SECOND QUARTER GROSS OUTPUT AND B2B INDEX INCREASE, STILL NO SIGNIFICANT GROWTH OF THE U.S. ECONOMY.

By Mark Skousen

Washington, DC (Thursday, November 3, 2016):  Gross output, the top line of national income accounting, increased 1.1% in the second quarter of 2016, according to data released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  It is still sluggish and without indication of significant growth.  While the overall economy showed signs of growth, industries in the early stages of production are struggling according to economic data released today.

The Skousen B2B Index, a measure of business spending throughout the supply chain, moved into positive territory after falling for three quarters in a row.  The B2B Index change versus prior quarter in nominal term is currently at +1.1%.  The small increase is a positive sign.  However, unless the trend continues for the remainder of the year, the threat of a potential mild business recession still remains as we approach 2017.

Based on data released today by the BEA and adjusted to include all sales throughout the production process, nominal adjusted GO increased 1.1 % in the 2nd quarter of 2016, slightly better than the increase in the 1st quarter of 2011 (+0.3%) [1].  Adjusted GO was almost $39.5 trillion in the 2nd quarter, more than double the size of GDP ($18.45 trillion), which measures final output only.  Nominal GDP, the bottom line of national income accounting, rose 0.92% in the 2nd quarter versus the previous quarter (3.7% annualized).

Supply chain activity varied among various sectors significantly in the 2nd quarter, with significant declines in early-stage production.  Compared in real terms to the previous quarter, mining activity fell by another -12.6% in Q2 after declining -18.7% in Q1.  The Construction sector declined -7.5% after showing a +9.4% growth in the previous quarter.  The information sector also reversed course and declined -2.3% in Q2 after a 5.6 increase in Q1 2016.

The Professional, scientific, and technical services sector made a positive contribution and increased 3.6%.  However, that is less than half the growth rate (+8.8%) from Q1. The sector that increased more than previous quarter was Health care and social sciences, which grew by almost 10%.  This is higher by a third compared to the Q1 result of +7.5%

While the Retail sector was slightly higher (1.78%) in Q2 2016 versus the previous quarter, the Wholesale sector was down (-1.80%).  This is another indicator that spending in early stages is still struggling.

Government spending (11% share of total GO) was flat (+0.13%) with federal spending growing a bit more (0.21%) than local government, which grew only 0.09%.

Adjusted GO vs GDP rate of change 2016 Q2e

Gross output (GO) and Gross domestic product (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.

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. The fact that the adjusted GO reversed course and grew faster than GDP is a positive sign.  However, GO growth will have to increase significantly in upcoming quarters to suggest that the economic recovery continues into 2017.

Real Business Spending (B2B) Suffers Slight Decline

We have also created a new business-to-business (B2B) index based on GO data.  It measures all the business spending in the supply chain and new private capital investment.  Nominal B2B activity increased 1.1% compared to the previous quarter to $22.5 billion.  Meanwhile, consumer spending rose 1.6% to $12.7 billion in Q2.

2016 Q2 Skousen B2B Index vs consumer spending

“The GO data and my own B2B Index demonstrate that total US economic activity has picked up slight,” stated Mark Skousen, editor of Forecasts & Strategies and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. “B2B spending is in fact a pretty good indicator of where the economy is headed, since it measures spending in the entire supply chain, and it indicates tepid growth at this stage, despite desperate efforts by the Federal Reserve and the federal government to stimulate the economy.”

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.  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: http://www.bea.gov/iTable/iTable.cfm?ReqID=51&step=1#reqid=51&step=3&isuri=1&5102=15

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

Mark Skousen, “At Last, a Better Way to Economic Measure” lead editorial, Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2014: http://on.wsj.com/PsdoLM

Steve Forbes, Forbes Magazine (April 14, 2014): “New, Revolutionary Way To Measure The Economy Is Coming — Believe Me, This Is A Big Deal”:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveforbes/2014/03/26/this-may-save-the-economoy-from-keynesians-and-spend-happy-pols/

Mark Skousen, Forbes Magazine (December 16, 2013): “Beyond GDP: Get Ready For A New Way To Measure The Economy”:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/11/29/beyond-gdp-get-ready-for-a-new-way-to-measure-the-economy/

Steve Hanke, Globe Asia (July 2014): “GO: J. M. Keynes Versus J.-B. Say,” http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/go-jm-keynes-versus-j-b-say

New:  Mark Skousen, “Linking Austrian Economics to Keynesian Economics,” Journal of Private Enterprise, Winter, 2015:  http://journal.apee.org/index.php?title=Parte7_Journal_of_Private_Enterprise_vol_30_no_4.pdf

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

# # #

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[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 2016 2nd quarter is $32 trillion.  But by including gross sales at the wholesale and retail level, the adjusted GO is $39.5 trillion in Q2 2016.  Thus, the BEA omits $7.5 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 Making of Modern Economics Wins 2009 Choice Award

My book The Making of Modern Economics has just won the Choice Book Award for Outstanding Academic Title for 2009. Choice is the reviewing journal for academic libraries. I was delighted by this surprise announcement, especially for a 2nd edition!

