A sharp drop in government spending, heavily concentrated in defense, coupled with a decline in inventories caused GDP to shrink at a 0.1 percent rate in the 4th quarter. Government spending fell at a 6.6 percent annual rate, driven by a 22.2 percent decline in defense spending, subtracting 1.33 percentage points from the growth rate in the quarter. A 40.3 drop in the rate of inventory accumulation reduced growth by another 1.27 percentage points. Without these factors, GDP would have grown at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the quarter. Pulling out these extraordinary factors, the GDP data were largely in line with prior quarters.Inventory changes often turn out to be transitory events while I have faith that those military Keynesians in the Republican Party will push for more defense spending pork. But let’s be clear about what is going on with the GDP gap. While it did fall from 7.5% in mid 2009 to around 6% at the end of 2010, it has been basically stuck at 6% ever since. So recent GDP growth has been insufficient. Dean also rightfully turns on our fiscal policy prospects:
There is little evidence in this report to believe that the economy will diverge sharply from a 2.5- 3.0 percent growth path, except for the impact of the deficit reductions that Congress is considering or already put in place. Higher tax collections from the ending of the payroll tax holiday are likely to knock around 0.5 percentage points from growth. The sequester, or whatever cuts are put in place in lieu of the sequester, are likely to have an even larger impact on growth beginning in the second quarter.Fiscal austerity has been a large part of the reason why we have been stuck at a 6% GDP gap. Many economists have been strongly recommending fiscal stimulus but I guess our political leaders choose not to listen.