U.S. Enjoys a Modest Recovery – No Recession in Sight!

Washington, DC (Tuesday, October 29, 2019):

On October 29, 2019, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released gross output (GO) data for the 2nd quarter 2019. The 2.0% real-term growth in the second-quarter 2019 was 25% higher than the 1.6% growth in the previous period.  Adj. GO[1] grew even faster, 2.9% in real terms for the 2nd quarter.

After experiencing a lower growth rate in the first-quarter 2019, adj. GO growth resumed its trend from the prior three periods and advanced 4% in nominal terms and 2.9% in real terms in the second quarter. Interestingly, nominal GDP grew 4.6% in nominal terms in the 2nd quarter.

Total spending on new goods and services (adjusted GO) rose to nearly $45.7 trillion. In line with the GO indications, B2B spending advanced 5.9% (3.8% in real terms) and consumer spending expanded 6.9% (4.4% in real terms).  All second quarter growth rates were substantially higher than growth rates from the previous period, which ranged from 0.5% to 1.5%.

Mark Skousen, a presidential fellow at Chapman University and editor of Forecasts & Strategies, states, “This expansion implies that the economy is currently still recovering modestly without any major recession indicators in sight.  After a flat performance in the first quarter, business-to-business (B2B) in the supply chain advanced nearly 6% in the second quarter. That’s good news.”

Skousen champions Gross Output as a more comprehensive measure of economic activity. “GDP leaves out the supply chain and business to business transactions in the production of intermediate inputs,” he notes. “That’s a big part of the economy, bigger than GDP itself. GO includes B2B activity that is vital to the production process. No one should ignore what is going on in the supply chain of the economy.”

Recently, Steve Forbes compared GDP to an x-ray of the economy, and GO to a CAT-scan.  See his commentary in the October 31, 2019, issue of Forbes magazine:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveforbes/2019/10/08/gdp-is-the-wrong-measure-to-truly-gauge-an-economys-health/#4be5ff3c13ce

Skousen first introduced Gross Output as a macroeconomic tool in his work The Structure of Production (New York University Press, 1990). A new third edition was published in late 2015, and is now available on Amazon.

Click here: Structure of Production on Amazon

 

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

According to Skousen, the introduction of GO has important implications for the economy and economic policy.  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not represent two-thirds of the economy. GO is a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy.  It turns out that the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

The renewed increase in business spending suggests that the economy might be able to avert a major slowdown and continue expanding at a moderate pace. Strong corporate earnings, interest rate cuts by the Fed, and optimism about resolving the trade conflicts with China might be drivers behind renewed business spending.

In addition to an overall GO expansion of 4.9% (2.9% in real terms), most of the individual industrial sectors grew as well. Unlike the first quarter when five sectors contracted, only two sectors (Mining and Utilities) declined in the second quarter.  Interestingly, government spending growth expanded more than two-fold.

GO is a leading indicator of what GDP will do in the next quarter and beyond. As David Ranson, chief economist for the private forecasting firm HCWE & Co., states, “Movements in gross output serve as a leading indicator of movements in GDP.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it did in most of 2018, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing.  However, GO has grown at a slower pace than the GDP in 2019.

The federal government will release the advance estimate for third-quarter GDP on January 9, 2020.  Brian Moyer, the director of the BEA, expects top-line GO and bottom-line GDP to be released simultaneously in September 2020.

 

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

While the Mining sector declined for the third consecutive period, the 6.8% pullback was significantly lower than the 26% contraction in the previous period. The Utilities sector also delivered a second consecutive pullback. Just like the Mining sector, the 8.9% contraction was lower than the previous period’s pullback of 13.6%. However, these two sectors combine for less than 3% share of total GO. Therefore, while important indicators as early stages of production, the impact on the overall GO is minor.

More importantly, Manufacturing – the second-largest segment with 17% share of Gross Output – remained relatively flat and expanded only 0.5%. While experiencing only minimal growth, the Manufacturing sector still performed significantly better than it did in the previous period when the sector contracted 3.7%.

While lower than the 11.7% pullback in the previous period, Durable goods’ 4.2% decline in the second quarter limited growth of the overall Manufacturing sector despite a 1.5% expansion of non-durable gods. After a 12% growth in the previous period, Construction remined flat in the second quarter.

The Information sector was the fastest growing sector with 8.1%. While growing at a slightly lower rate of 6.8%, the Finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing sector contributed the most to GO growth as it is the largest sector with nearly 20% share to total GO. Driven by a 6% expansion of the health care segment, the Educational services, health care, and social assistance sector, which accounts for 8% share of GO, expanded 5.6%.

Unfortunately, the overall expansion of GO brought along an increase in government spending as well. With an 11% share of Gross Output, total government spending increased 5.4%, which is an order of magnitude higher than the growth rate of only 1.5% in the previous period. Generally, state and local government spending tends to grow faster than federal spending. However, in the second-quarter 2019, State and local government spending grew ”only” 4.8% and the Federal government increased its spending by 6.7%. Since early 2016, this has been the second period in a row where federal government grew faster than state and local government spending.

 

Gross output

Gross output (GO) and GDP are complementary statistics in national income accounting. GO is an attempt to measure the “make” economy; i.e., total economic activity at all stages of production, similar to the “top line” (revenues/sales) of a financial accounting statement. In April 2014, the BEA began to measure GO on a quarterly basis along with GDP.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is an attempt to measure the “use” economy, i.e., the value of finished goods and services ready to be used by consumers, business and government. GDP is similar to the “bottom line” (gross profits) of an accounting statement, which determined the “value added” or the value of final use.

GO tends to be more sensitive to the business cycle, and more volatile, than GDP. During the financial crisis of 2008-09, GO fell much faster than GDP, and afterwards, recovered more quickly than GDP. Still, it wasn’t until late 2013 that GO fully recovered from its peak in 2007. Until mid-2018, GO outpaced GDP, suggesting a growing economy.

 

Currently Business Spending (B2B) has Advanced at a Slower Pace Than Consumer Spending in both Nominal and Real Terms.

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity expanded 5.9% in the second quarter to $26.4 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $14.5 trillion, which is equivalent to a 6.9% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 3.8% and consumer spending rose at 4.4%.

 

Gross output

“B2B spending is in fact a pretty good indicator of where the economy is headed, since it measures spending in the entire supply chain,” stated Skousen. “After slowing considerably in the fourth-quarter 2018 and first-quarter 2019, business activity picked up the pace in the second quarter, which indicates that the economy might still have enough momentum to maintain a moderate expansion trend, unless prevented by negative developments in trade or monetary policy.”

 

About GO and B2B Index

The BEA’s decision in 2014 to publish GO on a quarterly basis in its “GDP by Industry” data is a major achievement in national income accounting. GO is the first output statistic to be published on a quarterly basis since GDP was invented in the 1940s.

The BEA now defines GDP in terms of GO. GDP is defined as “the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy [GO] less the value of the goods and services used up in production (Intermediate Inputs or II].” See definitions at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/industry/gdpindustry/gdpindnewsrelease.htm.

With GO and GDP being produced on a timely basis, the federal government now offers a complete system of accounts. As Dale Jorgenson, Steve Landefeld, and William Nordhaus conclude in their book, A New Architecture for the U. S. National Accounts, “Gross output [GO] is the natural measure of the production sector, while net output [GDP] is appropriate as a measure of welfare. Both are required in a complete system of accounts.”

Skousen adds, “Gross Output and GDP are complementary aspects of the economy, but GO does a better job of measuring total economic activity and the business cycle, and demonstrates that business spending is more significant than consumer spending,” he says. “By using GO data, we see that consumer spending is actually only about a third of economic activity, not two-thirds that is often reported by the media. As the chart above demonstrates, business spending is in fact almost twice the size of consumer spending in the US economy.”

 

For More Information

The GO data released by the BEA can be found at www.bea.gov under “Quarterly GDP by Industry.” Click on interactive tables “GDP by Industry” and go to “Gross Output by Industry.” Or go to this link directly: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at mskousen@chapman.edu, or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at skousenpub@gmail.com.

# # #

________________________________________
[1] The BEA currently uses a limited measure of total sales of goods and services in the production process. Once products are fabricated and packaged at the manufacturing stage, the BEA’s GO only adds “net” sales at the wholesale and retail level. Its official GO for the 2019 2nd quarter is $37.7 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to $45.6 trillion in Q2 2019. Thus, the BEA omits $8 trillion in business-to-business (B2B) transactions in its GO statistics. We include them as a legitimate economic activity that should be accounted for in GO, which we call Adjusted GO. See the new introduction to Mark Skousen, The Structure of Production, 3rd ed. (New York University Press, 2015), pp. xv-xvi.

THERE’S MUCH RUIN IN A NATION: MODERN MONETARY THEORY

By Mark Skousen
Chapman University
Mskousen@chapman.edu

“Today, as in the past, a sound money system is the condition of man’s freedom and the key to his future.”

 — Jacques Rueff[1]

Three heterodox economists William Mitchell and Martin Watts (both University of Newscastle, Australia), and L. Randall Wray (Bard College, New York) — hereafter referred to as MWW — have written a textbook entitled Macroeconomics, co-published this year by Macmillan International and Red Globe Press.  They promise a “comprehensive, university level study course in Macroeconomics from a Modern Monetary theory (MMT) perspective…grounded in real world institutions…and starts by putting the currency-issuing government at the forefront.”[2]

Having analyzed economics textbooks in my career, I found it a valuable exercise to determine what this textbook includes and what it ignores in making the case for MMT.[3]

In the introduction, they acknowledge that MMT grew out of the financial crisis of 2008 and the “cult of austerity” accompanying it.  They criticize the “neo-classical” economists for failing to “see it coming,” and wrongly predicting that inflation would accelerate after the monetary crisis due to quantitative easing.  MMT “rejects the main precepts of the orthodox neoclassical approach to macroeconomics” (13) and the self-interested “invisible hand” in microeconomics (6).

