Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Recessions and Recoveries

Two weeks ago the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER) announced that we are out of the recession and have been since June 2009.  So, how does this recession compare to previous recessions?

The earliest date that the NBER uses is 1854.  The average length of a U.S. recession between 1854 and 2010 is 17 months.  If one uses post-WWII data, the average length of a business contraction is 10 months.

If we compare the current recession, which started in December 2007, with that of previous recessions, we see that the duration is longer than either average.  Now that the NBER says we hit bottom in June 2009, we have had 19 official months of recession.

We are now entering the 34th month since the beginning of the recession and many are questioning whether we have truly hit bottom.  While I believe that we have stopped falling, I think that the so-called recovery has started yet.  In fact, there are signs that the recovery is still far off.  For example, private investors are unwilling to make a move until they have a clearer understanding of the government's next regulatory moves.  This situation precisely mirrors investors' sentiments in the 1930s.

The Bush administration reigned over the first 14 months of this recession.  By historical averages, we should have been recovering by inauguration.  What does this tell us?  It says very clearly that the Bush administration made the wrong move by bailing out banks and propping up failing businesses.

It  is now more than 20 months since the Bush administration has left office, and the current government has also done much to hamper any prospect of recovery.  The Obama administration has not unleashed the economy (and reverse the Bush agenda), but instead, it has further shackled it.  By supporting TARP and the Bush bank bail outs and adding to the situation the GM bail out, the ineffective stimulus package, a new health care burden and more financial regulation, the Obama administration has set us on a path towards economic stagnation.  The looming fear is whether the stagnation will be coupled with Jimmy Carter style inflation.

It is time to recognize that taxing, spending and regulating are not the instruments for economic recovery. Money creation, artificially lower interest rates and government accumulation of debt are sending us down the wrong road.

Governments at all levels are stalling the recovery and it seems that no one trusts the market enough to let it do its job.

Perhaps we should listen to our 30th President Calvin Coolidge:

“The people cannot look to legislation generally for success. Industry, thrift, character, are not conferred by act or resolve. Government cannot relieve from toil. It can provide no substitute for the rewards of service. It can, of course, care for the defective and recognize distinguished merit. The normal must care for themselves. Self-government means self-support.”


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