In terms of U.S. output contractions, the so-called Great Recession was not much more severe than the recessions in 1973-75 and 1981-82. Yet recovery from the latest recession has started out much more slowly. For example, real GDP expanded by 7.7% in 1983 after unemployment peaked at 10.8% in December 1982, whereas GDP grew at an unimpressive annual rate of 2.2% in the third quarter of 2009. Although the fourth quarter is likely to show better numbers—probably much better—there are no signs of an explosive take off from the recession.
What are the reasons for this?
We believe two factors are behind this rather tepid rebound. An obvious one is the severe financial crisis that precipitated this recession, with many major financial institutions receiving large bailouts from the federal government. The confidence of bankers and venture capitalists has been shattered, at least for a while, and it will take time for them to recover from the financial turmoil of the past couple of years. The household sector also faces a difficult period of financial retrenchment in the wake of a major collapse in home prices, overextended debt positions for many, and high unemployment.
The second factor is less obvious, but possibly also of great importance. Liberal Democrats won a major victory in the 2008 elections, winning the presidency and large majorities in both the House and Senate. They interpreted this as evidence that a large majority of Americans want major reforms in the economy, health-care and many other areas. So in addition to continuing and extending the Bush-initiated bailout of banks, AIG, General Motors, Chrysler and other companies, Congress and President Obama signaled their intentions to introduce major changes in taxes, government spending and regulations—changes that could radically transform the American economy.
A nice political dimension of the slow recovery in US economy.