Double-dip recession? I don’t think so

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Face facts: the economic “recovery” was anemic.  And the NBER Business Cycles Committee has remained silent on the status of the recession.  Their latest pronouncement, dated April 12, 2010, includes this: “Although most indicators have turned up, the committee decided that the determination of the trough date on the basis of current data would be premature. Many indicators are quite preliminary at this time and will be revised in coming months. The committee acts only on the basis of actual indicators and does not rely on forecasts in making its determination of the dates of peaks and troughs in economic activity.”

Translation: the committee sees no evidence that an economic expansion has begun.  The “trough” to which they refer would be the bottom of the recession.

So who is this crowd?  And why are they allowed to determine business cycle peaks and troughs?

The NBER is an independent research organization.  They are located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Today, of course, NBER research associates can live and work anywhere in the world.

The Business Cycles Committee is one of the few quasi-academic groups that is actually interested in business cycles.  Over the years this group has become the de facto arbiter of assigning dates to the peaks and troughs of business cycles.  These folks are smart and know their stuff.  But don’t take my word for it — see for yourself:

Robert Hall, Chair — Director of NBER’s Program of Research on Economic Fluctuations and Growth and Professor, Stanford University
Martin Feldstein — President Emeritus of NBER and Professor, Harvard Univerity
Jeffrey Frankel — Director of NBER’s Program on International Finance and Macroeconomics and Professor, Harvard University
Robert J. Gordon — NBER Research Associate and Professor, Northwestern University
James Poterba — President of NBER and Professor, M.I.T.
David Romer — Director of NBER’s Program on Monetary Economics (On Leave from the Business Cycle Dating Committee), and Professor, University of California, Berkeley
James H. Stock — Research Associate in the NBER’s Monetary Economics Program and Professor, Harvard University
Mark W. Watson — Research Associate in the NBER’s Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program and Professor, Princeton University

(Source: Accessed Sept. 1, 2010)

So there is no double-dip recession until the Business Cycles Committee declares that the economy left a trough before, well, today.  As far as I’m concerned the U.S. is still in the first dip of the great recession.  Referring to a second dip is premature (at best).

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About Tony Lima

Retired after teaching economics at California State Univ., East Bay (Hayward, CA). Ph.D., economics, Stanford. Also taught MBA finance at the California University of Management and Technology. Occasionally take on a consulting project if it's interesting. Other interests include wine and technology.

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