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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "GDP"

Ryan Bourne: Thatcher and Cameron made us happier

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Perhaps David Cameron had better foresight than he’s given credit for. At a Google conference in 2006, the then leader of the opposition declared “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB – general well-being.” With the financial crash ravaging the public finances through 2010 and conventional economic indicators in the doldrums, he risked opprobrium by tasking the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to measure wellbeing for the first time.

Well, his desire to be judged on such metrics now looks incredibly prescient. Never mind sluggish GDP growth throughout and after his premiership. Forget the polarisation of Brexit. The ONS’s latest wellbeing stats, released last week, show that the British people are significantly happier and more satisfied than back in 2011.

It really is remarkable. Every self-reported measure of wellbeing has improved near continuously in the past eight years. Asked on a 1-10 scale whether they are satisfied with their lives (0 being “not at all” to 10 “completely”), the public’s mean score has risen from 7.11 to 7.42, with the proportion answering 7 or above rising from 76 percent to 82 percent. This isn’t some anomaly either. How worthwhile we perceive our lives and self-reported happiness have been ever rising too, on average. Anxiety, meanwhile, has fallen, albeit having levelled out recently. If Cameron had convinced us of wellbeing’s central importance, we’d now be celebrating his wonderful legacy.

As it happens, of course, this “good news” got about as much coverage last week as a positive Brexit business story. Remainer demands for a new Brexit impact assessment show that pounds and pence are still king in UK politics (at least until there’s an EU regulation the same Remainers want us to follow). We free-marketeers were fearful, when subjective happiness metrics were introduced, that they’d become active targets of policy. We needn’t have worried. Political leftists’ attachment to them proved skin deep, falling away as soon as they suggested Britain was not hell on earth under the Tories.

But was classical liberals’ fear of such metrics misguided? Perhaps. Consider a new paper from researchers at the University of Warwick. Reviewing eight million publications digitized through Google Books, the study aims to construct longer-run indices of wellbeing from 1820 through to 2009. Its findings are even more jarring than the ONS stats.

Here’s how their index is put together. Use of positive words in published books, such as “cheerful,” “happy,” and “joyful,” are considered proxies for better subjective wellbeing. Negative words such as “sad” or “miserable,” are tallied up as measuring worse wellbeing. In short, the academics assume that in a happier world, more “happy words” would be written in published tomes.

Now, I was sceptical of that methodology. But they check their results against life satisfaction data over recent decades from Eurobarometer and the UN, finding strong correlations in the numbers. Emotive positive/negative language does appear to proxy well for self-reported wellbeing since the 1970s, when both sets of data are available. Having satisfied themselves of the methodology, the retrospective application to earlier periods produces fascinating results.

Wellbeing was consistently high in the UK in the 19th century, fell around the time of World War One, before then recovering. Unsurprisingly, it plunged again during World War Two, before rebounding to a lower peak. But the post-war phase is most striking, splitting clear into two obvious periods. From the 1950s to 1980 there was a sustained fall in wellbeing. After 1980, there was a dramatic rebound, fitting with Eurobarometer data showing a sustained improvement in life satisfaction in the UK over the past 40 years. Britain’s life satisfaction index since 1950 is therefore distinctly V-shaped.

What might explain this dramatic inflection circa 1980? Social trends would surely be a slower burner. People had been getting better off between 1950 and 1980 too, so this is about more than rising wealth. No, there’s one rather obvious explanation fitting the time trend: the UK’s abandonment of its quasi-socialist economic model and embrace of Thatcherism.

Such a thesis is supported by the fact the US experienced a near identical V-trend in its index centred around the launch of Reaganism. Germany, in contrast, saw wellbeing completely flatline from the 1950s onwards. Neoliberalism’s birth, it seems, facilitated sustained rises in wellbeing.

These findings dunk all over accepted truths. Claims from the Spirit Levellers that inequality and marketisation made us miserable are dismissed. If anything, the exact opposite appears true: the post-war period saw socialist equality beget misery. Life satisfaction rose with inequality through the 1980s and continued to rise once inequality settled at a higher level.

Nor can GDP or the labour market adequately explain the trends. Rising GDP per capita, other things given, would be expected to improve life satisfaction, and Britain’s economy did perform well relative to other countries after 1980. But growth was stronger in previous decades, when life satisfaction was falling. Wellbeing does not appear to have fallen after the financial crash either. Sure, tightening labour markets might explain some of the rise in wellbeing since 2011, but Britain had very high unemployment in the 1980s, just as life satisfaction took off.

No, the absence of clear outcomes-based economic explanations suggests that my friend Terence Kealey may be right. What might explain the reversal from 1980 is simply that we Anglo-Saxons value our economic freedom, above and beyond its GDP or employment impact. Economic liberty makes us happier.

The post-war period saw high tax rates, capital controls, Keynesian demand management, nationalisations, price and income controls, and high inflation. Afterwards we shifted towards freer trade and migration, lower taxes, lighter touch regulation, and free movements of capital. Of course, we’re not near libertopia; if anything the Thatcher and Reagan revolutions proved a brake on a longer-term government juggernaut. But there was a paradigm shift on economic freedom. We Brits, and our American cousins, found it deeply satisfying.

