What can we infer from an excessively slow U.S. recovery?

Martin Wolf covers some various detailed points, but I’ll simply say “not much,”  at least not for current political debates.  I’ve avoided covering this topic (which refuses to die) because I don’t think much is there.  The discussion is mostly politics.  There are not for instance conceptually dominant ways of organizing the data and deciding which episodes or which countries “count.”  I also believe that what is a “financial crisis” is not as well-defined as many people, on both sides of the debate, would like to believe.  On top of all that, I see a good deal of evidence for a downward shift in the underlying U.S. growth rate before the crisis, and arguably in part causing the crisis.

I’m hardly falling in line to praise Obama here.  I do think that the minimum wage hike and unemployment insurance extensions have contributed to the slow labor market recovery, without being the main stories.  Those points — whether or not you agree — should be and indeed can be argued for on their own grounds.  I think the health care bill is one of seventeen factors speeding up the polarization of U.S. labor markets and lowering the labor force participation rate, admittedly through prospective and forward-looking mechanisms.  I see at least half of ARRA as a big waste, but certainly it didn’t lower the published numbers for gdp growth and it almost certainly raised them in the short run.  Those are all points worth debating, or rejecting if they turn out not to hold up.  The cross-sectional macro story, presented at the current level of aggregation, just doesn’t generate that much information about regime performance one way or the other.


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