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All the Talk of a Depression Is, Um, Depressing

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 11/24/08

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In this Thanksgiving week, a majority, perhaps, of all Americans will give thanks not only for a bountiful table but for a transition of power in which so much hope is invested.  

As, the new Administration translates its campaign’s lofty vision of change into a new team and concrete plans, we find that the new change-makers are largely a throw back to the old centrist Clinton Administration that took its marching orders from the corporate interests funding the Democratic Leadership Conference.  

Barack Obama is now calling for a major stimulus and job creation effort but outlining it and getting it done will be quite different and difficult. Creating two and a half million new jobs by 2011 is a good goal but seems far off in a country where official unemployment now stands at ten million and so many need relief now. Ditto for debt relief, a topic no one is even talking about. 

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In the interim, as the snows come and the season turns colder, many a family will face an uncomfortable choice: “heat or eat. This could be the worst shopping season ever. 36 Million families have or are close to maxing out their credit cards. 

The Democrats have always sung “happy days are here again” but it doesn’t seem to be the right song for these hard times. It’s taken a full year for the punditocracy to even accept that we are in a recession.  Last November, the economists at investment banks (that no longer exist in their old form) had proclaimed the recession,  “the R word, “ was already here.  The press held off with constant references to a “possible recession” or the government is trying to “stave off a recession.” 

Part of the confusion can be attributed to how recessions are defined. The Oakland Tribune looked into this and concluded,   

“The truth is, nobody knows. The responsibility for declaring the stages of the business cycle is informally held by that most dreaded of concepts -- a committee of economists. The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research uses several economic indicators, including personal income, unemployment, industrial production and sales and manufacturing volume, to determine the health of the economy. It's not true that they declare a recession if economic growth is negative for two quarters in a row. If it were that simple, we wouldn't need a committee. 

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If you want to know about the state of the economy in real time, you can't rely on the NBER.

If the NBER did the D.C. weather forecast, here's how it would work. The bureau would gather precipitation data from every neighborhood, then interview residents to make sure the data are accurate. After much deliberation, it would tell us whether it had rained last month. 

Same with recessions: The NBER's pronouncements historically come long after recessions have begun, a whopping seven months on average. By the time the bureau announced the recession of 1991, it already had ended.”

Back then, a year ago, the people who were living the financial crisis, and those that saw it coming acknowledged the slow down and freeze up of the economic order. They saw the dominos falling but were still seen as alarmists, not alarm sounders.  They called the recession. Today many if these same seers are using the D word, depression 

And once again no one can agree on what that would look like either, writes Michael Panzer, author of Financial Armageddon. 

“There is, in fact, no agreed-upon definition of what a depression is. Economists are unanimous that the Great Depression was the worst economic downturn the industrial world has ever seen, and that we haven't had a depression since, but beyond that there is not a consensus. Recessions have an official definition from the National Bureau of Economic Research, but the bureau pointedly declines to define a depression.” 

At the same time economists like Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz says the current credit situation may be even worse:

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<blockquote>This is clearly the most serious problem since the Great Depression and in some ways worse in terms of the financial institutions.” Stiglitz commented, referring to the fact that lenders are unwilling to take risks to finance each other because they no longer have complete access to their own undertakings let alone those of other institutions.</blockquote> 

As economists debate the likelihood of a depression most of our media highlights sunnier forecasts, perhaps to boost confidence and the sales pitches of their advertisers. They rarely offer the insights of third world analysts like Samir Amin: 

<blockquote>Behind it, a crisis of real economy is standing out, since the financial drift was continuously asphyxiating the growth of the production basis. Solutions brought to the financial crisis can just lead to a crisis of the real economy, i.e. a relative stagnation of the production with its side effects: regression of wages, growth of unemployment, growing precariousness and aggravation of poverty in the Southern countries. We must speak now about depression and no more about recession.” 

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.

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