For a libertarian, this isn’t surprising. Our worldview is centred on the belief that individuals know best how to live their lives to improve wellbeing. Thatcher, of course, claimed her economic liberalisation agenda was in tune with the true instincts of the British people. All this suggests she may well have been right.

David Cameron had no such ideological inclinations. In fact, he probably advocated happiness metrics, in part, to distance himself from the supposed economics-obsessed “libertarian” wing of his party. How ironic then that the sorts of wellbeing measures he championed took off when classical liberals turned the tide on socialism, and strengthened through the “age of austerity.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ryan Bourne: Beware the push by Hammond and others to make Britain an EU rule-taker

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Perhaps torture works. The collective waterboarding that is the impending Brexit deadline is forcing confessions, anyway.

Philip Hammond was in a government whose stated policy was a desire for new post-Brexit trade deals once it could exit the Northern Irish “backstop” of a single UK-EU customs territory. Now, with Boris Johnson tunneling for just that, the former Chancellor’s official position has shifted. Economic sense, he says, actually means Britain should stay in the Single Market for goods anyway, abide by “level playing field” commitments with the EU, and junk dreams of an independent free trade agenda. Buccaneering Britain, Hammond thinks, is an illusion.

Brexiteers who foresaw May’s backstop as an excuse by her to bounce us into Brussels’ permanent trade and regulatory orbit have seemingly been vindicated. But the danger has not passed. Alongside The UK in a Changing Europe’s new report, Hammond’s intervention pressures wavering Labour MPs and former Conservatives to reject Boris’s proposed “Canada Plus” destination as “too hard a Brexit” for Great Britain. At stake here is whether Britain ultimately repatriates meaningful economy policy, or becomes a rule-taker that’s only ever one small step away from EU re-entry.

Hammond couches his argument in economic terms. Everyone acknowledges trade-offs exist between policy freedom and EU trade frictions, with the latter more easily quantifiable, and the former dependent on active choices. But Hammond’s preferred modelling by the Treasury and others is based on assumptions. Results that suggest a free trade agreement Brexit must reduce GDP by 4 to 7 percent by 2030 relative to Remain, while new free trade agreements and regulatory freedoms could only possibly compensate by 0.2 to 0.5 percent of GDP, do not pass the smell test.

Pre-referendum, such results came from “gravity models,” built around observed relationships showing trade volumes rise in proportion to the size of economies and fall with distance between them. Treasury analysis back then had estimated EU membership raised trade volumes for members, on average, by 115 per cent beyond these factors, suggesting leaving full membership for an FTA would produce a large, long-term 6.2 pe rcent loss of GDP. Importantly, liberalising trade elsewhere could only weakly compensate, because of longer distances to new export markets.

Those results were challenged extensively. The model risked chalking up gains from general deregulations over recent decades (which wouldn’t be lost after exit) as EU membership benefits. Cambridge economists pointed out that the model itself overpredicted UK exports to the EU compared to real trade flows, suggesting a UK-specific trade uplift of a much smaller 20-25 per cent. Global evidence suggests services trade is much less influenced by distance anyway. Treasury results then looked biased towards big negative effects.

Since then, Hammond’s Treasury has changed model but not conclusions. Their November 2018 publication estimated a permanent net loss of 4.9 percent of GDP from a simple FTA Brexit, rising to 6.7 percent if net EU migration ceases. This is much higher than the more static estimates of trade expert and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, who estimates first-order net costs of about two per cent of GDP (before any compensatory trade liberalisation). When you hear much larger results, the findings are usually based on “black box” assumptions about large effects of trade on productivity (analysis where economists agree on the direction but disagree on magnitudes).

Four large assumptions that we can assess drove the Treasury’s results:

  1. That significant “non-tariff barriers” to UK-EU trade will arise if we leave the customs union and single market for an FTA
  2. That repatriated regulatory powers bring practically zero upside
  3. That customs procedures at the border will prove significantly costly
  4. That an independent UK free trade agenda would produce little upside.

Do these stack up? At the point of exit, UK exporters will be fully compliant with EU product standards after decades of integration. Assuming then that we’d face the same non-tariff barriers (NTBs) as existing FTA partners looks like a significant overestimate of initial new frictions. Yes, there would be economic costs associated with rules of origin requirements (though the WTO thinks these are small), and a loss of some mutual standards recognition outside the EU legal system. But bigger NTBs arise if regulations deviate. One would hope that sensible governments, Jeremy Corbyn notwithstanding, would only pursue regulatory change if it perceived net economic benefits anyway.

Indeed, it’s baffling to presume both that there will be no upside to repatriating regulation (the Treasury assumes a GDP gain of just 0.1 per cent) but that standards will significantly deviate. Current political moods might be non-conducive to widespread deregulation, but Open Europe once estimated politically feasible changes worth 0.7 per cent of GDP; let alone the potential benefits long-term of avoiding further EU labour market harmonisation, financial sector regulation, and shirking the EU’s precautionary principle in agriculture, health innovation, AI, and robotics.

