GDP Growth, Recession, Depression and Recovery

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 18th, 2013

Economics 101

Gross Domestic Product is basically Consumer Spending and Government Spending

In the 1980 presidential campaign Ronald Reagan said, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job.  A depression is when you lose yours.  And a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”  A powerful statement.  And one that proved to be pretty much true.  But don’t look for these definitions in an economics textbook.  For though they connect well to us the actual definitions are a little more complex.  And a bit abstract.

There is a natural ebb and flow to the economy.  We call it the business cycle.  There are good economic times with unemployment falling.  And there are bad economic times with unemployment rising.  The economy expands.  And the economy contracts.  The contraction side of the business cycle is a recession.  And it runs from the peak of the expansion to the trough of the contraction.  A depression is basically a recession that is really, really bad.

But even these definitions are vague.  Because getting an accurate measurement on economic growth isn’t that easy.  There’s gross domestic product (GDP).  Which is the sum total of final goods and services.  Basically consumer spending and government spending.  Which is why the government’s economists (Keynesians) and those in the Democrat Party always say cutting government spending will hurt the economy.  By reducing GDP.  But GDP is not the best measurement of economic activity.

Even though Retail Sales may be Doing Well everyone up the Production Chain may not be Expanding Production

One problem with GDP is that the government is constantly revising the numbers.  So GDP doesn’t really provide real-time feedback on economic activity.  The organization that defines the start and end points of recessions is the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).  And they often do so AFTER the end of a recession.  One metric they use is GDP growth.  If it’s negative for two consecutive quarters they call it a recession.  But if there is a significant decline in economic activity that lasts a few months or more they may call that a recession, too.  Even if there aren’t two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.  If GDP falls by 10% they’ll call that a depression.

There’s another problem with using GDP data.  It’s incomplete.  It only looks at consumer spending.  It doesn’t count any of the upper stages of
production.  The wholesale stage.  The manufacturing stage.  And the raw commodities stage.  Where the actual bulk of economic activity takes place.  In these upper stages.  Which Keynesian economists ignore.  For they only look at aggregate consumer spending.  Which they try to manipulate with interest rates.  And increasing the money supply.  To encourage more consumer spending.  But there is a problem with Keynesian economics.  It doesn’t work.

When economic activity slows Keynesian economic policies say the government should increase spending to pick up the slack.  So they expand the money supply.  Lower interest rates.  And spend money.  Putting more money into the hands of consumers.  So they can go out and spend that money.  Thus stimulating economic activity.  But expanding the money supply creates inflation.  Which raises prices.  So consumers may be spending that stimulus money but those businesses in the higher stages of production know what’s coming.  Higher prices.  Which means people will soon be buying less.  And they know once these people spend their stimulus money it will be gone.  As will all that stimulated activity.  So even though retail sales may be doing well everyone up the production chain may not be expanding production.  Instead, wholesalers will draw down their inventories.  And not replace them.  So they will buy less from manufacturers.  Who will buy fewer raw commodities.

The continually falling Labor Force Participation Rate suggests the 2007-2009 Recession hasn’t Ended

So retail sales could be doing well during an economic contraction.  For awhile.  But everything above retail sales will already be hunkering down for the coming recession.  Cutting production.  And laying off people. Making unemployment another metric to measure a recession by.  If the unemployment rate rose by, say, 1.5 points during a given period of time the economy may be in a recession.  But there is a problem with using the unemployment rate.  The official unemployment rate (the U-3 number) doesn’t count everyone who can’t find a full-time job.

U-3 only counts those people who are looking for work.  They don’t count those who take a lower-paying part-time job because they can’t find a full-time job.  And they don’t count people who give up looking for work because there just isn’t anything out there.  Getting by on their savings.  Their spouse’s income.  Even cashing in their 401(k).  People doing this are an indication of a horrible economy.  And probably a pretty bad recession.  But they don’t count them.  Making the U-3 unemployment rate understate the true unemployment.  A better metric is the labor force participation rate.  The percentage of those who are able to work who are actually working.  A falling unemployment rate is good.  But if that happens at the same time the labor force participation rate is falling the economy is still probably in recession.  Despite the falling unemployment rate.

