Worse Than Expected on the Economy

Keep your eyes on the gap between what the economy could produce at full employment and the paltry level of aggregate demand (consumers plus businesses plus exports). That’s why the stimulus is too small — and why my bet is the President will be back for more stimulus. The Commerce Department reported today that the economy contracted in the 4th quarter of 2008 more sharply than initially estimated. Consumers cut spending the most in over 28 years. Businesses cut way back as well. Exports were dead in the water.

All told, according to the new data, the nation’s economy shrank at an annual rate of 6.2 percent. Last month, the government’s preliminary estimate of the drop in fourth-quarter GDP was only 3.8 percent. Roughly half the Commerce Department’s revision was due to a sharper drop in business spending than had been anticipated. As a result, business inventories — the amount of stuff they they have on hand to sell — have dropped. That’s good news because eventually businesses will have to replace their inventories, in anticipation of at least some consumer buying, and such replacement spending will spur the economy. But here’s the bad news: Inventories still aren’t dropping as fast as sales are dropping, suggesting even less business spending and investing coming up.

There’s no reason to suppose the 1st quarter of 2009 will be any better, and lots of reason to think it will be worse. Government is spender of last resort. We’re at the last resort now. $787 billion over two years, and only two-thirds of it real spending, is way below what will be needed to get the economy moving back toward full capacity. Do Republicans know this? Is this why they’re continuing to bet that the economy won’t be recovering by November, 2010, and why they’re going to continue to say no?

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

Visit: Robert Reich

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.