Customs costs at the border look exaggerated too. Swiss estimates suggest these could be as small as 0.1 per cent. The UK’s would be higher outside the single market, of course, but Paul Krugman thinks the UK would adopt new systems relatively quickly, unilaterally lowering standards if necessary. Previous meta-analysis has found that extensive FTAs have a bigger trade boosting impact than customs unions, suggesting customs costs aren’t really prohibitive to trade flows. NAFTA, for example, is not a customs union.

But it’s really on external trade where the analysis was most slanted. Not only did Hammond’s government say the UK would not unilaterally liberalise tariffs or meaningfully reduce EU non-tariff barriers on the rest of the world; it suggested signing free trade agreements with the US, Australia, New Zealand and TPP countries would only raise GDP by 0.1 to 0.2 per cent. Closer inspection shows why: it assumes only half of the non-tariff barriers on goods and a third on services are “actionable” through these deals, and then only a quarter of these get eliminated in new FTAs. Overall then, given the countries examined for FTAs, the model assumes that the upper-limit for NTB liberalisation is eliminating 6.25 per cent of the very high level of NTBs we are assumed to want to keep.

If anything has become clear recently, it’s that Conservatives have an appetite for a far more expansive free trade agenda. Economists agree free trade boosts growth. Australia’s government estimated it has increased GDP by over five per cent over 20 years through manufactured goods trade liberalisation alone; the government’s own analysis suggests a UK FTA with the EU would life GDP by three per cent relative to WTO terms. So the conclusion that free trade policies don’t matter, especially in regards an FTA with the US, is baffling, even accounting for trade distance. Of course, the gains from a UK-US deal are bigger still when it and the EU look set for a trade war. And the UK is arguably much more likely than the EU to pursue service sector-heavy FTAs as the world becomes richer, to our own benefit.

Now I’m not arguing here that there’s no risk and uncertainty to “breaking free.” It’s difficult to ascertain precise GDP effects from trade negotiations that haven’t happened, regulations that haven’t yet been avoided, and new customs procedures that haven’t been tested. But it’s important to remember Hammond’s favoured analysis largely assumes no upsides to Brexit by construction and calculates downsides based on evidence for policies that the UK shouldn’t want to pursue, or relationships elsewhere that we wouldn’t replicate.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

David Gauke: Whatever briefings from Downing Street may claim, an election fought on a No Deal platform would be disastrous

David Gauke is a former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, and is MP for South West Hertfordshire.

How much has the Conservative Party changed? To what extent has it moved from being a mainstream, centre-right party containing a broad range of views to being a party overwhelmingly focused on delivering an uncompromising Brexit?

It is a question I have asked myself a lot in recent months. Having fought off a deselection attempt because I opposed a No Deal Brexit, and having lost the Conservative whip because I continued to oppose a No Deal Brexit, it is hard to escape the conclusion that quite a lot of Conservatives disapprove of people who oppose a No Deal Brexit. Has the debate become so rancorous and intolerant that there is no longer a place for the likes of me in the Conservative Party?

The answer to that question is uncertain, but I took some encouragement from the Manchester Party conference.
I admit to attending with some trepidation. My position on Brexit is evidently a minority one within the Party. I have not sought to hide my criticisms of the substance and tone of the Government’s approach to Brexit. And I have not ruled out standing in my constituency as an independent if the whip is not returned. If ever I was going to get a hard time from Party activists, now would be the time.

And yet, at fringe event after fringe event, Party members were courteous and polite. Andrew Gimson generously wrote up my appearance at the ConservativeHome event, but a similar report could have been written for those I did with the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. Don’t get me wrong: I am not claiming that I won the audiences over to my position – the occasional eye-roll, sigh and shake of the head was detectable – but nor was there anything like the hostility one might expect if, for example, you ever read the comments below one of my ConHome articles.

In truth, the Conservative Party felt – in those fringe meetings, at least – very similar to the party of which I have been a member for 29 years. Sensible, practical, well-meaning and decent.

I also take some encouragement from the apparent, new-found enthusiasm within the Government to reach a deal on Brexit. In previous columns, I have argued that seeking a deal and being willing to compromise is the right approach. That view would appear to be in the ascendant at the time of writing.

Until recently, an alternative approach appeared to be prevailing which seemed determined to crash us out on  October 31 at any cost. I have previously acknowledged the electoral case for this strategy, but in terms of the outcome for the country, it is thoroughly irresponsible. As such, it is also a huge departure from the modern traditions of the Conservative Party.

Let me give seven examples of principles that most Conservatives would support. I would happily sign up to each and every one of them but I struggle to reconcile them with those pursuing a No Deal Brexit at any cost.

  • We believe that living standards can only be raised and public services properly funded if you have a strong economy.

It is the argument that we have to fight at every election when our opponents make great promises but we respond by pointing out that we have to create the wealth in the first place if we properly want to fund the NHS, for example. Yet the overwhelming economic consensus is that No Deal Brexit would result in a sharp contraction in GDP. And before anyone rushes to claim that this is all a re-run of 2016’s ‘Project Fear’, remember our economy is 2.5-3 per cent smaller than it would have been had Remain won.

  • We believe in free trade.

Open markets benefit both our exporters but also our consumers. This has not always been the Conservative position but, thankfully, it has been for some time. And I know that there are plenty of Brexiteers who are sincere free traders and think that Brexit provides great new opportunities for bringing down trade barriers.

