Friday, September 18, 2009

Recessions have odd definitions

A recession is really an odd creation of economists. It means nothing in absolute terms. It is entirely defined by relative terms. When the economy is shrinking it is in recession, when it is growing it is not.

Lets say an economy has the following relative GDP per capita:

year 1: 100
year 2: 60
year 3: 65
Year 4: 70
Year 5: 90
Year 6 101

From the perspective of anyone in that country the economy in years three to five is horrible. GDP is way down from what it was in year 1. However by year five the recession has been over for years. The only recession was in year 1 to 2 when the economy contracted. Yet the economy never really recovered.

That sort of thing seems to be happening right now. The recession is quite possibly over. As some prominent economists have pointed out the economy is not contracting. This really only matters to economists though. Until the economy reaches its 2006 levels again than we may as well be in a recession.

Perhaps a better definition of a recession would be from the point GDP per capita starts declining, until the point the economy returns to that same level again. This would likely be a much more depressing statistic. By that measure we are at least a year away from the end, and five would not be that unlikely.

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