What Did the Great Moderation Moderate?

Let’s see. What country am I in today? Oh yeah: the United States. Well, California, anyway, which is sort of an outlying territory these days. So let’s do something America-centric with a chart to get me back into non-vacation mode.

Alex Tabarrok points out today that the “Great Moderation” in the US economy appears to be alive and well: the economy doesn’t bounce up and down nearly as much as it used to. Here’s the basic chart:

Let’s count. In the four decades from the 50s to the 80s, the economy grew by more than 3 percent for a sustained period five times. It declined below zero twice.

In three decades since then, it’s grown by more than 3 percent once and declined below zero once.

Is that more moderate? I suppose so. But it’s pretty heavily weighted to moderation at the high end. Troughs have tended to hover around 1 percent growth for the entire era since World War II, while peaks have declined from around 4 percent to around 2 percent. Basically, the Great Moderation has been a moderation in the frequency of economic booms.

Do we know why this happened? Apparently not. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s at least partly the result of a Fed that became so nervous of inflation after the 80s that it tamped down the economy anytime there was even a hint of upward price movement. Basically, they’ve been routinely taking the punch bowl away too soon, instead of allowing the economy to roar occasionally even at the risk of inflation getting a little high.

This is still happening today. Inflation hasn’t even hit the Fed’s 2-percent target over the past five years, let alone shown signs of going above it. And yet, the Fed is still fearfully pulling back, afraid to let the economy grow lest somehow, somewhere, inflation might rise to 3 percent or some other ghastly number.

This is the world we live in today. Recessions are still OK, but big economic booms aren’t. I’m not sure “moderation” is the right word for that.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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