Sunday, December 28, 2008

Recession Obsession

Being a business student, there's a certain criteria one is taught by professors for determining a recession: two or more quarters of declining (or, "contracting") real GDP. As a matter of fact, by that definition, we still haven't technically confirmed the existence of a recession. (That is, we haven't confirmed it by measuring fourth quarter GDP, though third quarter results are declining, and it strains credulity to think this quarter will rebound.)

The media and the public began using the term "recession" long before it was actually applicable, which I tried to correct when possible. (Does anyone remember early 2001 when Democrats accused the newly-inaugurated President Bush of "talking down the economy" by using the word "recession" before it had been adequately measured and established?)

I generally try to sun on the rainy parades of alarmists, especially when they want it to rain (Such as trying to explain to alarmists that the sun will actually not fry us in our own atmospheric gases) and it looks like I have a chance again...and who knows, maybe even a little credibility.

So we're told we crossed the magic line of an actual recession a few miles back. I slept through it, but okay, what the hey. I'm still a student, and not frightfully impacted by a recession, being that I'm not yet working and therefore not in danger of a cut in wages or being laid off.

But people need to just chill about this for a minute. The thing to do is try to look at things from a historical perspective.

Take a look at the data from the National Bureau of Economic Research's page on US economic recessions. If you do that, you'll realize that every decade for the past 100 years has had a recession!

People tend to be chronocentric (acting as if the era they were born in is the only significant one, which, by the way, also leads people to ignorant assumptions of "worst president ever" -- without ever comparing the current president's actions and policies to those of, say, Calvin Coolidge or Herbert Hoover!) and neglect historical context. Granted, there were plenty of things that happened before my day too, but was the stock market crash of 1929 really so long ago? Was World War II so long ago? The oil crisis of the 1970's? Mild recessions in the 80's and 90's? The massive but short-lived shockwaves of September 11?

Each recession has had its causes, and we've come out of each one of them. Almost every US president has fought against one. And by the way, in reality presidents are seldom to blame for them.

So please, people. Calm down.


Further links:
A History of Recessions
Bush’s Legacy May End Up Better Than You Think
National Bureau of Economic Research
US Bureau of Labor and Statistics
US Bureau of Economic Analysis
Gas Price Trends
Wikipedia: List of Recessions

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