Thus, MWW see the need for a new Weltanschauung based on the heterodox theories of Marx, Veblen and Keynes.  They endorse the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to work and protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal work, and a minimum standard of living (9-11).

At times the authors appear nihilistic:  “…there is no single ‘right’ way to do economics….…the responsible social scientist is not seeking to establish whether the theoretical model is true, because that is an impossible task given there is no way of knowing what the truth is anyway” (3, 8).  And, they assert, “there is no scientific basis for the claim that ‘free markets’ are best” (pp. 3, 9).

 

“There are no financial constraints”

Despite this caveat, their conclusions are dogmatic:  “The most important conclusion reached by MMT is that the issuer of a currency faces no financial constraints.  Put simply, a country that issues its own currency can never run out and can never become insolvent in its own currency.  It can make all payments as they come due.  For this reason, it makes no sense to compare a sovereign government’s finances with those of a household or firm” (14).

For MWW, the budget and debt constraints that operate for an individual and household do not apply to the government.  They reject Adam Smith’s refrain, “What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”[4]  To the contrary, “the household budget analogy is false” (124) because unlike households and businesses, government has the power to tax and to print money (318).

They reject the “cult of austerity” (14).  Now that advanced countries are no longer constrained by the gold standard or fixed exchange rates, “currency-issuing governments such as those of Australia, Britain, Japan and the USA can never run out of money…for most governments, there is no default risk on government debt” (14, 15).

Furthermore, if a nation operates with a sovereign currency and avoids incurring debt in foreign currencies (a big if), “the national government can always afford to purchase anything…” (16).

 

The Principal Policy Goal:  Full Employment

To what purpose should the government run deficits and monetary inflation?  Fiscal policy should aim for full employment of labor and resources and guarantee everyone a job, either in the private or public sector.  They call it a Job Guarantee (JG) program.  In chapter 19, MWW “elaborate on why full employment should be the key macroeconomic policy goal” (291).  Not controlling inflation, not economic growth, not maximizing freedom.  But job guarantees for all, the “right to work” at a “living wage” (292, 295, 302).

Figure 1 below illustrates the classic Keynesian case of increasing aggregate demand (AD) to achieve full employment.

MODERN MONETARY THEORY

If there is chronic unemployment, “the government [can] always put them to productive use…to hire them to perform useful work in the public interest” (16), involving “direct job creation by government” (295).

But there’s more.  “There is no financial constraints to stop a currency-issuing government providing first class healthcare and/or pensions in the future” (127).

“An MMT frame considers the $x in the fiscal papers to be of little interest” (130).

They don’t mention it, but how about using government revenues to finance military adventures abroad?  At the beginning of World War II, ten million unemployed were suddenly employed as soldiers in the US armed forces.

Does this fiscal nirvana sound dangerous and irresponsible?  Is there method to their madness?

In a 5-page section on “mainstream fallacies,” they list eight myths of political economy, including a denial that fiscal deficits cause crowding out of private investments, higher taxes, inflation, or big government, or the need for a balanced budget rule or a “rainy day” fund (124-128).  They go out of their way to belittle any government leaders who speak out against “living beyond our means”… “spending like a drunken sailor”… “welfare dependency”… “burdening our grandchildren with the public debt”… or “national bankruptcy” (124).

 

Three Ways to Pay for Government Spending

There are three ways to finance a new government program.  MWW put it in the form of an equation:

G +iB = T + ΔB + ΔM

where

G = government spending
iB = interest payments on public debt
T = tax revenue
ΔB = new borrowing selling government bonds
ΔM = new base money creation

The most burdensome and politically unpopular method is direct taxation (T).  For them, the best policy is to “spend first, tax later” (323).  They ask, “Why not just eliminate taxes altogether?”  MWW reject that suggestion because it makes it more difficult for the government to borrow money without the threat of taxation (323), and progressive taxation helps reduce inequality (324).  Ideally, according to MWW, taxes should be “countercyclical,” increasing during an expansion and falling during a recession (323).

 

Deficits and the National Debt: “We Owe It Ourselves?”

The second way to finance government is to borrow the funds to pay for the program (ΔB).  It postpones the pain of paying directly through taxation.  But there is a price to pay down the road — the government has to pay back the principal to the bond holders and it has to pay interest, usually every six months (iB).

MMT proponents claim that government deficits are self-financing because sovereign nations can issue more debt, raise taxes, or print money.  Moreover, government borrowing is also an asset in the form of government bonds held by investors.  “The government’s deficit is always mirrored by an equivalent surplus in another part of the economy,” states Stephanie Kelton, economist at Stony Brook University.[5]

This statement is, in essence, the old “we owe it ourselves” argument.  Robert Shiller calls it a “half truth.”  He states, “The claim would have been accurate only in an extreme, theoretical case:  if everyone had identical bond holds and paid identical taxes to cover the interest and principal that were paying themselves.  But we are never going to be in that situation in the real world.”[6]

Libertarian economist Murray Rothbard debunked the “we owe it ourselves” argument:  “The crucial question is: Who is the ‘we’ and who are the ‘ourselves’?”  The bondholders (who tend to be wealthy individuals and institutions) are not the same as the taxpayers (who tend to be middle class.”  “For we might just as well say that taxes are unimportant for the same reason.”[7]

 

National Bankruptcy: False Fear?

Advanced economies have been able to borrow huge amounts of money, more than most economists thought possible.

MWW claim, “The government can consistently spend more than its revenue because it creates the currency” (15).  Technically bankruptcy is impossible.  “Treasury cheques never ‘bounce” due to insufficient funds” (327).

There is some truth to their statement.  American conservatives have cried wolf time and time again about the dangers of deficit spending, that it will lead to national bankruptcy.  I’ve heard it all my life, even now that the US federal debt is now over $21 trillion.

Murray Rothbard set the record straight when he debunked this myth about the national debt.  He wrote:  “Many opponents of public borrowing…have greatly exaggerated the dangers of the public debt and have raised persistent alarms about imminent ‘bankruptcy.’  It is obvious that the government cannot become ‘insolvent’ like private individuals–for it can always obtain money by coercion…by increasing the tax and/or inflation in society.”[8]

 

Japan as an Example?

MWW point to Japan as an example of a nation where a country can engage in persistent fiscal deficits (pushing the national debt to an astonishing 235% of GDP) without igniting a sharp rise in interest rates or higher unemployment (27-31).  Interesting that the authors ignore the fact that accompanying these massive deficits is Japanese’s anemic economic growth rate since 1992 (an average real 0.9% a year) when they started to run massive unproductive federal deficits.

You can also look at the United States in this regard.  It is extraordinary that in a world where the largest economy in the world can run deficits of $1 trillion or more a year during times of full employment and strong economic growth and see interest rates continue to decline to historical lows.  I don’t know a single economist who predicted it.

 

Surprise, Surprise!  Governments Run Budget Surpluses!

The authors are also correct when they say, “Government deficits are normal, surpluses are atypical” (130).  The Keynesians used to favor a countercyclical “balanced budget” policy over time, running deficits during recessions and surpluses during boom times.  But as Milton Friedman commented, “Unfortunately, the balance wheel is unbalanced.”[9]

But there are quite a few robust fully-employed economies that are running budget surpluses in an apparent reject of MMT, including:

Country Surplus (% of GDP)
Macau 25.20%
Qatar 16.10%
Norway 9.10%
United Arab Emirates 5.00%
Singapore 1.30%
Denmark 1.30%
South Korea 0.90%
Hong Kong 0.80%
Sweden 0.30%

Source:  https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-top-budget-surplus.html

The third way is the easy way out but also potentially more dangerous in destabilizing the economy — printing money.

 

How to Deal with the Threat of Inflation

MWW are opposed to “inflation targeting” because it imposes a high price of persistent high unemployment in order to keep price inflation in check (297-98, 315).  Instead, they propose an “employment buffer” policy, so that when private demand for labor declines, the federal government increases its job guarantees, and when private demand for labor increases, the government reduces its available job offers.  “This targeted approach to sustaining full employment is a powerful stabilizing force for aggregate demand, output, and prices” (302).

 

MWW introduce the “buffer employment ratio” (BER), defined as:

 BER = JGE/E,

 where

 JGE = Job Guarantee employment (by the government)

E = Total employment in the economy.

Thus, “BER rises when the JG pool expands and falls when the JG pool contracts” (304).

Why does this “buffer employment” policy control inflation?  When inflation threatens, MWW advocate tightening fiscal and monetary policy “to reduce the level of private sector demand.  Labour is then transferred from the inflating private sector to the fixed wage JG sector and the BER rises.  This will eventually ease the inflationary pressures arising from the wage-price conflict” (304).

Thus, full employment is achieved at all times while price inflation is held in check.

But will it work?  There are several potential problems.  First, how will labor productivity be affected in a managed economy where unemployment is virtually outlawed?  What incentives are there for workers to be efficient when they know they will be hired by the government if they are laid off by the private sector?

Second, wouldn’t workers in the private sector use the JG to demand higher wages?  MWW claim, “That would be unlikely,” because “the JG lowers the cost of hiring for firms because the JG workers do not experience the dislocation of unemployment and retain most, if not all, of their general and specific skills” (304).  Really?  Who’s to say the shifting from the private sector to public sector employment doesn’t involve dislocations and loss of skills?  And how easy would it be to shift back from public to private employment when the economy recovers?

Third, MWW assume that inflation is cost-push (wage pressure) rather than demand-driven, a dubious assumption in a managed economy that promises guaranteed employment, a living wage, full medical and retirement benefits.

