The U.S. Commerce Department issued revised figures for the first quarter of 2011. It had earlier reported an annual rate of anemic GDP growth of 1.9 percent for Q1. Even if that number had been accurate, it was insufficient to reverse the catastrophic rate of unemployment and underemployment in the United States. The revised numbers are now in; the Commerce Department now says that actual GDP growth in the first quarter of 2011 was a virtually non-existent 0.4 percent. It also issued preliminary growth figures for Q2 of 1.3 percent, worse than expected. As with the Q1 data, it is likely that future revisions will show that Q2 did even worse.
What conclusions can one draw from this miserable economic data? Two things come to mind. In the first place, any preliminary numbers on the U.S. economy that derive from official government sources are highly suspect, and likely to be overly optimistic. Secondly, after an unprecedented level of public debt that is leading America towards fiscal ruin, the best that can be accomplished by the Washington policymakers is a Japanese-style “L” shaped recession.
Now, what happens to the U.S. economy when the pump-priming stops, as will inevitably happen? With revenue at historic lows and public expenditures at unprecedented highs as a proportion of the national economy, the frail American economic edifice is floating on an ocean of unsustainable debt. While the current fiscal trajectory of the United States is headed towards a calamitous train wreck, a self-imposed and immediate elimination of the deficit, or even talk of such a possibility, will further exacerbate the economic crisis that never ended in America, despite official pronouncements.
In the meantime, the U.S. political establishment cheerfully debates the debt ceiling. Both sides of the argument are in denial. The bottom line that both Republicans and Democrats refuse to confront is that the authorship of the present economic and fiscal crisis is bipartisan. The only hope of avoiding a full-fledged American sovereign debt crisis and its apocalyptic ramifications is creating a path towards much higher levels of growth that will reduce the ratio of debt to GDP to levels that can be sustained into the future. Instead of a serious policy debate, however, both parties are engaged in an ideological debate on cloud nine, divorced from the miserable reality of an American economy that is imploding.
If this is not an indication of dysfunction in Washington, I don’t know what is. Maybe the policymakers are not worried because they know that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will soon ramp up his printing press again. I am more inclined towards the vision of Dante than Bernanke, when it comes to the future of the U.S. economy.