1st Quarter 2014 Economic Decline: Not Unique and Not Due to Idiosyncratic Factors


Gross domestic product fell at a 2.9 percent annualized rate, more than forecast and the worst reading since the same three months in 2009, after a previously reported 1 percent drop, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. It marked the biggest downward revision from the agency’s second GDP estimate since records began in 1976.

Jeanna Smialek, U.S. Economy Shrank in First Quarter by Most in Five Years, Bloombert.com, June 25, 2014.


A combination of shrinking business inventories, terrible winter weather and a surprise contraction in health care spending drove the first-quarter decline, which is the worst since the first quarter of 2009, when the economy shrank at a 5.4 percent rate.

But the economy was hit by an unlikely combination of negative forces that conspired to turn what seemed set to be another quarter of so-so growth into a considerably more gloomy experience.

 Neil Irwin, Economy in First Quarter Was Worse Than Everybody Thought, New York Times, June 25, 2014.


That’s one of the findings in a report published today called “Risky Business,” commissioned by some of America’s top business leaders to put price tags on climate threats. For example, by the end of the century, between $238 billion and $507 billion of existing coastal property in the U.S. will likely be subsumed by rising seas, and crop yields in some breadbasket states may decline as much 70 percent.

Tom Randall, Climate Forecast: A Heat More Deadly Than the U.S. Has Ever Seen, Bloomberg.com, June 24, 2014.


Economists and other experts continue to describe economic bad news as temporary and to predict a return to “normal”. This is wishful thinking. The world we once knew is now on its head: frequent encounters with combinations of economic growth stopping events is the new normal.

  • Extreme weather is not temporary: we are well into a new weather world that is changing everything about what can be expected for growth in the world economy.
  • Reduced health care spending is not a surprise: any way you cut it, in the U.S. a huge part of health spending is funded by the federal government; cut federal spending and you cut health care spending.
  • Declining consumer spending is not temporary: consumer incomes have been stagnant or falling for decades, the labor force participation rate has been falling for decades, and neither trends in union membership nor trends in government wage protection and employment policies suggest that wages will rise and labor force participation will rise.
  • Geopolitical upheavals like the current insurgency in Iraq are here to stay: rising income and wealth inequalities have produced a world filled with hundreds of millions of people who are big losers; they are all looking for ways to reverse their fortunes.