A sharp rise in BER during a severe recession could create enormous burden on the public sector, as JG soar.  How would the government pay for all these JG?  Tax, borrow, print?

Finally, can inflation be stopped once it starts?  Studies show that once inflation gets started, it’s almost impossible to stop without causing a recession.

 

Fear of Runaway Inflation

MWW are well aware of the critics who fear MMT might lead to “creeping inflation” and ultimately “hyperinflation” (342).

“We acknowledge that the in the absence of appropriate oversight, a government can maintain an excessive rate of expenditure which leads to rising inflation.  But we show that the two popular examples of hyperinflation — the Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe — were the result of increasing aggregate supply constraints rather than being driving by excessive fiscal deficits” (333).

According to MWW, Germany’s inflation problem in the early 1920s was caused by excessive demands of the Treaty of Versailles that could not possibly be paid for out of domestic taxation or exports.  And Zimbabwe’s collapse was due to state mismanagement of the commercial farms, which were confiscated by Mugabe’s ruthless regime and turned over to rebels who had “no background in running commercial agriculture” (345).

Still, there’s reason to be concerned that countries adopting MMT might mismanage the economy in other ways.  In response to a severe recession, the government would dramatically increase their JG program, which in turn might result in unproductive “make work” public projects.  The central bank would be pressured into printing more money even as the real economy shrinks.

Sebastian Edwards of the Hoover Institution did an in-depth study of four Latin American countries (Chile, Peru, Argentina, Venezuela) that had adopted varying aspects of MMT (financing large fiscal deficits and “job guarantee” programs through monetary expansion).  He concluded:  “The four experiments ended up badly, with runaway inflation, huge currency devaluations, and precipitous real wage declines.”[10]

 

No Chapter on Economic Growth 

One of the surprising sins of omission in MWW’s Macroeconomics textbook is a chapter on growth theory.  I don’t know a single other textbook that ignores the importance of economic growth these days.  For years, the Keynesian influence after World War II was so strong that the focus in textbooks was on full employment and taming the business cycle based on Keynes’s “General Theory” of unemployed resources and aggregate demand failure.  Economic growth theory was a “special case” relegated to the back chapters.

Harvard professor Greg Mankiw created a counterrevolution in the early 1990s by putting the growth chapter up front in his Macroeconomics (Worth Publishers, 1994), and relegating Keynes’s theories to the back pages as a “special” case.[11]

Now MWW want to go back to the good old days of Paul Samuelson “paradox of thrift” and Abba Lerner “functional finance“ theory of “crude” Keynesianism.

 

Real-World Alternatives to MMT

MWW contend that their textbook Macroeconomics is “grounded in real-world institutions,” yet I was surprised by their failure to cite real-world economies that have achieved strong economic growth and full employment without inflation using more classical economic principles.

Countries can achieve full employment and higher economic growth without inflation by encouraging greater productivity on the supply side, by cutting taxes and regulations, privatizing government-owned businesses and services, and championing saving, capital investment, technology and entrepreneurship.

Figure 2 demonstrates how the supply-side stimulus (AS) can achieve full employment with less inflation.

MODERN MONETARY THEORY

Note the difference between the Keynesian AD policy (figure 1 above) differs from the Supply-Side AS policy (figure 2 above) — the Keynesian deficit spending model increases output and inflation, while the Supply-Side productive model increases out and reduces inflation.

Here are several case studies that adopted the Supply Side Model (not discussed in MWW’s textbook):

Sweden:  In 1992, Sweden suffered a real estate banking crisis, credit crunch, and monetary crisis.  In response, the government guaranteed bank deposits and ran significant deficits.  After the crisis abated, they engaged in a series of reforms to reduce the size of a bloated welfare state by privatizing various government programs; converting their state pension to a defined-contribution plan; adopting school choice in education; cutting corporate and other taxes; and overall reduced the size of government while maintaining its generous welfare system.  Today Sweden has a modest budget surplus.  The average real economic growth in PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) terms in nearly 3% a year.  Price inflation is low.  The unemployment rate is 6.7%, largely due to a generous immigration policy.  Sweden’s Economic Freedom Index has risen to #19 most free in the world.

Canada:  In 1994-95, Canada suffered from an oversized government, resulting in a budget deficit and currency crisis, with Moody’s downgrading Canadian debt.  The Liberal and Conservative parties agreed to severe budget cuts and federal layoffs, despite strong opposition by Keynesian economists.  Two years later, the budget was balanced, and the Canadian dollar made a strong recovery.  Then Canada adopted a series of supply-side tax cuts.  Today the corporate tax rate is only 15%.  The size of government has been reduced, economic growth is over 3% a year, inflation is less than 2% a year, but the unemployment is relatively high at 6.7%.  The budget did fall into deficit during the 2008 financial crisis, but none of the top five banks suffered serious losses.  Canadian budget has improved since then, although the Canadian dollar is weak.  Today Canada (#8) is ahead of the United States (#12) in the Economic Freedom Index.

Singapore:  Economic growth has averaged 3.5% in the past five years, inflation is less than 1%, and unemployment rate is 2%.  Singapore has accumulated substantial budget surpluses ($17.9 billion over the past three years), although it will run a deficit this year.  Singapore has the world’s best medical care system, a combination of health saving accounts (Medisave) and universal coverage of catastrophic illnesses (healthcare represents only 4.5% of GDP).  They have a flat maximum tax rate of 22% for individuals and 17% for businesses.  Singapore has a free-trade zone.  Though it is not a democracy, it is ranked #2 in the world’s Economic Freedom Index.

Chile:  Since Gen. Pinochet stepped down as dictator and Chile adopted democracy in 1990, Chile’s economy continues to do well.  Real economic growth is 2.2% over the past five years, and inflation is at a low 2.2% a year.  The unemployment rate is 7%, largely due to the slump in copper and commodity prices.  After running a surplus budget in 2011-12, the deficit returned but is a manageable 2.5% of GDP.  The maximum tax rate is 44% on individuals and 25% on businesses.  It is the highest rated country in Latin America in the Economic Freedom Index (#18 in the world).

These examples demonstrate that countries can achieve reasonable full employment, good economic growth, and low inflation without resorting to risky MMT policies.

 

Conclusion

There aren’t many cases where a broad range of economists, from Keynesian to Austrian, can agree on something, and MMT is one of them.  Vocal critics have included Paul Krugman, Robert Shiller, Kenneth Rogoff, Larry Summers, Steve Hanke and Robert Murphy.  All agree that MMT is a bad and even dangerous policy.

It seems that MMT advocates are determined to test the validity of Adam Smith famous refrain, “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.”

I began with a quote from French economist Jacques Rueff.  I will end with his warning:  “No religion spread as fast as the belief in full employment, and in this roundabout way, allowed governments that had exhausted their tax and borrowing resources to resort to the phony delights of monetary inflation.”[12]


[1]   Jacques Rueff, The Age of Inflation (Regnery, 1964), translated by A. H. Meeus and F. G. Clarke, p. xiv.

[2]   William F. Mitchell, L. Randall Wray, and Martin J. Watts, Macroeconomics (Macmillan International and Red Globe Press, 2019), preface.

[3]   See Mark Skousen, Economics on Trial (Irwin Publishing, 1991), and my paper, “The Perseverance of Paul Samuelson’s Economics.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (1997), 11 (2): 137-152.  https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.11.2.137

[4]  Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Glasgow Edition, 1982), Book IV Chapter II, pp. 456-7, paras. 11-12.

[5] Stephanie Kelton, “How We Think about the Deficit is Mostly Wrong,” New York Times, October 5, 2017.

[6] Robert J. Shiller, “Modern Monetary Theory Makes Sense, Up to a Point,” New York Times, March 2, 2019.  He concludes, “Though increased spending on infrastructure, education, social welfare and the environment may be wise, and rising deficits may make sense some of the time, we really cannot borrow ceaselessly without risking real harm.”

[7] Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy and State, 2nd ed. (Mises Institute, 2004 [1962]), p. 1027-1028.

[8]   Ibid., p. 1028.

[9]  Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 76.

[10] Sebastian Edwards, “Modern Monetary Theory: Cautionary Tales from Latin America,” Economics Working Paper 19106, Hoover Institution, April 25, 2019.  https://www.hoover.org/research/modern-monetary-theory-cautionary-tales-latin-america

[11]  See Mark Skousen, The Making of Modern Economics, 3rd ed. (Routledge, 2016), pp. 445-448.

[12]   J. Rueff, “La Fin de l’ere keynesienne”, in ´Oeuvres completes de Jacques Rueff, vol. 3, Politique ´economique I (Paris, 1979), 178. This article, originally a lecture delivered to the Mont Pelerin Society, appeared in ` Le Monde on 19 and 20–21 Feb. 1976.  See also https://dailyreckoning.com/homage-to-jacques-rueff/

Steve Forbes on the GO: I Make the Forbes 400 Richest Issue!

I’m mentioned on page 22 for my gross output (GO) model. (Sorry, I may be worth several million, but not several billion!)

Steve Forbes endorses my GO model, saying GO is a “far more comprehensive, realistic and enlightening picture than gross domestic product (GDP). It is like the difference between an X-ray and a CAT scan.” GO measures spending at all stages of production, including the all-important supply chain, and GDP only measures final output.

GO is a leading economic indicator. It has slowed considerably in 2019, suggesting a slowdown, not a recession.

Forbes

 

In his column, Forbes takes federal officials at the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to task for not releasing GO on a timely basis. He stated, “President Trump should immediately order the BEA to get off its duff and issue GO at the same time it does GDP.”

