Dismal Economists: Getting Real on those Green Shoots

greenshootsI’ve been concerned about the lack of real evidence for the administration’s green shoot hypothesis. It seems that I’m not the only one. A new Wall Street Journal Poll shows that Americans are increasingly ‘wary’ of the deficit and Obama’s economic intervention as Obama’s poll number’s slip.

But the poll suggests Mr. Obama faces challenges on multiple fronts, including growing concerns about government spending and the bailout of auto companies. A majority of people also disapprove of his decision to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Nearly seven in 10 survey respondents said they had concerns about federal interventions into the economy, including Mr. Obama’s decision to take an ownership stake in General Motors Corp., limits on executive compensation and the prospect of more government involvement in health care. The negative feeling toward the GM rescue was reflected elsewhere in the survey as well.

A solid majority — 58% — said that the president and Congress should focus on keeping the budget deficit down, even if takes longer for the economy to recover.

Laura Zamora, 40, of Orange, Calif., voted for Mr. Obama but says she is frustrated by the economy and finds her support for the president waning. She says she’s facing a possible layoff as a local government worker in California.

“He’s bailing out the private sector. He’s putting all kinds of money into the private sector,” says Mrs. Zamora. “The money should be going to social programs, not to bailing out banks and GM. It should go to people who are unemployed.”

The survey of 1,008 adults, conducted Friday to Monday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the full sample.

The poll shows as the economy really worsens, people are becoming more reality-based. Speaking of reality based, let’s get back to numbers that show the public’s concerns are much warranted. You will not want to miss this VOXEU study showing what two economists have found when comparing the Great Depression with the current Great Recession. They’ve charted the numbers back-t0-back and are even going as far as saying that we are in a Global economic Depression. You really need to check the graphs and the analysis out in “A Tale of Two Depressions”. Dr. Barry Eichengreen and Dr. Kevin O’Rourke are both research/historical economists and bring the stylized facts home.

This is an update of the authors’ 6 April 2009 column comparing today’s global crisis to the Great Depression. World industrial production, trade, and stock markets are diving faster now than during 1929-30. Fortunately, the policy response to date is much better. The update shows that trade and stock markets have shown some improvement without reversing the overall conclusion — today’s crisis is at least as bad as the Great Depression.

New findings:

  • World industrial production continues to track closely the 1930s fall, with no clear signs of ‘green shoots’.
  • World stock markets have rebounded a bit since March, and world trade has stabilised, but these are still following paths far below the ones they followed in the Great Depression.
  • There are new charts for individual nations’ industrial output. The big-4 EU nations divide north-south; today’s German and British industrial output are closely tracking their rate of fall in the 1930s, while Italy and France are doing much worse.
  • The North Americans (US & Canada) continue to see their industrial output fall approximately in line with what happened in the 1929 crisis, with no clear signs of a turn around.
  • Japan’s industrial output in February was 25 percentage points lower than at the equivalent stage in the Great Depression. There was however a sharp rebound in March.

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