The Economist catches us up on the history of the Great Recession. First, the history people remember.
ON DECEMBER 16th, 2008, President-Elect Barack Obama met in Chicago with key members of his economic team to discuss their response to the deteriorating economic situation. Just two weeks earlier, the Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that 533,000 jobs had been lost in November, after a decline of 302,000 in October. According to the latest output figures, the economy had contracted by 0.5% in the third quarter, and much worse was expected of the fourth….
in the fourth quarter of 2008, GDP contracted at a 3.8% annual pace—the worst quarterly performance since the deep recession of 1982. More bad news hit on February 6th, when the BLS released new labour market figures. It reported an employment decline of 598,000 in January, following on revised drops in employment of 577,000 in December and 597,000 in November—a three-month drop of 1.8m jobs.
Unfortunately, things were worse than was realized.
Unfortunately, the situation was far more dire than anyone in the administration or in Congress supposed.
Output in the third and fourth quarters fell by 3.7% and 8.9%, respectively, not at 0.5% and 3.8% as believed at the time. Employment was also falling much faster than estimated. Some 820,000 jobs were lost in January, rather than the 598,000 then reported. In the three months prior to the passage of stimulus, the economy cut loose 2.2m workers, not 1.8m. In January, total employment was already 1m workers below the level shown in the official data.
Marc Schulman notes that BEA numbers showed that conditions had deteriorated more than thought in 2008.
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.
This makes sense. Credit markets had frozen. TED spreads broke the Black Monday record of 1987. We really were in free fall. We were fortunate that the administration was as aggressive as it was.