Winner of 2009 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title

Winner of 2009 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title

Some of the unique characteristics of The Making of Modern Economics:

1. A major critique of Karl Marx’s theories of capitalism, labor, imperialism and exploitation, and why most of his predictions have utterly failed. (Many former Marxists report that that this chapter alone converted them to the free market.)
2. Two chapters on Keynes and Keynesian economics, what one economist has called “the most devastating critique of Keynesian economics ever written.”
3. Five full chapters on the Austrian and Chicago schools of free-market economics. It is the only one-volume history of economics written by a free-market economist (all previous histories had been written by socialists, Keynesians and Marxists).
4. How Keynes saved capitalism — from Marxism!
5. Over 100 illustrations, portraits, and photographs.
6. Provocative sidebars, humorous anecdotes, even musical selections reflecting the spirit of each major economist.

Choice Review: “With a supreme, lively blend of economics and sociology, Skousen has magnificently managed to put flesh, blood, and DNA on the skeleton of economics in this survey of great economic thinkers. This new work is must reading for economists who want to acquire professional depth and richness. Essential. All economics collections and all levels of readers.”

Description: Here is a bold, updated history of economics–the dramatic story of how the great economic thinkers built today’s rigorous social science. Noted financial writer and economist Mark Skousen has revised this popular work to provide more material on Adam Smith, Marx, and Keynes, and expanded coverage of Joseph Stiglitz, “imperfect” markets, the financial crisis of 2008, and behavioral economics.

Available in hardback and paperback on Amazon.com.

Other quotes about The Making of Modern Economics:

“Mark’s book is fun to read on every page. I have read it three times, and listened to it on audio tape on my summer hike. It deserves to stay in print for many decades. I love this book and have recommended it to dozens of my friends.” — John Mackey, CEO/President, Whole Foods Market

“I champion Skousen’s new book to everyone. I keep it by my bedside and refer to it often. An absolutely ideal gift for college students.”– William F. Buckley, Jr., National Review

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

“Both fascinating and infuriating….engaging, readable, colorful…”–Foreign Affairs

“Provocative, engaging, anything but dismal.”–N. Gregory Mankiw, Harvard University

“Lively…amazing…good quotations!” –Journal of Economic Perspectives

“One of the most original books ever published in economics.”–Richard Swedberg, University of Stockholm

“Lively and accurate, a sure bestseller. Skousen is an able, imaginative and energetic economist.” — Milton Friedman, Hoover Institution

“Having no previous interest in economics, I was honestly surprised to find your book so captivating.” –Haila Williams, Production Manager, Blackstone Audio Books

“Skousen gets the story ‘right’ and does it in an entertaining fashion, without dogmatic rantings.” –Peter Boettke, George Mason University

“One of the most readable ‘tell all’ histories of the 20th century.”–Richard Ebeling, Hillsdale College

“I couldn’t put it down! The musical accompaniments for each chapter are a wonderful touch. Humor permeates the book and makes it accessible like no other history. It will set the standard.”–Steven Kates, chief economist, Australian Chamber of Commerce

“The most fascinating, entertaining and readable history I have ever seen. I highly recommend it for translation abroad.”–Ken Schoolland, Hawaii Pacific University

“My students love The Making of Modern Economics! Mark Skousen makes the history of economics come alive like no other textbook.”– Roger W. Garrison, Auburn University.

“It’s unputdownable!”–Mark Blaug, University of Amsterdam

“Skousen is the only economist I know who I can understand. He writes for the common man!” — Dr. Laurence Hayek, U. K.

“Mark Skousen 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, NFTE

“Mark Skousen is a great economist, great philosopher, great entrepreneur, and great friend. He should win the Nobel in economics.” — Steve Forbes

Available in hardback and paperback on Amazon.com.

Who’s to Blame for ObamaCare? Two Conservatives!

I wrote the following article for Human Events, but apparently it was too controversial and was removed after about 100 e-letters of commentary, both favorable and critical. Read here’s the original op-ed, uncensured.)

by Mark Skousen

This week the Senate grinches stole Christmas. The Obama Nation is getting Obama Care.

It’s easy to blame the sixty Democrats, as the Wall Street Journal does, for “the worse bill ever.” It solemnly declares: “These 60 Democrats are creating a future of epic increases in spending, taxes and command–and control regulation.”

True enough. But what’s the root cause of this disaster?

Sorry, friends, it’s not the Democrats, nor the American people who elected them.