Unfortunately, it is simply not true. The Government’s analysis shows the benefit of getting trade deals with all the English-speaking nations and the major emerging economies will be just 0.2 to 0.6 per cent of GDP whereas the loss of access to European markets of a Canada-style free trade agreement (let alone a no deal Brexit) will be 4 to 7 per cent of GDP. The net effect of a No Deal Brexit or even a Canada style FTA will be to make our economy less open and more protectionist.

  • We believe in fiscal responsibility.

This was the battleground of British politics from 2009 to 2015 when we made the case for getting the deficit down. The contraction of the British economy will inevitably result in deteriorating public finances. Add to that a political strategy which focuses on winning the support of traditional Labour voters which has meant that we are almost certainly already breaking our fiscal rules.  Remember when we criticised Labour for more borrowing and more debt?

  • We don’t believe that the Government should bail-out unviable industries or businesses.

As a statement, this sounds like a bit of a throw-back to the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher weaned the country off supporting lame-duck businesses. But what do we think would happen when businesses no longer became viable because of the impact of No Deal? The pressure to provide support ‘in order to deal with the temporary disruption’ will be immense. The Government has already prepared for this with Operation Kingfisher but removing that support will be very difficult politically. There is a risk that our economy will become much more corporatist than any time since the 1970s.

  • We believe in our national institutions – Parliament, the monarchy and the independent judiciary.

This should go without saying but when Number Ten briefs that the next election will be people versus Parliament, that the Prime Minister will ‘dare the Queen to sack him’, that the judiciary is biased and that the Government will not comply with the law, we don’t sound very conservative (to put it mildly).

  • We believe in national security and ensuring that we do all we can to protect our citizens from terrorism.

And yet a ‘source in No 10’ says we will withhold security co-operation from those countries that fail to block an extension. Meanwhile, the former head of MI6 says that our security depends upon co-operation with the EU and that leaving without a deal means we will have to ‘start again with a blank sheet of paper’. In addition, it is hard to see how any ‘no deal’ outcome doesn’t destabilise the Good Friday Agreement one way or another. The Prime Minister, it is reported, is increasingly concerned about the risk of an upsurge in terrorist activities by dissident republican groups.

  • We believe in the United Kingdom.

It is obvious that Brexit is placing a strain on the union. A No Deal Brexit would be likely to result in a border poll in Northern Ireland, especially with Stormont not sitting and some form of direct rule being necessary. As for Scotland, the chaos of a No Deal Brexit provides plenty of ammunition for the separatists.

Not every Conservative voter will agree with every single one of those principles, or my criticisms of a No Deal Brexit. But a Conservative Party that fights a general election with No Deal at its heart must know that it will be pursuing an approach that is such a radical departure from the traditions of the Conservative Party and that it is vulnerable to losing the support of millions of our longstanding supporters.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ryan Bourne: In America, public spending conservatism is being lost. It could happen in Britain.

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Austerity is over. Theresa May told us so after the 2017 election, and again at the Conservative Party Conference last year. Philip Hammond tried restraining her from a blitz of high-profile spending announcements. Yet Team Johnson has now picked up the baton anyway. Today’s spending review from Sajid Javid will reportedly confirm significant money injections for schools, hospitals and the police. The Prime Minister said Monday it will be “the most ambitious spending round for more than a decade.”

Restraining government spending was always said to be a temporary deficit repair tool, of course. Those “tough choices,” added to net tax hikes, have helped bring down the budget deficit to just 1.3 per cent of GDP, from a gargantuan 9.9 per cent in 2010. Once near-balance, a spending squeeze was never envisaged to continue year after year. Despite Nick Timothy’s fear of libertarians under the bed, no recent Conservative leader has been ideologically committed to shrink the size and scope of government. Absent “thinking the unthinkable,” one eventually must release the spending grip given voter demands for high-quality services.

And yet…the zeal with which the Tories have turned heel on their spending narrative is surprising. Whatever one’s view on the efficacy or composition of “cuts”, they were central to the party’s offer through 2016, including the 2015 election win. Balancing the books was said to be about unburdening the next generation from dumping more debt on top of the iceberg associated with an ageing population. Any intergenerational justice message has now gone the way of the Titanic.

For the Government is not promising gradual targeted spending increases in these areas – a natural uplift from a reset baseline after years of restraint. No, proposed hikes in education funding would virtually reverse any real schools’ spending cuts over the past decade. May’s extra money for the NHS is a big step-change too. The spending review is celebrated as the “biggest, most generous spending review since the height of Tony Blair’s New Labour,” no less – a far cry from denouncing that era’s profligacy. In one swoop, the Treasury has undercut its long-held opposition to raising borrowing and junked the idea that public service reform trumps showering public services with money.

Javid attempts to thread the needle by arguing that more spending is still consistent with keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio on a shallow downward path. That maybe true. But a stated goal of policy was always to balance the books overall, even if George Osborne and David Cameron continually pushed back the deadline. A former Treasury fiscal policy director now says that borrowing will in fact start rising again, and soon be above two per cent of GDP. Manageable, yes – but a clear change in direction.