Indeed, I’m pleased to announce that Brian Moyer, the BEA director, informed me that the agency plans to release both GO and GDP at the same time by next September 2020… not unlike publicly traded companies issuing “top line” (sales) and “bottom line” (profits) reports every quarter. Economics finally has caught up to accounting and finance in the 21st century!

Steve Forbes’ column on GO is now available to read here.

For more information on GO, go to www.grossoutput.com.
Best wishes, AEIOU,
Presidential Fellow, Chapman University
www.mskousen.com

 

MY INTELLECTUAL ANCESTORS

BY MARK SKOUSEN
Presidential Fellow, Chapman University

“If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
— Sir Isaac Newton

Dear readers,

I thought you’d get a kick out of this series of photos and quotes — looks like some of the great economic philosophers and writers rubbed off on me!

I’ll try not to get it go to my head…..I still get rejection letters from the American Economic Review!

Henry_Hazlit_tribute_1984

Courtesy:  Mises Institute

My paying tribute to Henry Hazlitt and his classic book, “Economics in One Lesson” in celebration of his 90th birthday (1984)

“Mark Skousen is America’s finest economist.  He has a genius for explaining complex issues in a clear way and connecting ideas.  He is the Henry Hazlitt of our time.”
– Steve Mariotti, President, National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)

MAS_with_Friedrich Hayek_Austria_1985_01

Courtesy:  John Mauldin, 1985

Interviewing Friedrich Hayek in the Austrian alps in 1985

“Mark Skousen is America’s leading economic author because he roots his luminous books in the real world, in the grand tradition of the great Austrian economists.  He is the Hayek of our era.”
– George Gilder

MAS_with_Milton Friedman_San_Francisco_2006_01

Courtesy:  photo by Van Simmons

Meeting with Milton Friedman in his favorite San Francisco restaurant, 2006

“Mark Skousen has emerged as one of the clearest writers on all matters economic today, the next Milton Friedman!” 
– Michael Shermer, Scientific American

Trade War Threatens Recession

Washington, DC (Monday, July 29, 2019):

On July 19, 2019, the federal government released gross output (GO) for the 1st quarter 2019, and the 1.6% real-term growth — which was 30% lower than the 2.3% advancement from the previous period – strengthened the implication that the economic growth might be slowing.  Business-to-business (B2B) in the supply chain actually declined in the first quarter.

While corporate tax cuts and the elimination of some of the burdensome business regulations undoubtedly had positive effects on economic growth, the effects of tariffs and trade restrictions are significantly higher, as trade plays a much bigger role in the US and world economy. Trade accounts for more than 25% of spending in the US economy and nearly 60% of the global economy.

Whereas GO growth decreased in the first quarter after rising in the tree previous periods, GDP reversed direction after falling for three consecutive quarters and advanced at 3.1%, which was nearly 30% higher than the 2.2% growth rate from the fourth-quarter 2018.  But the decline in the value of the supply chain suggests that the rise in real GDP is temporary.

Total spending on new goods and services (adjusted GO) [1] exceeded $45 trillion by a small margin. In line with the GO indications, B2B spending declined 0.3% (0.4% in real terms) and consumer spending expanded 1.4% (0.5% in real terms), which was lower than the 2.2% consumer spending growth rate from the previous period.

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

Note:  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not drive the economy, and does not represent two-thirds of the economy. Using GO as a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy, the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

The continued slowdown in business spending suggests a potential economic slowdown and the end of the longest bull market since the Great Depression, if business spending growth stalls. However, the trend might still reverse on a potential resolution of the trade conflict as Trump Administration’s delegation is heading to China for the next round of trade negotiations.

Furthermore, the overall economy and markets are waiting in anticipation for the results of the Federal Open Market Committee meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday. The primary interest is whether the Fed will decide to counter its quarter-point hike from December 2018 and revert its target rate back to 2% to 2.25%, or go even further and announce a half-point interest rate reduction to June-2018 levels.

The fears of continued trade war with China has certainly influenced business spending slowdown. However, positive impressions from the upcoming trade negotiations with China and a potential Fed funds rate cut of up to half percent might alleviate some of the reservations, which could result in a renewed push to increase business spending in the second half of the year.

In addition to a lower growth of the overall GO, more sectors experienced a decline – five in the first-quarter 2019 versus only two in the fourth-quarter 2018. However, on the positive side, government spending rose only 1.5% in nominal terms at annual rates, which was the lowest growth rate in the past seven quarters.

GO is a leading indicator of what GDP will do in the next quarter and beyond. As David Ranson, chief economist for the private forecasting firm HCWE & Co., states, “Movements in gross output serve as a leading indicator of movements in GDP.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it did in most of 2018, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing.  However, GO has grown at a slower pace than the GDP in the last two quarters.

The advance estimate of second-quarter GDP was released on July 26, 2019. As implied by the slower GO growth in the first quarter, the second-quarter GDP rose at 2.1% in real terms, which is 32% lower than the 3.1% advancement from the first quarter 2019.

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

After growing at double-digit percentages and nearly doubling over four quarters, the Mining sector pulled back 7.2% in the fourth quarter 2018. Unfortunately, the Mining sector extended its decline and contracted more than 26% on an annualized basis for the first-quarter 2019. The Mining sector comprises only 1.6% of the entire Gross Output and the first-quarter decline has only a small impact on the overall economic output in the current period. However, the Mining sector is one of the early stages of production and often an early indicator of potential economic downturns in the near future.

Similarly, the Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sector – another early stage of production sector – also contracted 1.5%. Furthermore, Manufacturing – the second-largest segment with 17% share of Gross Output – declined 3.7%. One promising development within the Manufacturing sector was that production of Durable Goods increased 4%. Non-durable Goods declined 11.7%. Additionally, Transportation & Warehousing — another indicator of economic activity strength — also contracted 5.6%.

Among the expanding sectors, Construction – 4.6% share of GO – advanced at an annualized rate of nearly 12%, Educational services, health care, and social assistance, which accounts for 8.2% share of GO expanded 7.6%. Also, the largest sector that accounts for 19% of GO – Finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing – expanded 2.2%.

Total government spending accounted for 10.6% of the total GO spending and increased 1.5% in the first-quarter 2019, which is significantly lower than the 3.5% growth in the previous quarter. This growth rate is the lowest since the second quarter 2017. While federal government increased 2.4%, state and local government expanded only 1.1%, which is less than one-third the 3.5% growth from the previous period. Additionally, the federal government grew more than state and local governments for the first time since the second quarter 2016.

Trade

Gross output (GO) and GDP are complementary statistics in national income accounting. GO is an attempt to measure the “make” economy; i.e., total economic activity at all stages of production, similar to the “top line” (revenues/sales) of a financial accounting statement. In April 2014, the BEA began to measure GO on a quarterly basis along with GDP.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is an attempt to measure the “use” economy, i.e., the value of finished goods and services ready to be used by consumers, business and government. GDP is similar to the “bottom line” (gross profits) of an accounting statement, which determined the “value added” or the value of final use.

GO tends to be more sensitive to the business cycle, and more volatile, than GDP. During the financial crisis of 2008-09, GO fell much faster than GDP, and afterwards, recovered more quickly than GDP. Still, it wasn’t until late 2013 that GO fully recovered from its peak in 2007. Until mid-2018, GO outpaced GDP, suggesting a growing economy.  However, since then GO has slowed dramatically, threatening the economic boom.

Currently Business Spending (B2B) Is Advanced at a Slower Pace Than Consumer Spending in both Nominal and Real Terms.

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity pulled back 0.3% in the first quarter to slightly below $26 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $14.24 trillion, which is equivalent to a 1.4% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity declined at an annualized rate of 0.4% and consumer spending rose at 0.5%.

Trade

“B2B spending is in fact a pretty good indicator of where the economy is headed, since it measures spending in the entire supply chain,” stated Skousen. “The business activity slowed considerably in the 4th and 1st quarters, although it could be a temporary situation, depending on trade policy.”

About GO and B2B Index

Skousen champions Gross Output as a more comprehensive measure of economic activity. “GDP leaves out the supply chain and business to business transactions in the production of intermediate inputs,” he notes. “That’s a big part of the economy, bigger than GDP itself. GO includes B2B activity that is vital to the production process. No one should ignore what is going on in the supply chain of the economy.”

Skousen first introduced Gross Output as a macroeconomic tool in his work The Structure of Production (New York University Press, 1990). A new third edition was published in late 2015, and is now available on Amazon.

Click here: Structure of Production on Amazon

The BEA’s decision in 2014 to publish GO on a quarterly basis in its “GDP by Industry” data is a major achievement in national income accounting. GO is the first new output statistic published on a quarterly basis since GDP was invented in the 1940s.

The BEA now defines GDP in terms of GO. GDP is defined as “the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy [GO] less the value of the goods and services used up in production (Intermediate Inputs or II].” See definitions at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/industry/gdpindustry/gdpindnewsrelease.htm

With GO and GDP produced on a timely basis, the federal government now offers a complete system of accounts. As Dale Jorgenson, Steve Landefeld, and William Nordhaus conclude in their book, A New Architecture for the U. S. National Accounts, “Gross output [GO] is the natural measure of the production sector, while net output [GDP] is appropriate as a measure of welfare. Both are required in a complete system of accounts.”

Skousen adds, “Gross Output and GDP are complementary aspects of the economy, but GO does a better job of measuring total economic activity and the business cycle, and demonstrates that business spending is more significant than consumer spending,” he says. “By using GO data, we see that consumer spending is actually only about a third of economic activity, not two-thirds that is often reported by the media. As the chart above demonstrates, business spending is in fact almost twice the size of consumer spending in the US economy.”

Note: Ned Piplovic provided technical data for this release.

