Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bad News for Growth: Since 2009 Government has been shrinking

 Catherine Rampell at NYTs:
While Washington debates whether big government is holding back the economy, it’s worth keeping a couple of facts in mind: Government has been shrinking steadily for two years, and compared to the size of the overall economy, government is actually slightly smaller today than it has been on average in the postwar era.

Here’s a chart showing the annualized percentage change in gross domestic product (blue) and the percentage change in total government spending and investment (red):

Bureau of Economic Analysis, via Haver Analytics
The overall economy has been growing for 12 quarters. Total government spending (federal, state and local), on the other hand, has been falling for eight quarters. That decline has been driven primarily by state and local spending, which has been falling for 11 quarters. Federal spending has fallen for six of the last seven quarters.

In other words, without the drag of shrinking government, the growth rate of the overall economy (which is measured as consumer spending + investment + government spending + net exports) would be faster. That is even before you consider how public layoffs ripple through the private sector as unemployed workers curb their spending.

Indeed, the shrinking government labor force is another factor worth noting when thinking about the role of government in the economy. While President Obama has been pegged as a big-government politician, the total number of government jobs has actually fallen under his presidency. Federal payrolls have risen a little bit, but not enough to fully plug the steady leak of layoffs at the state and local level.

Government spending aids economic growth

From, yes, The Wall Street Journal:
Even Rupert Murdoch's WSJ...
According to the government’s latest number-crunching exercise — they revised old economic data while taking their first crack at how the economy performed in the second quarter — the Great Recession of 2007-2009 wasn’t as Great as we thought. Sure, it was the worst economic calamity since World War II, but the abyss we sank into three years ago wasn’t as deep as we thought. The reason? Government spending provided a cushion.

Real gross domestic product shrank 4.7% between late 2007 and the middle of 2009 — not the 5.1% initially estimated, the Commerce Department says. In 2009, America’s economy contracted 3.1%, much less than the earlier estimate of 3.5%. (The government’s “positive” revisions to the first and second quarters of 2009 were the biggest ones they made.)

So, what happened? It wasn’t consumer spending or business investments; those estimates were pretty much left alone. Net exports of goods and services abroad were a little stronger than initially thought, but that also doesn’t account for the change. That leaves “government consumption expenditures and gross investment,” which jumped far more in 2009 than initially estimated.