The public discourse effects of this reversal should worry fiscal conservatives. Cameron and Osborne’s consistent messaging helped entrench two crucial contours in discussions about government spending. First, that there was no free lunch (every Labour proposal for years was met with the question “how will you pay for it?”) Second, that what you did with the money (the organisation of public services) was as important as spending levels. After years of Tony Blair’s money throwing, the public were receptive to such apparently grown-up thinking. Now, both those claims-cum-restraints that ensnared Labour have been removed.

If large, real increases in education funding are synonymous with better schools, as Tories imply, Labour can coherently ask “why did you cut real funding beforehand?” Such corrective spending hikes look an admission of a past mistake. Doubly so if funded through borrowing that was previously considered intolerable.

Couching this as “an end to austerity” brings similar peril. These particular decisions don’t imply “we are going to return to affordable spending increases consistent with a low deficit.” If large spending hikes for education are seen as reversing austerity, then obvious questions arise: what about local authority funding? Prisons? Criminal justice? Have these not suffered more from the pain you admit was damaging?

Of course, Brexit is the important context here. It is sucking oxygen from normal economic debates – one reason why the logjam needs to be broken. A slowing economy, induced in part by uncertainty, means an obsessive near-term public finance focus is probably unwise. The very process of extrication requires budget flexibility, not least because the underlying public finances could look very different when future trade relations crystallise.

But all this would be a case for relaxing or suspending fiscal targets through the choppy Brexit seas, not bold new announcements.

No, it’s difficult not to conclude there’s not something bigger happening here. Much of the party has embraced a simplistic “left behind” narrative of the Brexit vote – that it was a cry for investment in public services. They are egged on by former government advisors, armed with polling, who see an opportunity to steer the party towards a “bigger government” vision for the party they’ve always spoiled for.

Academic evidence in fact shows new Brexit voters affiliating with the Tories quickly adopt traditional Tory views on other issues. There’s no need to pander. Yet when you see John Redwood railing against austerity, you realise how strong this view about the changing party voter base has set.

Whether Johnson shares that interpretation is less clear. Perhaps he sees funding boosts now in three major non-Brexit policy areas as short-term deck clearing before an election. Polling strength from these “good news stories” might even firm up pressure on the EU and rebel MPs on his central task. If it helps finally deliver Brexit, many of us will accept fiscal jam tomorrow.

I want to believe this, but the noises aren’t encouraging. And living in the US, where Republicans have gone from a Tea Party anti-spending force to delivering unprecedented deficits for peacetime, in just a decade, I’ve observed just how easily spending conservatism is lost.

Here, it started with big spending increases on priorities too. Republicans cut taxes, yes, but huge cash increases for defence were delivered, greased by money for some Democrat priorities. Once that dam opened though, the money poured. July’s budget deal threw off the last vestiges of spending caps delivered by the Tea Party Congress. Promises of Republican spending restraint in Donald Trump’s potential second term ring as hollow as claims he’s using tariffs as a path to freer trade.

Here’s the worrying consequence. As US conservatives have learned to love deficits, or at least use them, the left’s spending demands have only gotten more extreme. With constraints stripped away, Democratic Presidential candidates feel liberated to propose mammoth programmes and spending hikes – the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee, universal childcare and more. When asked how the country can afford this, they point out to the red ink spilled for Republican priorities. There is no answer.

UK Conservatives are far from the Republican point of no return on spending, as yet. But the mood music has changed dramatically. America shows that when conservatives abandon spending constraint, they legitimise the left’s spending wild demands, to taxpayers’ detriment.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ryan Bourne: In America, public spending conservatism is being lost. It could happen in Britain.

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Austerity is over. Theresa May told us so after the 2017 election, and again at the Conservative Party Conference last year. Philip Hammond tried restraining her from a blitz of high-profile spending announcements. Yet Team Johnson has now picked up the baton anyway. Today’s spending review from Sajid Javid will reportedly confirm significant money injections for schools, hospitals and the police. The Prime Minister said Monday it will be “the most ambitious spending round for more than a decade.”

Restraining government spending was always said to be a temporary deficit repair tool, of course. Those “tough choices,” added to net tax hikes, have helped bring down the budget deficit to just 1.3 per cent of GDP, from a gargantuan 9.9 per cent in 2010. Once near-balance, a spending squeeze was never envisaged to continue year after year. Despite Nick Timothy’s fear of libertarians under the bed, no recent Conservative leader has been ideologically committed to shrink the size and scope of government. Absent “thinking the unthinkable,” one eventually must release the spending grip given voter demands for high-quality services.

And yet…the zeal with which the Tories have turned heel on their spending narrative is surprising. Whatever one’s view on the efficacy or composition of “cuts”, they were central to the party’s offer through 2016, including the 2015 election win. Balancing the books was said to be about unburdening the next generation from dumping more debt on top of the iceberg associated with an ageing population. Any intergenerational justice message has now gone the way of the Titanic.

For the Government is not promising gradual targeted spending increases in these areas – a natural uplift from a reset baseline after years of restraint. No, proposed hikes in education funding would virtually reverse any real schools’ spending cuts over the past decade. May’s extra money for the NHS is a big step-change too. The spending review is celebrated as the “biggest, most generous spending review since the height of Tony Blair’s New Labour,” no less – a far cry from denouncing that era’s profligacy. In one swoop, the Treasury has undercut its long-held opposition to raising borrowing and junked the idea that public service reform trumps showering public services with money.

