At least one observer has argued that the current recession is not as bad as that of the 1980-82 recession, when those two separate recessions (1980Q1-1980Q3; 1981Q3-1982Q4) are considered as one (see  ). Here is my interpretation of this assertion, updated to use the latest GDP data, and normalizing (log) GDP on the recession start dates.
Figure 1: Log GDP relative to 2007Q4 (blue), log forecasted GDP relate to 2007Q4 (teal), and log GDP relative to 1980Q1 (red). Source: BEA GDP 2009Q2 advance (July 2009), WSJ survey of forecasters (July 2009), NBER, and author’s calculations.
Notice that, using the WSJ mean survey forecast from early July, the current downturn will exact a bigger (percentage) output loss than the 1980Q1-1982Q4 recession; if we assume the current recession trough ends up being 2009Q2, then the cumulative loss relative to previous peak will be 9.6 percentage points, while that for the “1980-82 recession” will be 2.5 percentage points.
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