The real culprits are two “conservative” Republicans who ran the show the previous eight years: George W. Bush, and his “master political strategist” Karl Rove. If it weren’t for these two fools in the White House, the Democrats wouldn’t have sixty Senators, including a professional comedian from Minnesota, to close off debate and ram down our throats a bill worse than Hillary Care.

The fact is that the Bush & Rove comedy act pushed through a litany of ruinous government policies that led to the lowest approval numbers in history:

–the undeclared and costly War in Iraq and its stepchild the unconstitutional Patriot Act.
–the monstrous No Child Left Behind Act that dramatically increased federal intervention in private education.
–the Prescription Drug Act that gave the American people another benefit-corrupted entitlement and unfunded liability.
–large and growing deficits and national debt (according to the Cato Institute, George W. Bush was the biggest spender since LBJ: http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/12/19/george-w-bush-biggest-spender-since-lbj/)
–the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, largely due to their failure to reform government-sponsored agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The supply-side tax cuts were probably the only major piece of economic legislation that Bush/Rove deserve credit for, but even then, they blundered in not making the tax cuts permanent. So now even if the Republicans take back Capitol Hill in the 2010 elections, all President Obama has to do is veto an extension of the Bush tax cuts, a voila, taxes will increase automatically.

In short, we are paying a heavy price for the “compassionate conservativism” of Bush/Rove.

Once Obama Care becomes law, like Medicare and other “Great Society” programs, it will never end. We will be stuck with national health care for the rest of our lives.

And how are Bush and Rove rewarded? Fortunately, we aren’t seeing much of George Bush, who is quietly in retirement in Texas.

The tragedy is Karl Rove, who has been rewarded by conservatives. He’s treated like a triumphant general on Fox News almost every night, and was signed on as a regular columnist in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.

Shame.

In liberty, AEIOU,
Mark Skousen

Book Review: The Making of Modern Economics

Click here to purchase The Making of Modern Economics by Mark Skousen

Click here to purchase The Making of Modern Economics by Mark Skousen

From an online book review on BillyBush.Net:

I recently finished “The Making of Modern Economics” by Mark Skousen.  I found this book quite intriguing.  It provides a powerful foundation and historical background to economic thought by offering the histories of the individuals that most contributed to modern schools of economics and public policy.

Free Market Health Care Is The Answer

“Capitalism is turning luxuries into necessities.” — Andrew Carnegie

Watching the shouting matches occurring at the town hall meetings across America, do you ever wonder why nobody holds town hall meetings or writes complaining letters to Congress about food and housing?

After all, food and housing are even more important than medical help.  Most Americans don’t need to go to the doctor every day, but you do need to eat every day and live under a roof.

Read the entire article on Human Events Online.

Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?

Perspective – Liberty Magazine – May 2009

Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?
by Mark Skousen

Few things other than a New Deal can be more painful than an economic depression. But few eras were more vital and enjoyable than the private side of the last one.

One of the rare books in my financial library is “I Like the Depression,” by Henry Ansley, the “Jackass of the Plains.” This amusing little volume was published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1932, and the price was a buck fifty.

Ansley, a newspaperman from Amarillo, Texas, described a prosperity in the 1920s that wasn’t that great. He burned candles at both ends, became a financial hotshot, and ultimately overextended himself. Then the depression hit: “Good-by twin beds, frozen salads, indigestion, credit and swelled head. Hail to the old-fashioned nightgown, buttermilk, sow bosom [a kind of food], comfort and cash.” He lost his job but found happiness by rediscovering leisure, friends, and neighborliness. Hard times taught him the value of a dollar and not to take things for granted: “My dog is my pal again; my wife my lover and my Dad my advisor.”

Ansley’s book was never a bestseller, but it started me thinking. Can the worst of times also be the best of times? The history books are replete with the evils of the 1930s — soup lines, bank closings, Hoovervilles, dustbowls, bear markets, demoralizing despair. It’s all been retold countless times, in such books as Milton Meltzer’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” and most recently Amity Shlaes’s “The Forgotten Man.” The Great Depression brought us Nazi Germany, the New Deal, Keynesianism, and, some say, World War II.

Not surprisingly, everyone from Wall Street to the halls of Congress is worried that the current recession will turn into the dreaded D, and has seized on desperate rescue measures. But was the Great Depression all bad? Did anything good come out of the 1930s? I started doing some research and was amazed to find a bright side to the gloomy ’30s — a lower cost of living, great new inventions and other technological advances, new forms of entertainment, more sports and reading, and a return to sober social behavior.

Start with leisure. Henry Ansley describes the free time he had during the depression. Indeed, millions of Americans had a lot more leisure time. Before the depression, almost everyone worked a six-day week. In the 1930s, the five-day work week became commonplace. “Spread the work!” was the rally cry. By 1937, wage earners in 57% of all manufacturing companies enjoyed a five-day week. Saturday was now a free day, and the Saturday rush hour was replaced by the Friday rush hour.