The NBER sifts through a lot of data to decide whether the economy is in recession or not.  Do politics enter their decision-making process?  Perhaps.  For they said the 2007-2009 recession ended in 2009.  The U-3 unemployment rate had fallen.  And GDP growth returned to positive territory.  But the labor force participation rate continued to fall.  Meaning people were disappearing from the labor force.  Indicating that the 2007-2009 recession hasn’t really ended.  In fact, one could even say that we have been in a depression.  For not only did a lot of our neighbors lose their jobs.  A lot of us lost our jobs, too.  And because the president who presided over the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression didn’t lose his job in 2012, there has been no recovery.  So given our current economic picture the best metric to use appears to be what Ronald Reagan told us in 1980.  Which means things aren’t going to get better any time soon.

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Disposable Income and GDP Growth

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 25th, 2013

Economics 101

With less Disposable Income there will be less New Economic Activity Created

The key to economic growth is disposable income.  For when we live from paycheck to paycheck economic growth is flat.  It’s when we have disposable income that we can spend money beyond our basic needs.  Such as on a vacation.  A new car.  A television.  New windows, carpeting, appliances, furniture, etc.  Movies, ball games, dinners, the theater, etc.  New clothes, jewelry, shoes, accessories, etc.  Tennis rackets, skis, baseball gloves, hiking boots, fishing gear, etc.  Smart phones, MP3 players, iPads, laptops, etc.  Jet skis, boats, motorcycles, mountain bikes, etc.  Radio-controlled cars/helicopters/planes, Game Boys, Xboxes, Wiis, PlayStations, multiplayer role-playing computer games, etc.

Buying these things creates a lot of economic activity.  But we can’t buy any of these things unless we have disposable income.  So the only way to increase economic activity is to increase disposable income.  Which means there is a direct relationship between GDP and disposable income.

There’s been a lot of talk about real incomes being flat.  Even falling during the Obama presidency.  Which is bad.  For if median incomes are falling people will have less disposable income.  And with less disposable income they will be buying less of all those things that create new economic activity.  The things we enjoy.  That make our lives more fun.  More enjoyable.  And less miserable.  Those things that increase our standard of living.  And the quality of life.  So a flat and falling median income reduces our standard of living.  And our quality of life.  As we live from paycheck to paycheck.  Making barely enough to meet our living expenses.  And sometimes not even making enough for that.  Having to turn to government assistance to make up the difference.

We add Disposable Income and Discounted Government Spending to get the Net Add to GDP

The key to disposable income and GDP growth is jobs.  And the more jobs the better.  So job creation is very important.  Which means we need a business-friendly environment.  With a minimum of costly regulations.  And low taxes.  To encourage employers to hire more people.  So more people have jobs.  Those who do use their income to meet their living expenses.  And use their disposable income to create new economic activity.  The more disposable income they have the more new economic activity they can create.  So what’s the best way to increase their disposable income?  The same way we encourage employers to hire more people.  Low taxes.  We can illustrate this in the following table which is based on assumptions and approximations.

GDP Discounted Required and Average Calculations

The effective tax rate a person pays includes all taxes he or she will pay.  Property tax, sales tax, gas tax, telecommunication tax, liquor tax, cigarette tax, import tariff, dog license tax, fishing license tax, luxury tax, watercraft registration tax, vehicle sales tax, state income tax, federal income tax, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, capital gains tax, etc.   Median income and living expenses are constants.  We subtract taxes from median income to get net income.  Subtracting living expenses from net income gives us disposable income.  We then calculate these numbers for additional effective tax rates that are multiples of 4%.

We add disposable income and stimulus together to get the net add to GDP.  What we call ‘stimulus’ is a percentage of all those taxes reentering the economy through government spending.  In our example 80% of those taxes find their way back into the economy.  While 20% is lost through waste and inefficiency.  This stimulus can pay for a government worker, a government contractor or a direct government benefit that helps people meet their living expenses.  This redistributed income is money that the income earner would have spent had it not been taxed away.  Instead, someone else will spend it.  But not as efficiently.  As it must first pass through an inefficient government bureaucracy.