Javid attempts to thread the needle by arguing that more spending is still consistent with keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio on a shallow downward path. That maybe true. But a stated goal of policy was always to balance the books overall, even if George Osborne and David Cameron continually pushed back the deadline. A former Treasury fiscal policy director now says that borrowing will in fact start rising again, and soon be above two per cent of GDP. Manageable, yes – but a clear change in direction.

The public discourse effects of this reversal should worry fiscal conservatives. Cameron and Osborne’s consistent messaging helped entrench two crucial contours in discussions about government spending. First, that there was no free lunch (every Labour proposal for years was met with the question “how will you pay for it?”) Second, that what you did with the money (the organisation of public services) was as important as spending levels. After years of Tony Blair’s money throwing, the public were receptive to such apparently grown-up thinking. Now, both those claims-cum-restraints that ensnared Labour have been removed.

If large, real increases in education funding are synonymous with better schools, as Tories imply, Labour can coherently ask “why did you cut real funding beforehand?” Such corrective spending hikes look an admission of a past mistake. Doubly so if funded through borrowing that was previously considered intolerable.

Couching this as “an end to austerity” brings similar peril. These particular decisions don’t imply “we are going to return to affordable spending increases consistent with a low deficit.” If large spending hikes for education are seen as reversing austerity, then obvious questions arise: what about local authority funding? Prisons? Criminal justice? Have these not suffered more from the pain you admit was damaging?

Of course, Brexit is the important context here. It is sucking oxygen from normal economic debates – one reason why the logjam needs to be broken. A slowing economy, induced in part by uncertainty, means an obsessive near-term public finance focus is probably unwise. The very process of extrication requires budget flexibility, not least because the underlying public finances could look very different when future trade relations crystallise.

But all this would be a case for relaxing or suspending fiscal targets through the choppy Brexit seas, not bold new announcements.

No, it’s difficult not to conclude there’s not something bigger happening here. Much of the party has embraced a simplistic “left behind” narrative of the Brexit vote – that it was a cry for investment in public services. They are egged on by former government advisors, armed with polling, who see an opportunity to steer the party towards a “bigger government” vision for the party they’ve always spoiled for.

Academic evidence in fact shows new Brexit voters affiliating with the Tories quickly adopt traditional Tory views on other issues. There’s no need to pander. Yet when you see John Redwood railing against austerity, you realise how strong this view about the changing party voter base has set.

Whether Johnson shares that interpretation is less clear. Perhaps he sees funding boosts now in three major non-Brexit policy areas as short-term deck clearing before an election. Polling strength from these “good news stories” might even firm up pressure on the EU and rebel MPs on his central task. If it helps finally deliver Brexit, many of us will accept fiscal jam tomorrow.

I want to believe this, but the noises aren’t encouraging. And living in the US, where Republicans have gone from a Tea Party anti-spending force to delivering unprecedented deficits for peacetime, in just a decade, I’ve observed just how easily spending conservatism is lost.

Here, it started with big spending increases on priorities too. Republicans cut taxes, yes, but huge cash increases for defence were delivered, greased by money for some Democrat priorities. Once that dam opened though, the money poured. July’s budget deal threw off the last vestiges of spending caps delivered by the Tea Party Congress. Promises of Republican spending restraint in Donald Trump’s potential second term ring as hollow as claims he’s using tariffs as a path to freer trade.

Here’s the worrying consequence. As US conservatives have learned to love deficits, or at least use them, the left’s spending demands have only gotten more extreme. With constraints stripped away, Democratic Presidential candidates feel liberated to propose mammoth programmes and spending hikes – the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee, universal childcare and more. When asked how the country can afford this, they point out to the red ink spilled for Republican priorities. There is no answer.

UK Conservatives are far from the Republican point of no return on spending, as yet. But the mood music has changed dramatically. America shows that when conservatives abandon spending constraint, they legitimise the left’s spending wild demands, to taxpayers’ detriment.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Uh oh: BLS preliminary recalculation sheds half-million jobs in 2018-19

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Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recalculates its benchmarks for employment calculations. It’s not every year, however, when those revisions chop a half-million jobs out of its previous estimates. In its preliminary calculations, the new benchmark does just that — although it remains to be seen whether those benchmarks will hold up for their final implementation next February:

Each year, the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey employment estimates are benchmarked to comprehensive counts of employment for the month of March. These counts are derived from state unemployment insurance (UI) tax records that nearly all employers are required to file. For national CES employment series, the annual benchmark revisions over the last 10 years have averaged plus or minus two-tenths of one percent of total nonfarm employment. The preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision indicates a downward adjustment to March 2019 total nonfarm employment of -501,000 (-0.3 percent).

Preliminary benchmark revisions are calculated only for the month of March 2019 for the major industry sectors in table 1. The existing employment series are not updated with the release of the preliminary benchmark estimate. The data for all CES series will be updated when the final benchmark revision is issued.