As a result, there was a tremendous increase in sports and leisure-oriented jobs. People began getting out into the sun and open air and taking a greater interest in golf, tennis, skiing, roller skating, and bicycling. Softball became a national pastime; by 1939, there were nearly half a million teams and 5 million players of all ages throughout the country. Expensive private club golf courses withered, but inexpensive public courses grew. Miniature golf was all the rage in the early ’30s. Bobby Jones became the first and only person to win the Grand Slam of golf in 1930. And black athletes became national idols for the first time, Joe Louis in boxing and Jesse Owens in track and field.

Americans traveled more. House trailers became a very big business. Camping, canoeing, and other inexpensive outdoor activities increased in popularity. People took their cameras with them, and photography became a craze of remarkable dimensions. Americans took tons of pictures with their small German cameras. Life and Look — big, glossy picture magazines — became popular.

Dancing, all the rage in the ’20s, continued to rage in the ’30s. Americans would dance their way out of the depression! Young people everywhere danced the swing, the jitterbug, and the boogie woogie to the music of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Louie Armstrong.

Indoors, parlor games such as bridge and the ingenious “Monopoly” were popular. People read more, and circulation at local public libraries increased. Kids loved comic books, especially “Superman,” the world’s first comic book superhero. Books “condensed” by Reader’s Digest saved time and money. There was an intense interest in epic novels — Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth,” A.J. Cronin’s “The Citadel,” Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” — as well as such how-to books as Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” (1937, with 17 printings right away).

In the same year, Lin Yutang, the Chinese-American Taoist, published “The Importance of Living,” which was to become especially popular among libertarians. It encouraged Americans to stop worrying and start “letting go.” One chapter was entitled “The Art of Loafing.” “I am quite sure,” Lin wrote, “that amidst the hustle and bustle of American life, there is a great deal of wistfulness, of the divine desire to lie on a plot of grass under tall beautiful trees of an idle afternoon and just do nothing.” Whether fortunately or unfortunately, in their own opinion, millions of Americans got to live Lin’s upbeat message of idleness.

New Entertainments

Idleness — and its companion, entertainment. People wanted to forget their troubles, and radio and motion pictures provided an escape. Radio really came of age during this period, with up to 80 million listeners on some evenings. There was a lot more to radio than FDR’s fireside chats. It was the way to hear worldwide news bulletins, good music, and such half-hour comedies as “Amos ’n’ Andy,” the first syndicated program, and “The Jack Benny Show.” In the late 1930s, NBC was carrying broadcasts of symphony orchestras, especially its own orchestra, conducted by the immortal Arturo Toscanini, to 10 million listeners every week. And who can forget the night of Sunday, October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles broadcast his version of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds”?

Hollywood blossomed during the ’30s. In one decade, the motion picture industry went from silent films to talkies in Technicolor. Films brought the American public together as never before. Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Mickey Rooney, and Clark Gable were welcome alternatives to Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, and other demagogues of the era. Many considered Shirley Temple a gift from God during the gloomy de-pression. The motion picture event of 1938 was the first full-length animated cartoon, Walt Disney’s “Snow White.” The same year saw one of the first films in Technicolor, the blockbuster “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Errol Flynn. A burst of classic award-winning films came out the next year, including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and the greatest of all epic films, “Gone With the Wind.”

The ’30s was the era of the first great horror films, “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and “King Kong.” For a dime, Americans could go to the Saturday matinee and see double features of cowboys, adventurers, and gangsters. The silver screen brought us science fiction, serial thrillers and the Singing Cowboy (Gene Autry). The theater was filled with humor — Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, the Three Stooges. Americans would laugh their way out of the depres-sion! There were reasons why Chicago economist Robert Lucas, Jr., called the 1930s “one long vacation.”

New Technology

Alvin Hansen and other Keynesian economists developed their “stagnation thesis” in the late 1930s, arguing that the United States was indefinitely stuck in an economic rut. They claimed that there was no new technology, no new frontier to drive the American economy. They ignored the tremendous economic progress that took place throughout the depression — the invention of plastics, artificial fibers, plywood, the 2-cycle diesel engine, and lighter, tougher steels.

Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll invented the electron microscope in 1932. Howard Armstrong created FM radio in 1933. Wallace Carothers manufactured nylon, and Robert A. Watson-Watt discovered radar in 1935. Hans Pabst von Ohain developed the jet engine in 1937 and the first jet airplane in 1939. Chester Carlson originated xerography in 1938. Igor Sikorsky made the first practical helicopter in 1939. Several people, including Philo T. Farnsworth and Isaac Shoenberg, developed television in the 1930s. CBS and NBC began broadcasting TV during this decade.