Giving People Benefits does not Replace Disposable Income

We extend the table out to an effective tax rate of 52% and graph the results.  We see that as the effective tax rate increases disposable income falls.  As does GDP growth.  Showing that increasing taxation reduces GDP.  That said, average GDP growth has been approximately 3% during the latter half of the 20th Century.  Despite increasing taxation reducing GDP.  So how do we reconcile a falling GDP and a 3% GDP growth?  With aggressive increases in productivity.  And investments in capital equipment.  Allowing business to produce more with less.  Resulting in a rising real GDP growth rate.  As shown in the following graph.

GDP Discounted Required and Average

In order to maintain a 3% growth rate in GDP we need a rising real GDP growth rate (in one America doing very well despite government) to offset the falling discounted GDP growth rate due to falling disposable income (in another America not doing well because of government).  When we add the real and the discounted GDP growth rates together we get the constant 3% of average GDP growth.  Which is why businesses have never been more profitable despite stagnant economic growth during President Obama’s time in office.  They’re doing well because they’re producing more with less by exchanging people for new capital equipment.  Hence the higher profitability along with chronic high unemployment.  With more unemployed workers than available jobs there is a downward pressure on median income.  That combined with higher personal effective taxes has greatly reduced disposable income.  And new economic growth.  Which subtracts a lot away from that real GDP growth.

Giving people benefits does not replace disposable income.  For government assistance helps people meet basic living expenses.  While having a job offers the ability to earn disposable income.  Which is key for new economic growth.  If we bring the effective tax rate down the discounted GDP growth graph will flatten out.  As this happens the gains in productivity would remain.  Leaving real GDP growth unchanged.  With real GDP growth unchanged and discounted GDP growth decreasing the average annual GDP growth would therefore increase.  And approach real GDP growth.  With double digit GDP growth tax revenues would soar even at lower effective tax rates.  Requiring less borrowing.  Which would give us smaller deficits.  While reducing the growth in the federal debt.  Perhaps even reducing the debt.  Solving all of our financial problems.  By simply cutting taxes.  And the spending those taxes fund.

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Debt Ceiling Debate is Masking the Horrific Economic News

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2011

The Meaning of Bipartisan Depends on your Point of View; on the Right it means Compromise whereas on the Left it means Unconditional Surrender.

In the budget debate to raise the debt ceiling, both sides have dug in.  The Left says the Right is being intransigent.  Saying they are unwilling to compromise.  Even though they have done far less in the compromise department themselves.  They want to raise taxes.  They want to borrow more.  And they will not compromise on these positions.  They refuse to pass any Republican bill in the Senate (and President Obama says he will veto any bill that makes it through the Senate) unless it completely gives way to the Democrat position. 

All the while this theatre is playing out credit rating agencies are lining up to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt due to excessive deficits, debt and out of control government spending.  Unless they see at least $4 trillion in real spending cuts (not promised cuts that never happen or baseline ‘spending cuts’ that still increase spending), the downgrades are a fait accompli.  At least according to an S&P report.

If they’re that Bad at Analyzing Data do we really want them Tweaking the Economy?

As cheerful as all that is at least we can look forward to some upbeat economic news.  Just like Obama, Biden, Bernanke, Geithner, et al have been promising with all their economic tweaks to win the future.  And the result of all that vey extensive and very expensive tweaking?  Hmm.  What would be a good choice of words?  How about abject failure (see Economy in U.S. Grows Less Than Forecast After Almost Stalling by Shobhana Chandra posted 7/29/2011 on Bloomberg)? 

Revisions to GDP figures going back to 2003 showed that the 2007-2009 recession took a bigger bite out of the economy than previously estimated and the recovery lost momentum throughout 2010. The world’s largest economy shrank 5.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2009, compared with the previously reported 4.1 percent drop. The second-worst contraction in the post-World War II era was a 3.7 percent decline in 1957-58.

The Fed’s preferred price gauge, which is tied to consumer spending and strips out food and energy costs, climbed at a 2.1 percent pace, the most since the last three months of 2009, compared with 1.6 percent in the first quarter, as higher oil and food costs pushed up the prices of other goods and services. The central bank’s longer-term projection is a range of 1.7 percent to 2 percent.