 

For More Information

The GO data released by the BEA can be found at www.bea.gov under “Quarterly GDP by Industry.” Click on interactive tables “GDP by Industry” and go to “Gross Output by Industry.” Or go to this link directly: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at mskousen@chapman.edu, or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at skousenpub@gmail.com.

# # #

________________________________________
[1] The BEA currently uses a limited measure of total sales of goods and services in the production process. Once products are fabricated and packaged at the manufacturing stage, the BEA’s GO only adds “net” sales at the wholesale and retail level. Its official GO for the 2019 1st quarter is slightly above $37.25 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to nearly $45 trillion in Q1 2019. Thus, the BEA omits almost $8 trillion in business-to-business (B2B) transactions in its GO statistics. We include them as a legitimate economic activity that should be accounted for in GO, which we call Adjusted GO. See the new introduction to Mark Skousen, The Structure of Production, 3rd ed. (New York University Press, 2015), pp. xv-xvi.

AUSTRIAN VS. CHICAGO ECONOMISTS: RESPONSE TO THE 2008 FINANCIAL CRISIS

By Mark Skousen
Updated in 2019

 “Blessed paper credit! Last and best supply!
That lends corruption lighter wings to fly.”

–Alexander Pope

AUSTRIAN

Since I wrote “Vienna and Chicago, Friends or Foes?” in 2005, we’ve suffered another monetary crisis, this one so serious that it undermined the very foundation of our monetary and economic system and is known as the “Great Recession.”

How do the Austrian and Chicago economists differ when it comes to answer these questions:  What caused the financial crisis of 2007-09? What is the best way out of the crisis and Great Recession? Let’s first start with the Chicago school, and Milton Friedman’s famous article, “Why the American Economy is Depression-Proof.”

Is the US Economy Depression-Proof?

 In late 2009, I was in Stockholm, Sweden, for the Mont Pelerin Society meetings, where 300 top experts gathered from around the world. At this meeting, I organized a special ad hoc session reassessing Milton Friedman’s famous lecture “Why the American Economy is Depression-Proof.”[1]  Friedman gave this optimistic lecture in Sweden in 1954, at a time when some prominent economists and financial advisors were predicting another crash on Wall Street and a collapse in the economy. A little over 50 years later, in the face of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, everyone at the meeting wanted to know if Friedman, one of the founders of the international society, would change his mind. Nobody knows for sure, since Friedman died in late 2006, before the crisis started. I do know that until his death, he always defended his bold prediction. From 1954 until his death in 2006, the United States suffered numerous contractions in the economy, an S&L crisis, a major terrorist attack, and even a few stock market crashes, and still it avoided the “big one,” a massive 1930s’s style Depression characterized by an unemployment rate of 15% or more (Friedman’s definition of a depression).

In his lecture, Friedman pointed to four major institutional changes to keep another Great Depression was happening:  federal bank deposit insurance; abandonment of the international gold standard; the growth in the size of government, including welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and other “built-in” stabilizers; and most importantly, the Federal Reserve’s determination to avoid a monetary collapse at all costs. Because the public and officials are petrified by the possibility of another depression, Friedman predicted that any signs of trouble would lead the Federal Reserve to take “drastic action” and shift “rapidly and completely to an easy money policy.” Consequently, according to Friedman, rising inflation would be far more of a threat to post-war America than another Great Depression.

So far so good. But now, following the financial crisis of 2008, I suspect Friedman would be forced to revise his views if he were alive. Admittedly, Friedman is still technically correct. There was no Great Depression in 2008-09, that is, according to government statistics. The official unemployment rate rose to 10% in 2009, far below the 15% rate necessary to qualify as a “depression.”

However, it’s important to note that the official unemployment rate does not include discouraged workers who have stopped looking, and those numbers apparently are in the millions. According to economist John Williams, editor of Shadow Statistics, if you count discouraged workers, the real unemployment rate exceeds 20%. See the chart below.

AUSTRIANSource:  www.shadowstats.com

The Fed and the Federal government appear to have averted disaster once again, at least in the short term. Yet they were able to do so only by putting millions on unemployment insurance and welfare (over 47 millions on food stamps and Medicaid), taking on unprecedented powers, and adding trillions of dollars in debt that so weaken the government and the public’s trust in its financial capacity to avoid future economic difficulties, and could lead to runaway inflation or a deflationary collapse.

Clearly, bank failures are not a thing of the past, and there have been runs on commercial banks and other financial institutions (money market funds), although Friedman is right that most banks are now either taken over by the FDIC or the Treasury, or forced to merger with a bigger, safer bank. Still, major institutions like Bank of America and Citibank would not have survived had it not been for government bailouts.

Friedman also stated in his lecture, “There has been no major depression that has not been associated with and accompanied by a monetary collapse….Monetary contraction or collapse is an essential conditioning factor for the occurrence of a major depression.”

Yet a monetary expansion is no guarantee that a crisis can be avoided. In fact, the U. S. came awfully close to an economic collapse in late 2008 without any monetary contraction. During 2008, the money supply (M2) grew every month and 9% for the year. Clearly, monetary contraction isn’t the only source of instability in the economy. Economic disaster can also be precipitated by easy money, irresponsible banking practices, or perverse tax and regulatory policies. One of the weaknesses of the Friedman Chicago school approach is their belief that inflationary asset bubbles only have micro effects on the economy and can be defused without having a debilitating macroeconomic impact. The real-estate crisis of 2007-09 demonstrated otherwise, and that’s why most Chicago economists failed to predict

The Great Contraction, Updated

Interestingly, Friedman’s famous chapter, “The Great Contraction, 1929-1933,” taken from his magnum opus, A Monetary History of the United States, 1869-1960 (Princeton University Press, 1963), was reprinted in 2007, with a new introduction by his co-author, Anna J. Schwartz. The short book had long been out of print, and was brought back just before the real estate crisis started and after Milton Friedman died. It was perfect timing as we were about to witness the worst economic debacle since the Great Depression. Yet Professor Schwartz was oblivious to any evidence of a collapse. She wrote, “As the federal funds rate moves in a low and narrow range in response to low and stable inflation, volatility of the business cycle and real economy has moderated.”[2]

 

The Austrians Response

The Austrian economists, on the other hand, knew full well that the Fed’s artificial low interest rate policy and the government’s meddling with banks and mortgage companies to encourage excessive home ownership was about to blow up in their faces. Austrian financial economists, such as Peter Schiff, Bert Dohmen, and Fred Foldvary, anticipated the crisis, and said so in 2007 at FreedomFest. That is why I concluded “Advantage, Vienna” in the debate between the Austrian and Chicago schools on the business cycle (see chapter 6 of “Vienna and Chicago”).

Based on the Mises-Hayek theory of the business cycle, the Austrian economists proposed their fundamental thesis that monetary inflation is never neutral, and that asset bubbles cause unsustainable structural imbalances on a macro level. Inflation has negative unintended consequences. The Austrians knew that eventually a collapse was inevitable. As Ludwig von Mises once said, “We have outlived the short-run and are suffering from the long-run consequences of [inflationary] policies.”

At the end of our special session, I asked members of the Mont Pelerin Society how many of them still agreed with Friedman, that the American economy is “depression proof.” Only a handful raised their hands, and they were all American economists. The rest of the crowd, mostly from abroad, pointed out that most other countries did not suffer a banking crisis. The financial crisis was largely Anglo-American-induced. They agreed that until the United States adopts a stable monetary and banking system, it can no longer be considered depression-proof.

 

Government Response to the Crisis

What should the government do in response to the crisis, if anything? The United States and many other countries followed the standard Keynesian prescription — the government ran massive deficits and the central banks cut interest rates. In short, they engaged in easy money at all levels:  injecting liquidity and adopting activist fiscal and monetary policy.

The 2007 reprint of “The Great Contraction” published Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s remarks at a 2002 conference in Chicago honoring Milton Friedman on his 90th birthday. At the end, he said, “I would like to say to Milton and Anna:  Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”[3]  Bernanke said he had learned the Friedman lesson well. The Fed would not allow the banking system to collapse and cause another Great Depression. Indeed, he lived up to his word during the 2008 financial crisis in injecting massive amounts of liquidity (fiat money).

Unfortunately, Bernanke failed to recognize the other lesson found in Friedman’s scholarly works:  activist fiscal policy doesn’t work and is unnecessary. In Friedman’s testing of Keynesian policy prescription, he found that the deficit spending multiplier was extremely low, not 4 or 5 as taught in the textbooks, but 0 to 1, in its impact on the economy. Recently Robert Barro (Harvard) concluded it was close to 0, no positive impact at all. The increase in government spending was largely offset by private spending declining (crowding out).

Friedman and the Chicago economists argued that the money multiplier resulting from the Fed buying government bonds and injecting liquidity into the banking system was much higher, as much as 3 or 4. Accordingly, Friedman advocated that the Fed should be the primary source of new stimulus to get the economy going again, and fiscal policy should remain stable.

In short, it was unnecessary and maybe even downright harmful for Ben Bernanke to have called Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in September 2008, and encourage the Congress to get involved. According to this view, the trillion dollar deficits and TARP monies were completely unnecessary. Monetary policy could do all the heavy lifting. After TARP became law, I asked Glenn Hubbard, former president of the Council for Economic Policy under Bush and the dean of Columbia Business School, if the Fed had all the emergency powers necessary to buy any asset — Treasuries, mortgages, even stocks — to avert a meltdown, and he said emphatically, “Yes.” It was not necessary to get Congress involved.

 

Did the Fed Cause the Real Estate Bubble?