The chart shows how broadly the retrenchment goes in the US economy. Nearly every industry appears to have had its employment levels overstated:

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Keep in mind that this is only a proposed new benchmark. The BLS will continue working on it to tweak it for better accuracy, although this release shows that this is well advanced from the spitballing stage. The new preliminary calculations have some economists already assuming the figures are solid, which would be a mistake:

The economy had about 501,000 fewer jobs as of March 2019 than the Bureau of Labor Statistics initially calculated in its survey of business establishments. That’s the largest revision since the waning stages of the Great Recession in 2009.

The newly revised figures indicate the economy didn’t get a huge boost last year from President Trump’s tax cuts and higher federal spending. They also signal the economy is a bit weaker than previously believed and could give the Federal Reserve even greater reason to cut interest rates in September.

“This makes some sense, as the 223,000 average monthly increase in 2018 seemed too good to be true in light of how tight the labor market has become and how much trouble firms are said to be having finding qualified workers,” said chief economist Stephen Stanley of Amherst Pierpont Securities.

The average 223,000 monthly increase in employment in 2018 — the strongest in three years — could be trimmed to 180,000 to 185,000, economists estimate.

That’s certainly possible, but it’s not certain yet at all. There’s reason to think that this understates reality too, especially when it comes to wage growth. That has objectively accelerated over the last couple of years, which only makes sense if job growth was pitched high enough to put pressure on employers to increase compensation more rapidly.

That leads us to another point: the measures from BLS do not create reality but reflect it, as best as surveys can do, anyway. During this same period, US economic growth as measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis ran higher than 3% annualized GDP growth in four of the last nine quarters. That itself would indicate a higher level of sustained job growth than the 180K level, although that would be an indirect measure of job growth, to be sure, about which more in a moment.

Still, the BLS release has begun to catch eyes, and one surprising set in particular:

It’s a legit headline, and a legit story — as long as the proper context is provided. This is an adjustment of measures rather than reality, and job growth is itself an indirect measure of economic growth. The GDP reports provide the direct measures of economic growth, and those have been reviewed repeatedly over the last two-plus years.

The bottom line: This doesn’t actually change anything about the economic reality of the moment. It’s not a massive job loss, but rather a recalculation of previous growth intended to better reflect that reality — and even that’s a preliminary change to a previous survey model, not the data itself.

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Economy slows to 2.1% GDP, but still beats expectations; Trump: “Not bad”

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It’s not great news for the White House, but it could have been a lot worse. The US economy’s growth slowed to 2.1% in the second quarter, down a full point from Q1. However, with economists predicting a recession right around the corner, the growth is still substantial enough to look positive:

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the second quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 3.1 percent.

The Bureau’s second-quarter advance estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see “Source Data for the Advance Estimate” on page 2). The “second” estimate for the second quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on August 29, 2019.

The increase in real GDP in the second quarter reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), federal government spending, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by negative contributions from private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased (table 2).

The deceleration in real GDP in the second quarter reflected downturns in inventory investment, exports, and nonresidential fixed investment. These downturns were partly offset by accelerations in PCE and federal government spending.

One point was unalloyed good news for Donald Trump. Disposable personal income leaped upward by almost 5% in Q2, the result of a tight labor market and continued economic expansion. It follows a similar jump in Q1 and is at least one factor in the best increase in consumer spending in nearly two years.

There are other glimmers of hope as well. Final sales of domestic product increased by 3.0% in Q2, which suggests that retailers burned through inventory backlogs over the last three months. If consumer spending stays high, new orders should begin to make up that difference. Yesterday’s durable-goods report showing an increase of 2.0% in June, following a -2.3% decline in May, suggests that better news is on the way. Also, exports took a big hit in Q2, dropping 5.2% while imports stayed mainly static. If that’s a one-time glitch, then Q3 should be cheerier, but that might depend on whether Trump can draw his trade wars to a close.

No other issue is more important to Trump than the economy. Despite all of the other controversies and noise around Trump, some of them created and stoked by Trump himself, none of them are as do-or-die as the economy. As long as the economy keeps growing and producing real wage increases for workers, Trump can win re-election. Any kind of slowdown makes him vulnerable, and even this 2.1% rate might raise eyebrows.

So far, though, the media is breathing sighs of relief. CNBC’s Jeff Cox notes that recession fears will likely recede now:

Growth decelerated in the second quarter, but not by as much as Wall Street thought, as tariffs and a global slowdown weighed on the U.S. economy, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

GDP increased 2.1%, down from 3.1% from the first quarter, the weakest increase since the first quarter of 2017 as President Donald Trump took office. Dow Jones estimates were for 2% growth.

However, the underlying numbers in the report seemed to take steam out of the recession fears that have been much of the talk among economists and policymakers at the Federal Reserve.

“The recession talk was always overstated,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. “Those that were doing the Chicken Little, the sky is falling, we’re headed for recession talk were clearly early in that assessment. The economic data continue to suggest that the economy isn’t near recession, at least in the next year or so.”

Trump needs that to be more like … eighteen months. To get that, though, he’ll have to settle accounts with China and get the USMCA passed in Congress.

Update: Stock markets are sharply up as this update is being written, with investors apparently agreeing with Trump’s overall assessment:

“Not bad” is a little bit of an understatement, actually. It’s pretty good, especially in the context of the global economy. That’s the bigger anchor, especially the trade disputes that at least for one quarter hit our exports hard.