“This is the worst of all worlds for investors, certainly the worst of all worlds for the Fed,” John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “A little too much inflation, not enough growth, that is a tough scenario in the U.S.”

Of course, they’ll say it was even worse than they thought.  Again.  Blame George W. Bush.  Again.  Which doesn’t fill one with a lot of confidence.  For if they’re that bad at analyzing data, do we really want them tweaking the economy?

Still, they keep telling us how bad things would have been if they didn’t act?  Why, there’d be dingoes running in the streets eating our babies.  To be honest, we’re tired of hearing about how many jobs they created and saved.  We’d probably be further ahead today if we’d taken the chance with the dingoes and they left the economy alone.

The Obama Social Engineering is giving us Carter Stagflation

Inflation.  And low GDP growth.  That is a horrible combination.  But it’s what you get when you try to use monetary policy to fix fiscal problems (see Forget About The Debt Ceiling Debate, Where’s The Economic Growth? by Kevin Mahin posted 7/29/2011 on Forbes). 

I recognize that the debt ceiling debate may make for interesting political theatre for some.  I also recognize that the spending and revenue issues underlying the debate need to be addressed sooner than later.  However,  the heightened threat of stagflation*, now present in the system, is of paramount concern to me.

*Stagflation is a financial term often used to describe an environment where inflation (i.e. prices) is high and economic growth is low.  Periods of stagflation have historically been accompanied by high unemployment as well.

We are fast approaching the malaise of the Carter stagflation.  We need fiscal policy that is conducive to creating jobs.  Instead, this administration is more concerned about social engineering at the expense of job creation.

Killing the American Automotive Industry and Killing Americans

For all the talk about the auto bailouts to save American jobs, the latest policy appears to want to kill American jobs.  When the auto industry is suffering anemic growth, the Obama administration just made it harder to be in the auto industry by raising fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 (see Obama to unveil auto fuel rule deal by David Shepardson posted 7/29/2011 on The Detroit News). 

The deal would extend a May 2009 agreement that boosted fuel efficiency standards to 34.1 mpg by 2016, costing the auto industry $51.5 billion over five years.

In the current budget debates, Obama keeps saying that because of the slow economic recovery we shouldn’t go on a cost cutting spree.  That would only pull consumer spending out of the economy.  Of course he has no such empathy for the struggling auto industry.  He’s more than willing to raise their cost of doing business.  Killing jobs in the process.

Incidentally, there are only two ways to squeeze this kind of mileage out of a car.  Making it so light that it (and its passengers) would probably not survive most accidents.  Or being unable to build a car to meet this standard.

Gas Prices must Rise to between $4.50-$5.50 for the Electric Car to Succeed

But what on earth would be the reason to enact standards that automakers can’t meet?  Well, how about this (see Gas must hit $4.50 to make electric cars cost-effective by Joel Gehrke posted 7/29/2011 on the Washington Examiner)? 

Gas prices must rise to between $4.50-$5.50, the study authors suggest, for electric vehicles to become less expensive to own than gas-powered vehicles…

Of course, this omits the other method of making electric cars competitive — enact fuel efficiency standards that make gas-powered vehicles illegal to make or impossibly expensive. Given President Obama’s announcement today that fuel economy standards are set to rise to 54.5 mpg between 2017 and 2025, it seems that the electric vehicle industry is getting the government props necessary to make consumers buy the cars.

This is not how you increase domestic auto output.  Or create jobs.  This is how you change human behavior.  By forcing people to act against their will.  And in the process making us all poorer by increasing the cost of food.  How?  Gasoline and diesel are a big component of food costs.  For it takes fuel to grow food.  And to bring it to market.

The One Thing the Obama Administration is Good At

It makes you think.  Is all of this debt ceiling debate pure theatre to distract us from the destruction of the economy?  Because this destruction is pretty good as far as destruction goes.  You probably couldn’t have done a better job if you tried.  Which begs the question was this all planned?  A social reengineering of the United States brought about by the destruction of the U.S. economy? 

If so, at least you can say there was one thing the Obama administration was good at.

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