Friday, September 28, 2012

Current economic policies: pro and con

Today’s Economic Data. By Alan Krueger
The White House, September 27, 2012 11:57 AM EDT

More than the usual amount of economic statistics were released this morning. As a whole, today’s economic news shows that while we are still fighting back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we are making progress. We lost more than 8 million jobs and GDP contracted by almost 5 percent as a result of the Great Recession. We have more work to do, but incorporating today’s preliminary benchmark revision to the employment figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics with their earlier data indicates that the economy has added nearly 5.1 million private sector jobs, on net, over the past 30 months. BLS announced that total employment likely grew by 386,000 more jobs than previously announced during the 12 months from March 2011 to March 2012, and by 453,000 more private sector jobs in that same time period. In the past decade, the absolute difference between the preliminary and final benchmark revision has averaged 37,000 jobs.

We also saw revised data released today showing that real GDP grew in the second quarter of 2012 by 1.3 percent at an annual rate. Real GDP growth in the second quarter was revised down due, in part, to a downward revision to agriculture inventories as a result of the devastating drought our nation faced this summer. The Obama Administration continues to take all available steps to mitigate the impacts of the drought, and has called on Congress to pass a farm bill that would spur growth and provide rural Americans with the certainty they deserve. We also learned today that the advance report of durable goods orders declined in August, largely as a result of a decline in orders for transportation equipment. Excluding the volatile transportation category, durable goods orders fell by 1.6 percent.

Today’s news shows that we must do more to strengthen our economy and promote job creation. Over a year ago, President Obama proposed the American Jobs Act – a plan that independent economists have said would create up to 2 million jobs. The President will continue to push policies that will continue this progress we have made, including incentives to strengthen the American manufacturing industry, investments in our nation’s infrastructure, and the extension of the tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses.

While we are still rebuilding our economy and working to recover from the worst crisis since the Great Depression, we are making progress and the last thing we should do is return to the economic policies that failed us in the past. The revisions announced in today’s reports are a reminder that economic data are subject to large revisions. As a whole the pattern of revisions suggest that the recession that began at the end of 2007 was deeper than initially reported, and the jobs recovery over the last 2.5 years has been a bit stronger than initially reported, although much work remains to be done to return to full employment.

As Good As It Gets? WSJ Editorial
Growth of 1.7% isn't what Team Obama promised four years ago.The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2012, page A16


Bob Schieffer: "The fact is, unemployment is up. It is higher than when [President Obama] came to office, the economy is still in the dump. Some people say that is reason enough to make a change."

Bill Clinton: "It is if you believe that we could have been fully healed in four years. I don't know a single serious economist who believes that as much damage as we had could have been healed."

CBS's "Face the Nation," September 23, 2012

[Growth Gap:]

Well, let's see. We can think of several serious people who said we could heal the economy in four years. There's Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Christina Romer, Jared Bernstein, Mark Zandi, and, most importantly, President Obama himself.

Mr. Obama told Americans in 2009 that if he did not turn around the economy in three years his Presidency would be "a one-term proposition." Joe Biden said three years ago that the $830 billion economic stimulus was working beyond his "wildest dreams" and he famously promised several months after the Obama stimulus was enacted that Americans would enjoy a "summer of recovery." That was more than three years ago.

In early 2009 soon-to-be White House economists Ms. Romer and Mr. Bernstein promised Congress that the stimulus would hold the unemployment rate below 7% and that by now it would be 5.6%. Instead the rate is 8.1%. The latest Census Bureau report says there are nearly seven million fewer full-time, year-round workers today than in 2007. The labor participation rate is the lowest since 1981.

So it has gone with nearly every prediction the President has made about where the economy would be today. Mr. Obama promised that the deficit would be cut in half in four years, but the fiscal 2012 deficit (estimated to be above $1 trillion) will be twice the 2008 deficit ($458 billion).

Mr. Obama said that his health-care plan would "cut the cost of a typical family's premium by up to $2,500 a year," but premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage have gone up $2,370 since 2009, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

He said that the linchpin for a growing economy would be renewable energy investment, and he promised to "create five million new jobs in solar, wind, geothermal" energy. Mr. Obama did invest some $9 billion in green energy, but his job estimate was off by at least a factor of 10 and today many solar and wind industry firms are fighting bankruptcy. The growth in domestic U.S. energy production that he now takes credit for has come almost entirely from the fossil fuels his Administration has done so much to obstruct.

There's nothing unusual about candidates making grandiose promises that don't come true. And it's a White House tradition to blame one's predecessor when things don't get better. (Usually these Presidents end up one-termers.)

