Economy Revised: Recession Worse than Feared
Much is being made of today’s GDP report and the downward revisions for first quarter. Less mentioned is the that the report included revisions all the way back to 2007:
The picture grows bleaker the farther back one looks. BEA revised its national accounts numbers back to 2007 for this release, and the picture revealed is far darker than anyone previously believed. From 2007 to 2010, real output declined by 0.3% per year on average. Previously, BEA had estimated annual growth of 0.1% over that period.
The decline in output during the intense period of financial crisis was significantly more severe than economists had thought. In 2008, the economy shrank 0.3%, rather than holding flat, as earlier estimated. In 2009, the economy shrank 3.5%, worse than the earlier 2.6% projection. During the ugliest months of the crisis, in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, output declined at a shocking 8.9% and 6.7% annual pace, respectively. It is now clear that the American economy has yet to reattain its previous peak in real output, achieved three full years ago.
If nothing else, this awful report helps to solve a number of lingering mysteries concerning the crisis. Arguments that unemployment must be structural, given the failure of projected growth rates to generate new hiring, now look silly. Projected growth rates were simply overstated, and current unemployment is exactly what we’d expect given such a feeble recovery. Those overly optimistic assessments of the likely impact of interventions, from fiscal stimulus to QE, also make much more sense now. Policymakers were fighting a fire far more intense than they recognised.