After the financial crisis, Ben Bernanke refused to take responsibility for the collapse—or the real estate bubble. He noted that the real estate boom was a worldwide phenomenon, ignoring the fact that the dollar is a world currency. But what about the Federal Reserve’s responsibility to be the chief banking regulator? I was in attendance in January 2007, when Bernanke presented a luncheon paper on “Bank Regulation,” in which he used the words “crisis” and “panic” 34 times. Surely Bernanke knew about the irresponsible “subprime” and “no doc” loans commercial and mortgage bankers were involved in. Shouldn’t Bernanke have had the “courage to act” (to use the title of his memoirs) to stop this nonsense when he became Fed chairman; and shouldn’t he have resigned in disgrace for allowing it to happen?

 

The Austrian Response: “Do Nothing”? 

The most extreme response to the financial crisis is the recommendation by some Austrian economists to “do nothing,” that is, for the government to let the malinvestments collapse on their own weight. Libertarian economist Jeffrey Miron, who teaches at Harvard, wrote an article entitled “The Case for Doing Nothing,” for Reason magazine in 2009. According to these economists, government should not increase spending (the Keynesian prescription) nor should the Fed engage in easy money and inject liquidity (the Monetarist solution)—both policies might make matters worse. If anything, the government should retrench like everyone else. This was known as the classical economic policy. Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Austrian economist with the Mises Institute, wrote about the 1920-21 period in American history as an example:

“The conventional wisdom holds that in the absence of government countercyclical policy, whether fiscal or monetary (or both), we cannot expect economic recovery — at least, not without an intolerably long delay. Yet the very opposite policies were followed during the depression of 1920–1921, and recovery was in fact not long in coming. The economic situation in 1920 was grim. By that year unemployment had jumped from 4 percent to nearly 12 percent, and GNP declined 17 percent. No wonder, then, that Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover — falsely characterized as a supporter of laissez-faire economics — urged President Harding to consider an array of interventions to turn the economy around. Hoover was ignored. Instead of “fiscal stimulus,” Harding cut the government’s budget nearly in half between 1920 and 1922. The rest of Harding’s approach was equally laissez-faire. Tax rates were slashed for all income groups. The national debt was reduced by one-third. The Federal Reserve’s activity, moreover, was hardly noticeable. As one economic historian puts it, ‘Despite the severity of the contraction, the Fed did not move to use its powers to turn the money supply around and fight the contraction.’ By the late summer of 1921, signs of recovery were already visible. The following year, unemployment was back down to 6.7 percent and it was only 2.4 percent by 1923.”[4]

It takes a great deal of faith in capitalism to adopt this laissez faire policy in today’s world.

 

How to Order “Vienna and Chicago”

I refer to my book, “Vienna and Chicago, Friends or Foes?” as the Clash of the Titans. You can read more about it at http://mskousen.com/?s=vienna+and+chicago

It’s been endorsed by both sides – by Milton Friedman (Chicago school) and Roger Garrison (Austrian school). Supply side economist Art Laffer wrote me, “I don’t know whether I should love you or hate book. Your book was so good I spent half a day plus avoiding what I supposed to do in order to read it. It’s great!”

To order, go to www.skousenbooks.com. The price is US$20, and I pay the postage if mailed inside the US. (Add $30 for airmail shipment outside the US.) Or call Harold at Ensign Publishing, 1-866-254-2057.


[1] Milton Friedman, “Why the American Economy is Depression-Proof,” lecture delivered in Stockholm in April, 1954, and reprinted in Dollars and Deficits (Prentice-Hall, 1658), pp. 72-96. Friedman’s controversial lecture is still not available online, although my response, “Why the U. S. Economy is Not Depression-Proof” is:  http://mises.org/journals/rae/pdf/RAE3_1_5.pdf

[2] Anna Jacobson Schwartz, “New Preface,” The Great Contraction, 1929-1933 (Princeton University Press, 2007), p. xi.

[3] Ben S. Bernanke, “Remarks,” The Great Depression, 1929-1933, p. 247.

[4] Thomas E. Woods, Jr., “The Forgotten Depression of 1920” (Mises Institute, November 27, 2009):  http://mises.org/daily/3788

GO Confirms a Slow-Growth Economy as We Enter 2019

Washington, DC (Friday, April 19, 2019): Today the federal government released gross output (GO) for the 4th quarter 2018, and the increase (2.3% in real terms) confirmed a slow-growth economy as we enter a new year. For the entire year of 2018, real GO grew at 2.91%, slightly faster than 2.86% for real GDP.

That’s an improvement over 2016 (only 1.6% increase in real GDP) and 2017 (2.3% increase in real GDP), but not the 3-4% the Trump supply-side economists had hoped for.

No doubt the corporate tax cuts had a positive effect, but the largest factor inhibiting growth is probably the Trump trade war. Trade plays a much bigger role in the US and world economy; representing over 25% of spending in the US economy. And at the end of last year, world trade slumped, and Chinese exports plummeted.

Last month, the federal government reported that real GDP growth, the “bottom line” of national income accounting, slowed for the second consecutive quarter. After dropping from 4.2% in the second quarter to 3.4% in the third quarter, real GDP only grew 2.2% in the fourth quarter.

Today the federal government (Bureau of Economic Analysis in the US Commerce Department) released 4th quarter estimates of gross output (GO), the “top line” in national income accounting. It measures spending at all stages of production, including the supply chain.

The results were tepid in comparison to the previous four periods. Total spending on new goods and services (adjusted GO) [1] was slightly more than $45.2 trillion in nominal terms.

Real GO advanced at an annualized rate of 2.3% in the 4th quarter – only slightly above the 2.2% real GDP growth. Business-to-business (B2B) spending rose only slightly (0.3%) above third quarter and substantially slower than the 2.2% growth rate of consumer spending in the same period.

 

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

Note:  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not drive the economy, and does not represent two-thirds of the economy. Using GO as a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy, the business sector (B2B spending) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

While the reduced growth of business spending in the fourth quarter suggests economic slowdown, that slowdown was affected by multiple factors. Fears of U.S.-China trade war escalation, as well as uncertainty about the actions of the Federal Reserve regarding interest rates, drove down the overall markets in late 2018.

These fears and uncertainties undoubtedly influenced the reduction in fourth quarter business spending as well. However, the December announcement that the Fed is not planning additional rate hikes in 2019 and only one hikes in 2020, as well as positive developments in trade negotiations with China, have lessened some of the concerns and the markets have been recovering since the beginning of the year.

While lower than last period, Gross Output growth was broad based across industries. All sectors of the economy – except Mining, and Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services – advanced in the fourth quarter. Government spending rose 3.5% in nominal terms, which was the lowest growth rate in the past six quarters.

GO is a leading indicator of what GDP will do in the next quarter and beyond. As David Ranson, chief economist for the private forecasting firm HCWE & Co., states, “Movements in gross output serve as a leading indicator of movements in GDP.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it has been doing in most of 2018, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing.  However, it is clearly growing at a slower pace as we enter 2019.  And GO* is clearly growing far less than GDP in the 4th quarter 2018.

The advance estimate of first-quarter GDP will be released next week, April 26, and is expected to be 2% or less.

 

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

After growing at double-digit percentages and nearly doubling over the previous four quarters, the mining sector pulled back 7.2% in the fourth quarter on an annualized basis. However, the sector comprises less than 2% of the entire Gross Output and the fourth quarter decline has only a small impact.

Similarly, the Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services– the other declining segment – contributed only 4% to the total GO. Therefore, this segment’s 1.6% annualized decline also had minimal impact on the growth of the overall GO.

However, as the second largest segment that accounts for more than 17% of GO, the 1% growth of the manufacturing sector had a much bigger impact on the modest GO growth in the fourth quarter. More importantly, while nondurable goods declined 1.9%, the durable goods subsegment – which is a much better indicators of long-term economic expansion – advanced 3.9%.

The finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing sector is the largest GO sector with a 19% share of GO. This sector advanced at the same 4.8% rate as it did in the previous period and 26% faster than the 3.8% growth rate from two periods ago.

The fastest growing sectors were utilities, transportation and warehousing. Utilities, which account for just 1.4% of GO, advanced at 12.9% which advanced at 11%. Transportation and warehousing grew at 11%. While growing at a slightly lower rate than utilities, transportation and warehousing – with a 3.4% share — had a bigger positive impact on the growth of the overall GO.

Total government spending accounts for 10.6% of the total GO spending and increased 3.5% in the fourth quarter. However, this growth rate was the lowest since the second quarter of 2017. While federal government increased 3.3%, state and local government expanded a slightly higher rate of 3.5%.

Gross output

Gross output (GO) and GDP are complementary statistics in national income accounting. GO is an attempt to measure the “make” economy; i.e., total economic activity at all stages of production, similar to the “top line” (revenues/sales) of a financial accounting statement. In April 2014, the BEA began to measure GO on a quarterly basis along with GDP.

Gross domestic product (GDP) attempts to measure the “use” economy, i.e., the value of finished goods and services ready for use by consumers, business and government. GDP is similar to the “bottom line” (gross profits) of an accounting statement, which determined the “value added” or the value of final use.

GO tends to be more sensitive to the business cycle, and more volatile, than GDP. During the financial crisis of 2008-09, GO fell much faster than GDP, and afterwards, recovered more quickly than GDP. Still, it wasn’t until late 2013 that GO fully recovered from its peak in 2007. Recently quarterly GO has been outpacing GDP, suggesting a growing economy.

 

Business Spending (B2B) Grew Slower Than Consumer Spending First Time Since Second Quarter 2017

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity increased 1.7% in the third quarter to $26.37 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $14.2 trillion, which is equivalent to a 3.9% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 0.3% and consumer spending rose at a significantly slower rate of 2.2%.

Gross output

“B2B spending is in fact a pretty good indicator of where the economy is headed, since it measures spending in the entire supply chain,” stated Skousen. “The business activity slowed considerably in the 4th quarter, although it’s probably a temporary situation.”

