links for 2009-07-10
Paul Krugman on the Stimulus Trap

Fiscal Policy and the Possibility of a Jobless Recovery

Greg Ip writes:

AFTER ebbing steadily since the start of the year America’s monthly job losses figure abruptly jumped from 322,000 in May to 467,000 in June, deflating talk of an imminent exit from recession. Hand-wringing in Washington quickly followed. On July 5th the vice-president, Joe Biden, admitted that the White House had “misread how bad the economy was”. In January it had predicted that unemployment would peak at 9% without a fiscal stimulus and 8% with one.... At one level, the hand-wringing is overdone....

The odds are that the economy will begin to grow again in the current quarter for two reasons: the dramatic inventory liquidation, which led manufacturers to slash output and payrolls starting in late 2008, seems to be ending; and the impact of the fiscal stimulus is growing. Other countries, who bore much of the brunt of the inventory liquidation because they provide such a large share of what Americans consume, are already benefiting. Global manufacturing expanded in June for the first time since May 2008....

But... [a] self-sustaining recovery needs more than just replenishing inventory and government stimulus; it requires a virtuous circle of increasing consumer spending and incomes, and there is still no evidence of that.... Jan Hatzius of Goldman Sachs predicts wages will actually start falling next year. If later this year the recovery still looks likely to remain feeble as the maximum impact of the stimulus is felt, pressure for more stimulus will grow....

Mr Obama himself has proposed a budget-balancing rule that he would have to break to inject more stimulus—a formality, perhaps, but one that would further erode his fiscal credibility given the gargantuan deficits his policies will produce even beyond 2010. “We could afford to borrow a bit more over the next year if we had a plausible plan to get the deficit under control thereafter,” says Len Burman of the Urban Institute, a think-tank. “But nobody has articulated such a plan.”

Think: jobless recovery. Now that we have the May trade figures, the modal forecast is (i) an economy that was flat in the second quarter relative to the first quarter, (ii) an economy that starts to grow relatively slowly in the third quarter, and (iii) an unemployment rate that keeps rising for another one and a half to two years--like it did in 1992 and 2002--as the old-fashioned business-cycle productivity-employment pattern is broken once again. Bob Hall's NBER committee is likely to proclaim that recovery began sometime in the second quarter, but it won't feel like a recovery to workers (as opposed to asset owners) for quite some time to come.