conclusion.
P.S. In the 1970s, economists thought recessions and inflation would not happen at the same time, so they had to come up with a new name for the new phenomenon: "stagflation". The only phrase I've heard for the current situation is "jobless recovery", but while acccurate, it's not very catchy. Ideas?posted by Angry Bear | 11:37 PM |
Thursday, July 10, 2003
A bill that would sharply limit the power of state securities regulators to police and penalize wrongdoing by brokerage firms and their employees was approved by a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee yesterday.
Yeah, I'm sure this will be heavily debated. What a legislative turd. If the Democrats could muster some energy, they could really take this one and run with it. How hard is it to demonize thieving plutocrats that have been caught red-handed when they are blatantly trying to change the rules after the crime through the same political influence that enabled the criminal activity in the first place?
Oh yeah, really hard. I forgot. posted by Matthew | 7:10 PM |
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Democratic Presidents Are Good for the Economy
Go read Dwight Meredith's post documenting that since Hoover, job growth has been higher under every Democrat than under any Republican! That's right, the worst-performing Democrat created more jobs than the best-performing Republican. Sure, there are a lot of other factors, and Dwight hits on most of them, but it's an impressive empirical regularity.
ABposted by Angry Bear | 4:05 PM |
Sunday, July 06, 2003
Spin, Spin, Spin
Secretary Chao was correct that the labor force swelled by 611K, but it's not exactly clear from whence those numbers transferred. The number of workers "not in the labor force" only decreased by 365,000, even though June is typically when a million or so recent high school and college graduates start job hunting. And where the missing 246K came from, I really don't know, although immigration, retirement from the military, release from institutions, etc., might account for a chunk. But it's pretty clear from which categories those workers did not move; the number of discouraged workers fell by only 5,000, and more importantly, the number of workers "marginally attached to the labor force" increased by 100K. Those are individuals who want to find a job, but for some reason, had not been job hunting in the four weeks preceding the BLS survey. It's also clear that the numbers are not coming from a maturing work force; only 10,000 teenagers, seasonally adjusted, entered the work force, pushing the teenage up to over 19%.