 

About GO and B2B Index

Skousen champions Gross Output as a more comprehensive measure of economic activity. “GDP leaves out the supply chain and business to business transactions in the production of intermediate inputs,” he notes. “That’s a big part of the economy, bigger than GDP itself. GO includes B2B activity that is vital to the production process. No one should ignore what is going on in the supply chain of the economy.”

Skousen first introduced Gross Output as a macroeconomic tool in his work The Structure of Production (New York University Press, 1990). A new third edition was published in late 2015, and is now available on Amazon.

Click here: Structure of Production on Amazon

The BEA’s decision in 2014 to publish GO on a quarterly basis in its “GDP by Industry” data is a major achievement in national income accounting. GO is the first new output statistic published on a quarterly basis since GDP was invented in the 1940s.

The BEA now defines GDP in terms of GO. GDP is defined as “the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy [GO] less the value of the goods and services used up in production (Intermediate Inputs or II].” See definitions at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/industry/gdpindustry/gdpindnewsrelease.htm

With GO and GDP produced on a timely basis, the federal government now offers a complete system of accounts. As Dale Jorgenson, Steve Landefeld, and William Nordhaus conclude in their book, A New Architecture for the U. S. National Accounts, “Gross output [GO] is the natural measure of the production sector, while net output [GDP] is appropriate as a measure of welfare. Both are required in a complete system of accounts.”

Skousen adds, “Gross Output and GDP are complementary aspects of the economy, but GO does a better job of measuring total economic activity and the business cycle, and demonstrates that business spending is more significant than consumer spending,” he says. “By using GO data, we see that consumer spending is actually only about a third of economic activity, not two-thirds that is often reported by the media. As the chart above demonstrates, business spending is in fact almost twice the size of consumer spending in the US economy.”

Note: Ned Piplovic assisted in providing technical data for this release.

 

For More Information

The GO data released by the BEA can be found at www.bea.gov under “Quarterly GDP by Industry.” Click on interactive tables “GDP by Industry” and go to “Gross Output by Industry.” Or go to this link directly: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at mskousen@chapman.edu, or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at skousenpub@gmail.com.

# # #

________________________________________
[1] The BEA currently uses a limited measure of total sales of goods and services in the production process. Once products are fabricated and packaged at the manufacturing stage, the BEA’s GO only adds “net” sales at the wholesale and retail level. Its official GO for the 2018 4th quarter is slightly above $37.15 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to more than $45.2 trillion in Q4 2018. Thus, the BEA omits more than $8 trillion in business-to-business (B2B) transactions in its GO statistics. We include them as a legitimate economic activity that should be accounted for in GO, which we call Adjusted GO. See the new introduction to Mark Skousen, The Structure of Production, 3rd ed. (New York University Press, 2015), pp. xv-xvi.

The US Economy is NOT Slowing Down. Business Spending Soars!

By Mark Skousen

Editor, Forecasts & Strategies

Washington, DC (Thursday, February 21, 2018): “Gross Output provides an important new perspective on the economy and a powerful new set of tools of analysis, one that is closer to the way many businesses see themselves.” –Former BEA director Steve Landefeld

Is the US economic boom coming to an end?

Last month the federal government reported that real GDP growth, the “bottom line” of national income accounting, slowed from 4.2% in the second quarter to 3.4% in the third quarter. Many pundits said that the slowdown will continue and that a recession is inevitable by 2020.

But today’s economic numbers suggest otherwise. Business spending, in particular, is rising at a faster pace.

Today the federal government (Bureau of Economic Analysis in the US Commerce Department) released 3rd quarter estimates of gross output (GO), the “top line” in national income accounting. It measures spending at all stages of production.

The results were eye-popping. Total spending on new goods and services (adj. GO) topped $45 trillion for the first time.

Real GO climbed at an annualized rate of 4.6% in the 3rd quarter, much faster than GDP. Business-to-business (B2B) spending rose even faster, 5.8% in real terms, much more than consumer spending (up 3.2%).

Business — Not Consumers — Drives the Economy

Note:  Contrary to what the media says, consumer spending does not drive the economy, and does not represent two-thirds of the economy. Using GO as a better, more accurate measure of total spending in the economy, business spending (B2B) is almost twice the size as consumer spending. Consumer spending is the effect, not the cause, of prosperity (Say’s law).

There is no slowdown at all in the supply chain and business spending – in fact, they are growing faster.

The growth was broad based. Every sector of the economy in the 3rd quarter grew except utilities and agriculture. Government spending rose 4.4% in real terms. (Does it ever go down?)

Faster GO Means No Recession in Sight for 2019

GO is a leading indicator of what GDP will do in the next quarter and beyond. As David Ranson, chief economist for the private forecasting firm HCWE & Co., states, “Movements in gross output serve as a leading indicator of movements in GDP.”

Whenever GO is growing faster than GDP, as it has been doing in 2018, it’s a positive sign that the economy is still robust and growing. That’s what we are seeing.

Fourth quarter GDP will be released next week, February 28. I expect real GDP to growth faster than 3.4%.

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

The mining sector slowed its growth compared to the previous quarter but was still the fastest growing sector in the third quarter with an annualized growth rate of 22.8%. While business growth in this sector provides a solid foundation for various industries later in the supply chain, the mining castor makes up just 1.8% of the total GO and has a lesser impact on the GO growth compared to some of the larger sectors.

Because the manufacturing sector comprises more than 17% of the total GO, the 9.1% growth rate of this sector has a much greater impact on the growth of the overall GO. Furthermore, within this sector, Durable goods production advanced at nearly 13%, which more than twice the 5.3% growth rate for Nondurable goods.

The Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing sector is the largest GO sector with a 19% share, this sector advanced at 4.8%, which was more than 26% better than the 3.8% growth rate from the previous period.

Additionally, the Construction sector advanced 7%, Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services sector grew 6.4% and   Educational services, health care, and social assistance sector expanded 8.1%. Another indication that businesses and individuals are spending with a long-term horizon outlook is that Wholesale trade spending growth of 5.2% is substantially higher than the 3.2% expansion of Retail spending.

The only two sectors that retracted in the third quarter were Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, which declined 8.2%, and Utilities with a 6.5% contraction.

Total government spending – 10.6% of the total GO – increase of 4.4% is 10% larger than the 4% growth from the previous quarter. However, the growth was distributed more evenly between the federal government (+4.2%) and State and local government growth (4.5%). While state government expanded just slightly faster than the 4.3% in previous period, the federal government’s spending grew at a pace that its more than 31% faster than its growth the second quarter of 2018.

Business Spending

Gross output (GO) and GDP are complementary statistics in national income accounting. GO is an attempt to measure the “make” economy; i.e., total economic activity at all stages of production, similar to the “top line” (revenues/sales) of a financial accounting statement. In April 2014, the BEA began to measure GO on a quarterly basis along with GDP.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is an attempt to measure the “use” economy, i.e., the value of finished goods and services ready to be used by consumers, business and government. GDP is similar to the “bottom line” (gross profits) of an accounting statement, which determined the “value added” or the value of final use.

GO tends to be more sensitive to the business cycle, and more volatile, than GDP. During the financial crisis of 2008-09, GO fell much faster than GDP, and afterwards, recovered more quickly than GDP. Still, it wasn’t until late 2013 that GO fully recovered from its peak in 2007. Recently quarterly GO has been outpacing GDP, suggesting a growing economy.

Business Spending (B2B) Continues to Grows Faster Than Consumer Spending

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity increased 8.1% in the third quarter to $26.37 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $14 trillion, which is equivalent to a 5% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 5.8% and consumer spending rose at a significantly slower rate of 3.2%.

Business Spending

“B2B spending is in fact a pretty good indicator of where the economy is headed, since it measures spending in the entire supply chain,” stated Skousen. “The business activity resumed a strong growth trend after bucking some of the tariff, interest rates, and market correction concerns from the first quarter. Without the reduction in some of those concerns and a strong earnings season, the business community refocused on taking advantage of the tax reform bill in December 2017, and an improved business environment and a reduction in obstructive business regulations.”

About GO and B2B Index

Skousen champions Gross Output as a more comprehensive measure of economic activity. “GDP leaves out the supply chain and business to business transactions in the production of intermediate inputs,” he notes. “That’s a big part of the economy. GO includes B2B activity that is vital to the production process. No one should ignore what is going on in the supply chain of the economy.”

Skousen first introduced Gross Output as a macroeconomic tool in his work The Structure of Production (New York University Press, 1990). A new third edition was published in late 2015, and is now available on Amazon.

Click here: Structure of Production on Amazon

The BEA’s decision in 2014 to publish GO on a quarterly basis in its “GDP by Industry” data is a major achievement in national income accounting. GO is the first output statistic to be published on a quarterly basis since GDP was invented in the 1940s.

The BEA now defines GDP in terms of GO. GDP is defined as “the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy [GO] less the value of the goods and services used up in production (Intermediate Inputs or II].” See definitions at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/industry/gdpindustry/gdpindnewsrelease.htm

With GO and GDP being produced on a timely basis, the federal government now offers a complete system of accounts. As Dale Jorgenson, Steve Landefeld, and William Nordhaus conclude in their book, A New Architecture for the U. S. National Accounts, “Gross output [GO] is the natural measure of the production sector, while net output [GDP] is appropriate as a measure of welfare. Both are required in a complete system of accounts.”

Skousen adds, “Gross Output and GDP are complementary aspects of the economy, but GO does a better job of measuring total economic activity and the business cycle, and demonstrates that business spending is more significant than consumer spending,” he says. “By using GO data, we see that consumer spending is actually only about a third of economic activity, not two-thirds that is often reported by the media. As the chart above demonstrates, business spending is in fact almost twice the size of consumer spending in the US economy.”

Note: Ned Piplovic assisted in providing technical data for this release.

