Good News

Today David Cameron gave a strong hint that the GDP figures to be released tomorrow will be “good news”. As Jonathan Portes quickly pointed out, someone in the know even hinting at the figures before they are released is illegal. David surely knows this and it is a sign of the pressure he is under over the economy that he has blurted this out today.

When the GDP figures are bad the government says things along the lines of, “Things are worse than we thought, this is even more of a reason to pursue austerity!” And when they are good tomorrow they’ll say, “Austerity is working!” So whatever is going on they’ll say austerity is the right policy because they’re in too deep now to say anything else. But will these “good news” figures really mean a good economy?

GDP figures are always quoted relative to the previous quarter. The previous quarter was an absolute disaster so doing well in comparison to that is not necessarily good news. As I wrote three months ago:

We will almost certainly do better in Q3 – it is virtually impossible for us to repeat a quarter that bad. And when we get a recovery in Q3, the government will be saying it is advocation of their policy.

Q3 being better than Q2 isn’t that important. If the economy had been in free fall it would be important but the economy hasn’t been in free fall, it has been in depression and as I’ve mentioned on here before, the results in an individual quarter don’t tell us much at all. The important thing is not whether Q3 was better than Q2 – it is the longer-term trend, i.e. how much longer we have to wait until the economy returns to a healthy level?

Whatever the numbers are tomorrow it will certainly not represent an advocation of austerity – the expiry date on that fallacy is long passed and, in a depression longer than The Great Depression of the 1930s, it would be fairly ridiculous to claim it had worked.

The question we should be asking now is not, “When will the economy be bigger than it was in the second quarter of 2012?” A much better question would be, “When will the economy be bigger than it was at the start of 2008?”

And I promise you this much – that ain’t going to happen tomorrow.

RedEaredRabbit

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About RedEaredRabbit
My name is RedEaredRabbit, King of Kings. Look on my works ye Mighty and despair.

2 Responses to Good News

  1. Dan Brusca says:

    The problem with saying austerity hasn’t worked is that we don’t know what things would have been like with more borrowing and spending. It’s entirely possible things could have been worse, in which case it could be said austerity has worked.

    It’s also a possibility that nothing would have worked and we were doomed to poor economic performance whatever.

    • It’s a valid point. It’s very easy for me to criticise a policy I don’t like from the comfortable position of not having my policy tested out.

      I have based my thoughts on more than, “this other policy isn’t working” though. They were initially based on economic theory – what should we expect to happen when government cuts spending in a liquidity trap? Then they moved on to additionally being based on what actually happened – which was what that model predicted.

      You’re right to raise this though and if I get some time in the next few days I’ll try to put something up that shows a bit better why I think our situation was solvable, much quicker, with a better fiscal policy.

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