Business, Federal Government, and Exports Carries GDP to 5.9% Growth

Today the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) published a revision to the 2009 4th Quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reading. It was originally estimated to be 5.7% annualized growth, but now reads a surprising 5.9%. This number further cements the recession ended during the summer of 2009 (the third quarter GDP growth grew at a rate of 2.2%).

5.9% growth is a big number for the US, no matter what the year or the circumstances are. But I’m curious as to what is driving it. According to the BEA the major contributors to it are government expenditures, business spending, and exports. Private Consumption, which comprises about 70% of the calculation of GDP (GDP = private consumption + gross investment + government spending + (exports − imports)) accounted for none of the growth though. People are still sitting on the sidelines getting their wallets in order. Business investment shot up as inventories were depleted. This is a good sign.

What strikes me though is how little media attention this got today. I suppose its because a GDP increase without a comparable jobs increase is seen as phantom good news. But jobs always lag GDP. But maybe there is more to it. Many smart people believe measuring this way isn’t a real reflection of how the US is doing economically or otherwise. A term called Gross National Product (GNP) was more heavily used at one time and it focused not on geography like GDP does, but on what US owned entities produced, whether it is India, China, or in the US. This measure has somewhat died out because of the rise of foreign outsourcing. I mention it because I ran across this speech by Bobby Kennedy to University of Kansas on March 18th, 1968:

And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year.  But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all.  Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

One measurement that could catch on is the Human Development Index. It looks at life expectancy, education, and standards of living as its man components. I wouldn’t argue with increases in each of these areas.

Working Thoughts 02/26/09
Sizing Up the New Guy


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