Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Reasons Behind the Obama Non-Recovery

By Robert J. Barro, in the WSJ. Excerpts:
"The Obama administration and some economists argue that the recovery since the Great Recession ended in 2009 has been unusually weak because of the recession’s severity and the fact that it was accompanied by a major financial crisis. Yet in a recent study of economic downturns in the U.S. and elsewhere since 1870, economist Tao Jin and I found that historically the opposite has been true. Empirically, the growth rate during a recovery relates positively to the magnitude of decline during the downturn.

In our paper, “Rare Events and Long-Run Risks,” we examined macroeconomic disasters in 42 countries, featuring 185 contractions in GDP per capita of 10% or more. These contractions are dominated by wartime devastation such as World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-45) and financial crises such as the Great Depression of the 1930s. Many are global events, some are for individual or a few countries.

On average, during a recovery, an economy recoups about half the GDP lost during the downturn. The recovery is typically quick, with an average duration around two years. For example, a 4% decline in per capita GDP during a contraction predicts subsequent recovery of 2%, implying 1% per year higher growth than normal during the recovery. Hence, the growth rate of U.S. per capita GDP from 2009 to 2011 should have been around 3% per year, rather than the 1.5% that materialized.

Arguing that the recovery has been weak because the downturn was severe or coincided with a major financial crisis conflicts with the evidence"

"many of the biggest downturns featured financial crises. For example, the U.S. per capita GDP growth rate from 1933-40 was 6.5% per year, the highest of any peacetime interval of several years, despite the 1937 recession. This strong recovery followed the cumulative decline in the level of per capita GDP by around 29% from 1929-33 during the Great Depression."

"The growth rate of GDP per worker from 2010-15 was 0.5% per year, compared with 1.5% from 1949 to 2009."

"What could have promoted a faster recovery by enhancing productivity growth? Variables that encourage economic growth include strong rule of law and property rights, free trade, rolling back inefficient regulations and other constraints on market activity, public infrastructure such as highways and airports, strong institutions for education and health, fiscal discipline (including a moderate ratio of public debt to GDP), efficient taxation, and sound monetary policy as reflected in low and stable inflation.

The main U.S. policy used to counter the Great Recession was increased government transfer payments."

"The absence of inflation is surprising but may have occurred because weak opportunities for private investment motivated banks and other institutions to hold the Fed’s added obligations despite the negative real interest rates paid."

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