Manufacturers weren’t idle in getting new technology to market. New household products included electric mixers, pop-up toasters, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and irons. For the first time, consumers enjoyed sliced bread and packaged frozen foods. Union Pacific came out with fancy new streamlined, air-conditioned trains. Mass-market automobiles could now accelerate to 60 mph, carrying passengers along new highways with underpasses and cloverleafs. The dirigible, a new form of air transportation, appeared in 1936 (but disappeared with the fiery destruction of the Hindenberg a year later). The Douglas DC3 came out in 1936, traveling at 200 mph, compared to the 1932 passenger airplane speed of 110 mph. Coast-to-coast travel in overnight air sleepers was now possible. New ocean liners, such as the Queen Mary, appeared in a crowded New York harbor. Everyone came to witness the building of the 102-story Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center (the only skyscraper group to rise in the 1930s). And who could not marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge, opened to traffic on May 28, 1937?

Social historian Frederick Lewis Allen, author of “Only Yesterday” (1931), a bestselling history of the 1920s, summed it up best when he wrote in a sequel, “Since Yesterday” (1940), “the American imagination was beginning to break loose again.” At the end of the decade, the New York World’s Fair had as its theme “The World of Tomorrow.”

Society and Economics

The depression brought about a change in American social trends. People attended church more. Many retreated from the sexual revolution of the roaring ’20s. The mood was more somber and prudent, even after Prohibition was repealed in December 1933. (By the end of the decade, Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.) There was greater approval of marriage and family life. The divorce rate dropped sharply, by 23% from 1929 to 1932, though so did the marriage rate and the birth rate — possibly because marriage and children cost money.

Not all economic news was bad. The most favorable statistic was the decline in the cost of living. During the period 1929–32, retail prices dropped by an average 24%, wholesale prices by 31%, farm prices by 51%, and raw commodity prices by 42%. Of course, wages, salaries, dividends, and other forms of income declined as well, but for those who kept their jobs and held onto their assets, the loss of nominal income was offset by sharply lower prices for all consumer products. “Everything was all right in those years,” said a woman quoted in Amity Shlaes’ book, “but only if you had a job.”

Unemployment reached 25% and higher in some regions at the depths of the depression, causing enormous hardship for millions of Americans. But see it in another light: three out of every four people were employed in the worst parts of the depression. Total employment rose after 1932, reaching 90% by the end of the decade. In a sense, the Democrats were right: happy days were here again!

Businesses adjusted to the new deflation by downsizing, cutting costs, and implementing labor-saving devices. Even the farming industry mechanized. By 1936, despite persistent unemployment, real national output had nearly recovered to pre-depression levels. Auto sales exceeded all previous years except 1928–29. The steel industry was operating at close to capacity. Even the building industry was climbing briskly. Miami was having its best season since the collapse of the Florida land boom. The race tracks were crowded, lavish debutante parties flourished in the big cities, and the night clubs were full.

For bulls and bears alike, the 1930s was the most fantastic period in stock market history. Stock prices collapsed between 1929 and 1932, losing an average 88%, but industrial, rail, and utility stocks all shot up from their lows in the summer of 1932, anticipating the end of hard times. Few bull markets have ever equaled the rocket performance of the summer of 1932, when the rails tripled within eight weeks and the utility averages doubled. Wall Street went on a rampage for the next four years. The Dow rose 67% in 1933, 4% in 1934, 38% in 1935, and 25% in 1936. After a sharp 32% correction in 1937, the market re-sumed its upward trend until war broke out in Europe in September, 1939. There were also plenty of speculative opportunities on the long side of gold and other natural resource stocks during the ’30s. In sum, the bulls, not just the bears, had plenty of chances to make money in the 1930s.

There’s an old saying, “It is the irritation in the oyster that forms the pearl.” The Great Depression was an irritation that most people didn’t expect. A few people couldn’t take the hard times and jumped out of windows, but most responded to the challenge. Adversity often demonstrates the virtue and creativity of humankind. Bad news often creates good news and opportunities to learn and advance. The 1930s were no exception.

Mark Skousen is the author of Economic Logic, now available in its second edition.

Was the Great Depression Good for Us?

“Everything was all right in those years, but only if you had a job.” ~ Grandmother of Amity Shlaes in The Forgotten Man


Can the worst of times also be the best of times? When we think of the Great Depression of the 1930s, we are quick to recall the soup lines, bank closings, dust bowls, bear markets, demoralizing despair, and the aftershocks — Nazi Germany, the New Deal, Keynesianism, and, some say, World War II. Today, as the current recession worsens, everyone fears the dreaded D and seeks desperate rescue measures.

But was the Great Depression all bad? Truth is, there’s a bright side to the gloomy Thirties — a lower cost of living, huge technological advances, new forms of entertainment, more leisure time, and a return to responsible social behavior.

It was the beginning of the five-day work week….the Golden Age of radio and film….the playing of social sports like bridge, Monopoly, and softball….leisure time to read books and dance the jitterbug….while scientists invented the electron microscope, FM radio, radar, the jet airplane, and network television….

