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Economic News, Data and Analysis

Revising History

It seems that President Bush is running around claiming that he “inherited an economy in recession.” (See below.)
Just to be clear, the NBER declared the beginning of the recession to be in March 2001, AFTER the current administration took charge.
This isn’t to say that Bush somehow caused the initial recession (although it certainly didn’t help that VP Cheney was running around in the country in late 2000 and early 2001 telling everyone how the economy was in bad shape.)
It is also unlikely that the recession was caused by any Clinton policy – the recession was largely a result of decreases in business investment – and the federal government simply didn’t do anything in the late 1990s that would have had a significant impact on the short-run macroeconomic situation.
The important question is not whose fault is the recession, but rather what has been the response of the administration to the economic situation. We have seen 3 major tax cuts – one per year – totaling around $1.75 trillion over ten years (and this is a gross underestimate since the cost assumes that many of the provisions are allowed to sunset) each of which were sold as economic and job stimulus, but which in reality had very little to do with good counter-cyclical fiscal policy, or with the current economic problems.
The result? Unemployment continued to increase and is up to 6.1%, and there have been 2.5 million jobs lost since March 2001. As a result of the revenue reductions from the tax cuts and the weak economy, the federal budget has gone from a record surplus to a record $400 billion deficit.
We are continually told that the Republican Party is a supporter of personal responsibility. The administration should not be playing the blame game when it comes to the economy, and should take responsibility, at the very least, for the ineffectual policy response and the current dismal budget situation.
The original NBER announcement
The latest update

As 2004 Nears, Bush Pins Slump on Clinton (
With the start of his reelection campaign in the past two weeks, President Bush has revived his pastime of blaming his predecessor, Bill Clinton, for the economic recession.
“Two-and-a-half years ago, we inherited an economy in recession,” he told donors at a Bush-Cheney ’04 reception yesterday in Miami. He has raised the same accusation in fundraising appearances since mid-June in Washington, Georgia, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
It’s a good applause line for a crowd of red-meat political supporters. The trouble is it’s a case of what the president has called, in another context, revisionist history. The recession officially began in March of 2001 — two months after Bush was sworn in — according to the universally acknowledged arbiter of such things, the National Bureau of Economic Research. And the president, at other times, has said so himself.
The bad news came on Nov. 26, 2001. The NBER, led by an informal economic adviser to Bush, Martin Feldstein, pronounced that economic activity peaked in March 2001, “a determination that the expansion that began in March 1991 ended in March 2001 and a recession began.”
At the time, Bush accepted the verdict with perfect accuracy. “This week, the official announcement came that our economy has been in recession since March,” he said in his radio address the next weekend. “And unfortunately, to a lot of Americans, that news comes as no surprise. Many have lost jobs or seen their hours cut. Many have seen friends or family laid off. The long economic expansion that started 10 years ago, in 1991, began to slow last year. Many economists warned me when I took office that a recession was beginning, so we took quick action.”
Until the NBER’s official pronouncement, Bush had avoided the “R” word. He spoke earlier in 2001 of an “economic slowdown” as administration officials noted, correctly, that the pace of economic growth began to slow (but not contract) in 2000, under Clinton’s watch. “In terms of how you call it, what the numbers look like, we’ve got statisticians who will be crunching the numbers and let us know exactly where we stand,” Bush said in October 2001. “But we don’t need numbers to tell us people are hurting.”

Feldstein’s NBER, which earlier said it gives “relatively little weight” to the quarterly growth figures from Commerce, is not joining in the revision. Two weeks ago, it issued an updated report sticking by its assessment that the recession began in March 2001.

Filed under: Economics, Economy, Fiscal Policy, Policy, Politics, Recession



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