Don’t Panic

| March 26, 2008

At least, not yet. That’s the assessment from Robert Samuelson, a commentator whom I respect:

Regarding the economy, it’s hard not to notice this stark contrast: The “real economy” of spending, production and jobs — though weakening — is hardly in a state of collapse, but much of today’s semi-hysterical commentary suggests that it is. Financial markets for stocks and bonds are described as being “in turmoil.” People talk about a recession as if it were the second coming of Genghis Khan. Some whisper the dreaded word “depression.” Meanwhile, Americans are expected to buy about 15 million vehicles in 2008; though down from 16.5 million in 2006, that’s still a lot.

There’s a disconnect between what people see around them and what they’re told is happening. The first is upsetting (rising gas prices, falling home prices, fewer jobs) but reflects the normal reverses of a $14 trillion economy. The second (“panic,” “financial meltdown”) suggests the onset of something catastrophic and totally outside the experience of ordinary people. The economy, the New York Times said last week, may be on “the brink of the worst recession in a generation” — an ominous warning.

Perhaps, but so far the concrete evidence is scant. A recession is a noticeable period of declining output. Since World War II, there have been 10. On average, they’ve lasted 10 months, involved a peak monthly unemployment rate of 7.6 percent and resulted in a decline in economic output (gross domestic product) of 1.8 percent, reports Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com. If the two worst recessions (those of 1981-82 and 1973-75, with peak unemployment of 10.8 percent and 9 percent) are excluded, the average peak jobless rate is about 7 percent.

No one doubts that the economy has slowed. Many economists think a recession has already started. Zandi is one. He forecasts peak unemployment of 6.1 percent (present unemployment: 4.8 percent) and a GDP drop of 0.4 percent. If that happens, the recession of 2008 would actually be milder than the average postwar recession and milder than the past two, those of 1990-91 and 2001.

Read the whole thing.  ..bruce w..

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Category: Credit Backlash, Main, Recession Watch

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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