 

For More Information

The GO data released by the BEA can be found at www.bea.gov under “Quarterly GDP by Industry.” Click on interactive tables “GDP by Industry” and go to “Gross Output by Industry.” Or go to this link directly: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at mskousen@chapman.edu, or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at skousenpub@gmail.com.

# # #

________________________________________
[1] The BEA currently uses a limited measure of total sales of goods and services in the production process. Once products are fabricated and packaged at the manufacturing stage, the BEA’s GO only adds “net” sales at the wholesale and retail level. Its official GO for the 2018 3rd quarter is slightly above $36.8 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to more than $45 trillion in Q3 2018. Thus, the BEA omits more than $8.2 trillion in business-to-business (B2B) transactions in its GO statistics. We include them as a legitimate economic activity that should be accounted for in GO, which we call Adjusted GO. See the new introduction to Mark Skousen, The Structure of Production, 3rd ed. (New York University Press, 2015), pp. xv-xvi.

Gross Output Indicates Continued Boom in the U.S. Economy as Business Spending Expands Rapidly in Q2

Washington, DC (Thursday, November 1, 2018):  Gross output (GO), the top line of national accounting that measures spending at all stages of production, continued to build on the growth from the first quarter and advanced at an even faster pace than GDP in the second quarter.

Based on data released on Thursday, November 1, 2018 by the BEA, adjusted GO (GO*)[1] increased in real terms at an annualized rate of 4.6% in the second quarter of 2018. This increase is over 50% higher than the last period’s 2.7% growth rate and substantially higher than the real GDP’s 4.1% growth rate in the second quarter of 2018.

Mark Skousen, editor of Forecasts & Strategies and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, states, “When GO grows faster than GDP, this is a good sign of an expanding economy. Additionally, the data indicates that business investment and spending continued to expand rapidly, probably because of positive corporate earnings reports, the slightly lower concerns regarding tariffs, the new full depreciation rules and the usual weather-related uptick business activity during the spring.”

According to a recent study by David Ranson, chief economist at HCWE & Co., GO anticipates changes in GDP by as much as 12 weeks in advance and thus serves as a reliable leading indicator: http://www.hcwe.com/guest/EW-0118.pdf

The second quarter Skousen B2B Index, a measure of business spending throughout the supply chain, increased at 7.8% in nominal terms, which is significantly higher than the 4.5% growth rate from the previous quarter. After a slowdown in the previous quarter, the growth in the second quarter is the highest strongest growth rate since the first quarter of 2017. In the second quarter of 2018, B2B transactions rose at an annual rate of 4.4% in real terms, which is three times higher than the growth rate from the previous quarter, and faster than GDP.  Furthermore, B2B spending increase was 36% higher than the growth of consumer spending in the second quarter.

The nominal adj. GO increased at an outstanding 7.9% in the second quarter of 2018 to reach $44.4 trillion. This current adjusted GO is more than double the size of the current $20.4 trillion GDP figure, which measures final output only. After a lackluster growth in the first quarter, the broader GO* growth rate of 4.6% in real terms indicates a heating up in economic activity expansion again, most likely because of the HUGE wholesale and retail trade increase in the fourth quarter dampened the first quarter results and second quarter performance moved closer to normal levels. “I view the slower growth in GO in the 1st quarter as temporary and the economy is likely to recover in the 2nd quarter,” commented Skousen about the results in the previous quarter. The current quarter’s results indicate that Skousen’s assessment was accurate.

While growth in some industrial sectors was minor, every single sector advanced versus the previous quarter, which drove the growth of GO in the second quarter of 2018. While spending increased at mild rates the previous quarter, the current quarter’s numbers indicate a continuation of robust growth across the economy, and especially in the early stages of production, such as mining and construction. Growth in the early stages is usually a reliable leading economic indicator that overall economic growth should continue to expand.

Gross Output

Report on Various Sectors of the Economy

After a brief slowdown in the previous period, the mining sector’s growth advanced at the highest rate of any sector – 38%.

While the growth of the mining sector is quite robust and a leading indicator, it has a relatively small impact on the growth of the overall GO due to the mining sector’s low share of just 1.7% of total GO. Conversely, the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 17% of the total GO, advanced 7.2%, which was close to last period’s 7.6% growth rate. At 9.2%, the growth rate for Nondurable Goods was significantly higher than the 5.2% growth rate for Durable Goods.

The largest sector – Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing – advanced at 3.8%, which was substantially lower than previous period’s growth rate of nearly 10%.

Additionally, two more segments posted double-digit percentage growth rates for the second quarter. While the Wholesale trade sector increased 10.8%, the Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services sector advanced 12.7%. The growth in this sector was most likely driven by the low unemployment, wage growth and overall economic growth, which provided consumer with additional funds for discretionary spending. These two segments account for a 9% combined share of total GO.

Total government spending (11% share of total GO) increased at 4%, which was higher than the 3.8% from the previous period but still considerably lower than the 6.7% average growth rate over the past two years. Additionally, this two-year average growth rate of total government spending declined for the second consecutive period after rising for five consecutive quarters. State and local government spending increased at 4.3% which was higher than the 3.2% growth of government spending at the federal level.

Gross output (GO) and GDP are complementary statistics in national income accounting. GO is an attempt to measure the “make” economy; i.e., total economic activity at all stages of production, similar to the “top line” (revenues/sales) of a financial accounting statement. In April 2014, the BEA began to measure GO on a quarterly basis along with GDP.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is an attempt to measure the “use” economy, i.e., the value of finished goods and services ready to be used by consumers, business and government. GDP is similar to the “bottom line” (gross profits) of an accounting statement, which determined the “value added” or the value of final use.

GO tends to be more sensitive to the business cycle, and more volatile, than GDP. During the financial crisis of 2008-09, GO fell much faster than GDP, and afterwards, recovered more quickly than GDP. Still, it wasn’t until late 2013 that GO fully recovered from its peak in 2007. Recently quarterly GO and GDP have both been growing at a similar pace.

Business Spending (B2B) Continues to Grows Faster Than Consumer Spending

Our business-to-business (B2B) index is also useful. It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment. Nominal B2B activity increased 7.8% in the second quarter to $25.85 trillion. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose to $13.8 trillion, which is equivalent to a 5.7% annualized growth rate. In real terms, B2B activity rose at an annualized rate of 4.4% and consumer spending rose at a significantly slower rate of 2.7%.

Gross Output

“B2B spending is in fact a pretty good indicator of where the economy is headed, since it measures spending in the entire supply chain,” stated Skousen. “The business activity resumed a strong growth trend after bucking some of the tariff, interest rates, and market correction concerns from the first quarter. Without the reduction in some of those concerns and a strong earnings season, the business community refocused on taking advantage of the tax reform bill in December 2017, and an improved business environment and a reduction in obstructive business regulations.”

About GO and B2B Index

Skousen champions Gross Output as a more comprehensive measure of economic activity. “GDP leaves out the supply chain and business to business transactions in the production of intermediate inputs,” he notes. “That’s a big part of the economy. GO includes B2B activity that is vital to the production process. No one should ignore what is going on in the supply chain of the economy.”

Skousen first introduced Gross Output as a macroeconomic tool in his work The Structure of Production (New York University Press, 1990). A new third edition was published in late 2015, and is now available on Amazon.

Click here: Structure of Production on Amazon

The BEA’s decision in 2014 to publish GO on a quarterly basis in its “GDP by Industry” data is a major achievement in national income accounting. GO is the first output statistic to be published on a quarterly basis since GDP was invented in the 1940s.

The BEA now defines GDP in terms of GO. GDP is defined as “the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy [GO] less the value of the goods and services used up in production (Intermediate Inputs or II].” See definitions at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/industry/gdpindustry/gdpindnewsrelease.htm

With GO and GDP being produced on a timely basis, the federal government now offers a complete system of accounts. As Dale Jorgenson, Steve Landefeld, and William Nordhaus conclude in their book, A New Architecture for the U. S. National Accounts, “Gross output [GO] is the natural measure of the production sector, while net output [GDP] is appropriate as a measure of welfare. Both are required in a complete system of accounts.”

Skousen adds, “Gross Output and GDP are complementary aspects of the economy, but GO does a better job of measuring total economic activity and the business cycle, and demonstrates that business spending is more significant than consumer spending,” he says. “By using GO data, we see that consumer spending is actually only about a third of economic activity, not two-thirds that is often reported by the media. As the chart above demonstrates, business spending is in fact almost twice the size of consumer spending in the US economy.”

Note: Ned Piplovic assisted in providing technical data for this release.

For More Information

The GO data released by the BEA can be found at www.bea.gov under “Quarterly GDP by Industry.” Click on interactive tables “GDP by Industry” and go to “Gross Output by Industry.” Or go to this link directly: BEA – Gross Output by Industry

For more information on Gross Output (GO), the Skousen B2B Index, and their relationship to GDP, see the following:

To interview Dr. Mark Skousen on this press release, contact him at mskousen@chapman.edu, or Ned Piplovic, Media Relations at skousenpub@gmail.com.

# # #

________________________________________
[1]  The BEA currently uses a limited measure of total sales of goods and services in the production process. Once products are fabricated and packaged at the manufacturing stage, the BEA’s GO only adds “net” sales at the wholesale and retail level. Its official GO for the 2018 2nd quarter is slightly above $36.2 trillion. By including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO increases to more than $44.4 trillion in Q2 2018. Thus, the BEA omits more than $8 trillion in business-to-business (B2B) transactions in its GO statistics. We include them as a legitimate economic activity that should be accounted for in GO, which we call Adjusted GO. See the new introduction to Mark Skousen, The Structure of Production, 3rd ed. (New York University Press, 2015), pp. xv-xvi.