Chicago economist Robert Lucas, Jr., once called the 1930s “one long vacation,” and social historian Frederick Lewis Allen exclaimed, “[T]he American imagination was beginning to break loose again.”

There’s an old Asian saying, “It is the irritation in the oyster that forms the pearl.” A few people couldn’t take the hard times and jumped out windows, but most people responded to the challenge. Adversity often brings out creativity and opportunities to learn and advance. The 1930s were no exception.

This is a summary of a full-length article called “Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?” that I wrote on the subject in the May issue of Liberty magazine. Since writing this controversial and politically incorrect article, I’ve been attacked and defended by friends and foes.

For example, Mike Sharpe, my academic publisher at M. E. Sharpe and a social Democrat, took strong exception to my article. He wrote:

“What Mark Skousen says in ‘Brother Can You Spare a Decade?’ is beside the point. Millions of people were jobless, hungry, and in despair during the Depression. The fact that songs were written or scientific discoveries were made doesn’t mitigate the suffering. Does the work of Socrates mitigate the effects of the tyranny that executed him? Do the discoveries of Galileo offset the Roman Inquisition? Do the works of Shakespeare compensate for the expulsion of the Jews from England? Does the first novel by an American black, Clotel, written in 1853, reflect well on slavery? Do the performances of Von Karajan under Hitler make Nazism enjoyable? Does “God Bless America” sung by Kate Smith during World War II make that war less of a tragedy? Skousen’s entire argument is a non sequitur, harmful to a true understanding of the effects of the Depression and by extension, the current recession. He should not make light of suffering.”

My response:

I’m reluctant to start a fight with the publisher of my books, but here goes:

My essay may well be irreverent, but it’s not irrelevant. Mr. Sharpe’s view is the traditional view. I don’t dispute it. There was a lot of real suffering during the Great Depression, and I mention the dark side of the 1930s at various times in the essay.

But what I do try to do is look at the positive things that came out of the Great Depression. Sharpe wants to ignore them. Yes, there was a lot of suffering, but there were times of joy, good times, and scientific advances in the midst of the depression.

I think we have to look at both extremes to find out what really matters, the bad and the good that came out of the Great Depression and today’s recession. Sharpe focuses on the suffering that goes on in a recession/depression, I focus on the positive effects of a downturn, such as the good things people are doing now (out of necessity): being more careful about what they spend, saving for a rainy day, not taking their job for granted, and sensing trouble rather than going along merrily trusting in the establishment, without thinking. What’s so bad about that?

Both views are important.

Sometimes I think we as a nation and as legislators are impatient. We want to avoid suffering at all times, and take pills if we sense even a slight headache. No one wants to be unemployed or fired from a job, but you know what? Lots of unemployed and fired people tell me later (a year or two after finding another job) that it was the best thing that ever happened to them. Not all, but many.

I conclude that a lot of good can come out of bad times.

What’s your view? Is the recession or depression good or bad for America?

Will we survive Obamanomics?

From the Gilroy Dispatch

Officially, President Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget is titled “A New Era of Responsibility.”

That’s false on two counts. It’s an era – not of responsibility, but of big-government taxation, spending, and regulation. And it’s not new. History is full of attempts to inflate the state to grow the economy. Virtually all have ended badly. As the recent sell-off reminds us, Wall Street’s verdict on Obamanomics has been quick and sharp.

The president’s budget is right in castigating the “troubled past” of the Bush administration, which spent money like a drunken sailor on education, healthcare, bailouts, and two seemingly endless wars in the greater Middle East, with virtually no regard for how to pay for a rapidly growing national debt.

But now we must confront the troubled future. Obama has adopted the big-spending policies of George W. Bush, with trillions more proposed for education, bailouts, and healthcare. He wants to sharply reduce (but not end) the American presence in Iraq. At the same time, he plans to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, which may lead to an expanded quagmire there.

Hasn’t Obama read the bestseller “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time,” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin? A Pakistani general who talked with Mr. Mortenson aptly identified the real problem in Afghanistan: “The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.”

In some ways, Obama’s plans are more grandiose than Bush’s. He wants to encourage green technology and energy independence, and move toward national healthcare. The cost is enormous. The deficit for this year alone is expected to reach $1.7 trillion.

To help pay for this, Obama proposes the largest tax increase in history. Some of this, such as new taxes on oil and gas companies, is explicit. Some of it, such as the new cap and trade program, is quite subtle. And some of it will “merely” repeal the Bush tax rates on high incomes. But all of it represents a tremendous muzzle on the economy at a time when it needs to be unleashed.

Even these huge tax hikes won’t be nearly sufficient to pay for the outlays. In fact, to pay for it in full, The Wall Street Journal pointed out, Uncle Sam would have to confiscate every penny earned by Americans making at least $75,000 a year.