The bad faith wasn't then. It's now. Mr. Obama really believed that government spending would unleash a robust recovery in employment and housing—an "economy built to last." Now that this hasn't happened and with the Congressional Budget Office predicting a possible recession for 2013, Team Obama claims these woeful results were the best that could have been expected.

The problem with this line is that every President who has inherited a recession in modern times has done better. (See nearby table.) Under Mr. Obama, measured on the basis of jobs, GDP growth and incomes, this has been by far the meekest recovery from the past 10 recessions.

When George W. Bush was elected, he inherited a mild recession from Mr. Clinton amid the bursting of the dot-com bubble, some $7 trillion of wealth eviscerated. Nine months later came the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet by 2003 the economy was growing by more than 3% and eight million jobs were created over the next four years.

The Administration and its acolytes claim that the nature of the 2008 financial collapse was different from past recessions, and that it can take up to a decade to restore growth after such a financial crisis. Economist Michael Bordo [] rebuts that claim with historical economic evidence nearby.

In reality, the biggest difference between this recovery and others hasn't been the nature of the crisis, but the nature of the policy prescriptions. Mr. Obama's chief anti-recession idea was a near trillion-dollar leap of faith in the Keynesian "multiplier" effect of government spending. It was the same approach that didn't work in the 1930s, didn't work in the 1970s, didn't work in 2008, and didn't work in such other nations as Japan. It didn't work again in 2009.

Ronald Reagan also inherited an economy loaded with problems. The stock market had been flat for 12 years, inflation rates neared 14%, and mortgage rates almost 20%. The recession he endured in 1981-82 to cure inflation sent unemployment to 10.8%, higher than Mr. Obama's peak of 10%. But the business and jobs recovery by early 1983 was rapid and lasted seven years.

Reagan used tax-rate cuts, disinflationary monetary policy and deregulation to reignite growth—more or less the opposite of the Obama policy mix. Liberals tried to explain the Reagan boom that they said would never happen by arguing that there was nothing unusual about the growth spurt after such a deep recession. So why didn't that happen this time?

When campaigning to be President in 1960, John F. Kennedy denounced slow growth under Eisenhower and Nixon and said "We can do bettah." Growth was 7.2% in 1959 and 2.5% in 1960. Since the recession ended under Mr. Obama, growth has been 2.4% in 2010, 1.8% in 2011 and, after Thursday's downward revision for the second quarter, 1.7% in 2012.


Sheila Bair: 'Insolvent Institutions Should Be Closed'

Sheila Bair: 'Insolvent Institutions Should Be Closed.' By Robert L Pollock
Political Diary
Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2012, 12:28 p.m. ET

If you were one of the people scratching your forehead in 2008 as the federal government bailed out Bear Stearns, let Lehman Brothers fail, and then showered hundreds of billions of dollars on the banking system to avert the alleged threat of a "systemic" collapse, you were hardly alone. In fact Sheila Bair, then head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, shared many of your concerns.

Ms. Bair stopped by the Journal Wednesday as part of a tour to promote her new book on the financial crisis. The headline revelations: She was very skeptical about why the likes of Citibank were deemed worthy of moving heaven and earth to save, and she also doesn't quite understand what Tim Geithner and Hank Paulson were talking about when they used the phrase "systemically important" institutions.

Of Mr. Geithner and Citi, Ms. Bair said you just have to "look at his phone logs" to see the outsized concern he had with preserving the financial giant. He was talking with Citi CEO Vikram Pandit a lot, she says. You got the impression "he was going to stand behind Citi management no matter what . . .. He viewed me as a threat with my desire to impose losses on bondholders."

So what would Ms. Bair have done? "At least make them clean up their balance sheet," instead of just throwing money at them. "If our system is so fragile that a blatantly mismanaged, poorly run bank can't be subject to some market discipline because the whole system is gonna come down, let's just socialize everything."

"It was a joke" what happened, Ms. Bair continued. Now "they're a zombie bank," like so many Japanese financial institutions.

So does Ms. Bair think the concept of systemic risk makes any sense at all? "I think it's a really, really overused word. It's never backed with analysis. It's just 'You gotta do this because it's the system.' I think if you're throwing government money around" you better have a good explanation why letting an institution fail through the normal FDIC process would be a problem.

Ms. Bair's radical alternative to panicked and inconsistent decision making in Washington? "The insolvent institutions should be closed."

"The original sin was with Bear Stearns . . .. I've never seen a good analysis why Bearn Stearns was systemic," she says. But after Bear was bailed out in early 2008, the much bigger Lehman Brothers expected a bailout, too. When it didn't get one, the crisis of fall 2008 began in earnest. "There were so many missteps leading up to this that created market uncertainty."