What’s the future for Obamanomics? The stock market’s reaction doesn’t bode well. The Dow has fallen more than 18 percent since the last trading day of Bush’s term. Clearly, Wall Street thinks that Obama’s tax, spend, and regulate policies will be a disaster.

Despite the dire headlines, the world is not coming to an end, we are not headed into another Great Depression, and free-market capitalism has not breathed its last breath.

In my book, “The Big Three in Economics,” I found that the press has frequently and prematurely written the obituary of Adam Smith and his free-market philosophy, only to see a new and more vibrant global marketplace reemerge after being savagely attacked by Keynesians, Marxists, and assorted socialists. Market capitalism survived and prospered after the boom-bust industrial revolution of the 19th century, and the Great Depression and world wars of the 20th century. It will recover from the financial panic of 2008-09 and Obamanomics.

Adam Smith, the supreme defender of market capitalism, expressed this optimism well in 1776 when he wrote in “The Wealth of Nations”:

“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition … is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.”

The ideas of Adam Smith and his modern followers will make a comeback. Already, pro-market forces are gathering in Congress to defeat Obama’s ambitious and highly socialistic agenda. Charities and nonprofits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I’m doing my part by holding the world’s largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas.

Details: www.freedomfest.com.

Proof Is in the Dow

“The Obama budget is nothing less than an attempt to end the ideas of Ronald Reagan.” — New York Times

Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, once stated, “There is much ruin in a nation.”  President Obama is out to prove it in his Newspeak program he calls “A New Era of Responsibility.”  It should be called “A New Era of Irresponsibility.”

And there’s no better proof than the stock market’s reaction to Obamanomics, which is big-government Keynesianism at its worst.  Since Obama took office, the Dow is down a whooping 15% — and that’s after the huge sell off in the market in 2008 by more than 30%.

And the market has continued to drop precipitously since Obama addressed Congress and announced his obscene $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal year 2010.  This budget includes:

the largest tax increase in history, including a monstrous tax on oil & gas (cap and trade) and the repeal of the Bush tax rates on incomes higher than $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.  Contrary to Obama’s claim, over 65% of tax filers in this category are small business owners and investors.

the highest level of federal spending since 1945, from today’s 21% of GDP to a whooping 27.7%.  This includes new entitlements in health care and energy.

Clearly Wall Street has spoken:  Obama’s tax, spend and regulate policies are a disaster for the nation.

And sadly Obama doesn’t get it.

What should investors do?  Play it conservative.  Be well-diversified in global stocks.  Maintain a high cash position, look for bargain opportunities, and keep squirreling away gold and silver coins.

And do not despair.  It is not time to head for the hills, although some wealthy friends are talking about moving to New Zealand, or the Bahamas.  (One friend of mine has already taken the extreme step of renouncing his US citizenship!)

In writing “The Big Three in Economics” (click here to order), I found that Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack on many occasions by his sworn enemies Keynesians, Marxists and socialists, and has often been left for dead, but always makes a comeback.

As Adam Smith declared in his 1776 classic “The Wealth of Nations,”

“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition . . . is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.”

In sum, the ideas of Adam Smith, and his modern followers, including Ronald Reagan, are far from dead.  They are only in hibernation.  The free-market giant will soon be awakened by our dire situation.

Hopefully pro-market forces in Congress (both Republicans and Democrats)  will filibuster the Obama tax increases and budget excesses.  Charities and non-profits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I’m doing my part by holding the world’s largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas, the focal point of liberty.  For details, go to www.freedomfest.com.  I hope you will join us.

I know I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.

Obamanomics Is Making Matters Worse

Unfortunately, the [Keynesian] balance week is unbalanced. ~ Milton Friedman

We have outlived the short-run and are suffering from the long-run consequences of [Keynesian] policies. ~ Ludwig von Mises

Last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced another solution to the financial crisis — his new “Financial Stability Plan.” Since the announcement, Citigroup has fallen 51 percent, Bank of America is down 46 percent, and Wall Street had its worst week in 2009.

So much for the Financial “Stability” Plan.

As John Adams once said, “Facts are a stubborn thing.”  The Obama model of Keynesian-style bailouts and massive deficits is simply failing to cure the growing financial crisis.

Despite all the bailouts President Obama has put forth — for the banks, the big 3 auto companies, and homeowners — the global economy is still reeling.

In fact, I would argue that Obamanomics (Keynesian economics in disguise) is counterproductive and making matters worse.  That’s because business and Wall Street recognize that there is no free lunch — government spending is piling up huge debts that will need to be paid back, probably through the printing presses.  And inflation — another evil — will come back with a vengeance.

Keynes is famous for the line, “In the long run, we are all dead.”  And that’s what Wall Street fears — that financially we are all going to be killed by excessive debt.

Lack of confidence in Obama, Geitner and Bernanke is why gold is going through the roof now, and is approaching $1,000 an ounce. The U.S. Mint is having a hard time keeping up with demand for American eagle gold and silver coins.

The problem is Keynesian-style policy, the darling of the establishment politicos and media giants.  Keynes has suddenly trumped Adam Smith.  And that’s dangerous.

One day last week, I walked into the largest Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York and saw a big display table up front with all kinds of books on John Maynard Keynes and Keynesian economics.  One book, The Return of Depression Economics, was written by Paul Krugman, the caustic New York Times columnist who just won the Nobel Prize.

Another book was called The Case for Big Government by Jeff Madrick, the editor of Challenge magazine.  I can understand writing a book in support of good, efficient, strong, and productive government, but “big” alone?  Most Americans prefer the motto “cheaper and better.”

The biggest surprise at Barnes & Noble was to see my own book, The Big Three in Economics, prominently displayed along side all the Keynesian and Marxist books.  It has suddenly become my most successful book.

Mark Skousen with the Totem Pole of Economics

But mine was the only book there that took a dim view of Keynes and Marx and their solutions to the financial crisis (always more government, more taxes, and more regulations).  For my money, Adam Smith and his followers (Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard) deserve to be on top of the Totem Pole of Economics.

Unfortunately, Keynes is all the rage now.  The British economist became famous in the 1930s for advocating going off the gold standard, running deficits and bailing out troubled banks with easy money as a way to end the Great Depression.
Today’s politicians, from George Bush to Barack Obama, have suddenly become Keynesians during this financial crisis, spending money they don’t have in a vain effort to right the ship.  Even Newsweek has gone so far to say, “We are all socialists now.”  Alan Greenspan, the ex-student of Ayn Rand, now favors nationalization of the big American banks Citibank and Bank of America.

Every investor and gold bug should know the enemy: Keynes, the advocate of big government and the welfare state, and Karl Marx, the radical who advocated outright state socialism and total central control of the means of production.
After World War I, Randolph Bourne observed, “War is the health of the state.”  Today he might say, “A financial crisis is the health of the state.”

It looks like modern-day statists are getting their wish.  We’re getting big government, good and hard.  Adam Smith and Milton Friedman are out of favor, while John Maynard Keynes, the patron saint of bailouts, inflation, and the welfare state, is making a comeback with a vengeance.

The tentacles of the leviathan state are growing by leaps and bounds.  In 2009, global governments will be the largest shareholders in commercial banks, reversing 20 years of retreat by the state.  The costs of entitlements are exploding upwards, and Congress hasn’t had the courage to address future liabilities.  Social Security and Medicare are government-sponsored Ponzi schemes that will make Bernie Madoff’s embezzlement look like a picnic.

The late management guru Peter Drucker said, “Government is better at creating problems than solving them.” In fact, wrote a cynical Ducker, government has gotten bigger, not stronger, and can only do three things well — taxation, inflation, and making war.  According to Drucker, the state has become a “swollen monstrosity….Indeed, government is sick — and just at a time when we need a strong, healthy, and vigorous government.”  (He said all this in 1969.)  If you want to solve problems, he counseled, you must turn to business and the private sector.

But where does one get the straight scoop on Keynes, Marx, and their nemesis, Adam Smith and the followers of free-market capitalism?

I have no apologies for where I stand on the issue.  In writing The Big Three, I commissioned a Florida woodcarver, James Sagui, to create “The Totem Pole of Economics.”  (The Tolem Pole of Economics is shown on the back cover of the book.)  Clearly, my hero is Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, a declaration of economic independence.

Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher, is on top of the Totem Pole for his advocacy of a revolutionary new doctrine which he called a “system of natural liberty,” what we might call laissez faire or free-market capitalism.  He used the “invisible hand” to symbolized how the private actions of individual entrepreneurs would lead to the public good.

Today’s advocates of Smithian economics have real solutions to the crisis, as I’ve outlined in previous HUMAN EVENTS columns:  suspend “mark to market” accounting rules, make the Bush tax cuts permanent, slash the corporate tax rate, and mostly importantly “do no harm.”  Also, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the Canadian banking system, ranked #1 in the world in soundness (US is #40) for its conservative reserve requirements and nationwide branching.  (Not a single Canadian bank has failed in either the Great Depression or now.)

Keynes is ranked below Adam Smith, because he supported big government and the welfare state as a way to stabilize the crisis-prone capitalist economy, the “middle ground” between laissez faire and totalitarian socialism.  But as we have seen, Keynesian activism has led to much mischief in the world today, and countries that have adopted his bureaucratic, regulated mindset have witnessed “slow growth” and “stagflation” style economies.

And Marx is the “low man” on the Totem Pole.  His radical solution, government ownership and control of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, would be, as Hayek says, “the road to serfdom.”

Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack many times by his arch enemies, the Marxists and Keynesians.  But Smithian economics has nine lives, and has always managed a comeback.  With your help, Adam Smith will return.

Click here for a copy of The Big Three in Economics.