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Iain Mansfield: Brexit by October 31. Stop using the Left’s language. And stand for skilled workers. Essentials for our next Prime Minister

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

Our next Prime Minister will take office at the most challenging time since the 1970s. Not only is there Brexit – an issue of fundamental national importance, that has destroyed the last two Prime Ministers and poses an existential challenge to the future of the Conservative Party – but the old political assumptions are changing. Across the West, traditional voter coalitions are shifting, as citizens reject centrist compromises. Flatlining productivity, unaffordable houses and millions of voters feeling abandoned, either culturally or economically, are just some of the challenges they will face.

Many of those who voted for David Cameron in 2010 are lost to the party, alienated by Brexit. In Britain today, age and education level are better predictors of a person’s vote than class. To win a general election, our next Prime Minister must forge a new coalition of voters that unites the traditional Tory shires with the left-behind Leave voters in the Midlands and North. Even more importantly, they must deliver authentic right-wing policies that address the causes of ordinary working people’s dissatisfaction. People want change and, if the Conservative Party does not deliver it, they are likely to seek answers in the flawed blandishments of Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism.

In that context, there are three essentials that our next Prime Minister must prioritise for the good of the people, the nation and the party:

  • Leave the EU by 31 October, on WTO terms if needed.
  • Openly champion conservative values rather than speaking the language of the left.
  • Reposition the party as the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes.

Leave the EU by 31 October, on WTO terms if needed

Not only is delivering on the outcome of the referendum a democratic imperative, it is vital for the continued existence of the party. Recent polling shows that, if we have not left the EU, the Conservatives are likely to suffer devastating losses in a general election; these figures could be even worse if large numbers of members, councillors or even entire associations defect to the Brexit Party. Many members have held on over the last few months purely out of hope that the next Prime Minister would deliver where May failed: another betrayal in October would see these members permanently lost.

Leaving with a deal is preferable, if some changes to the backstop can be agreed and Parliament will pass it. If not, as I have argued previously on this site, we have nothing to fear from No Deal. Preparations for such should be put into top gear on the first day in office. The Prime Minister must make clear that they will under no circumstances ask for an extension; and that they are, if needed, prepared to systematically veto any measure put forward by the EU on regular business if the UK is for some reason kept in. While every effort should be made to secure a deal, if it cannot be reached, Parliament must be faced with the simple choice of permitting a WTO exit or voting no confidence in the Prime Minister – a gamble, admittedly, but one that is preferable to another disastrous extension.

Openly champion conservative values rather than speaking the language of the left

In recent years too many Conservative politicians have allowed our opponents to define the playing field. We cannot beat the socialists by adopting the language and assumptions of socialism. Our next Prime Minister must stop feeding the narrative of identity, grievance and division, with its assumption that an individual’s potential is defined by their characteristics, that so-called ‘burning injustices’ are solely the responsibility of the state to address, and that the government always no best.

Changing the narrative will be a long endeavour. The systematic appointment of those with conservative values into key ministerially appointed positions; an authentically right-wing approach to policy making in Whitehall; and the withdrawal of state funding from the network of organisations that maintain the left’s grip on the policy narrative are essential. But over and above this, the Prime Minister must be willing to personally stand up and champion individual liberties and freedoms; to condemn progressive authoritarianism and to be visibly proud of Britain, our culture and the rich global heritage of our citizens.

Reposition the party as the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes

Young, metropolitan graduates may once have been natural Conservatives, but no longer. There is little hope of reversing this in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. Instead of squandering our effort here, our new Prime Minister should instead make the party the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes, particularly in the midlands and north.

Such voters have a natural affinity to the traditional conservative values of low tax and individual liberty, but also greatly value and rely day-to-day onn strong public services. This places the Conservatives in a difficult position after a decade of austerity: Labour made hay campaigning on cuts to police numbers and falls in per pupil spending in 2017. But how to fund significant increases in core services without raising taxes or alienating core Conservative voters, such as via the disastrous proposals on social care in the 2017 manifesto?

To find the funding the next Prime Minister must be bold enough to slay the progressive sacred cows that soak up billions annually in public funding. Three immediately spring to mind:

With the additional £15 billion plus a year, the Prime Minister could at a stroke increase police funding by 25 per cent (£3 billion), boost school funding per pupil by 20 per cent (£8 billion) and increase spending on social care by 20 per cent (£4 billion). And then split the proceeds of further growth between public services and tax cuts.

As well as this, we should champion the interests of the high street, enterprise and small businesses and oppose crony corporatism. Multinational companies that make use of aggressive tax avoidance, abuse their market position or actively work against UK sovereignty should not enjoy government grants, procurement or time in No. 10. Fundamentally, our next Prime Minister should spend more time listening to the Federation of Small Businesses and less time listening to the CBI.

Conclusion

As members, we have two candidates set before us. Both are able politicians and tested leaders who represent the best the Parliamentary party has to offer. As we assess who should be not just our next leader, but our Prime Minister, we should do so against their ability to deliver these vital elements.

Both have committed to delivering Brexit by October 31 – but which one has the ability, the genuine will and the courage to do so by any means necessary? Both are true-blue Conservatives – but which one will truly champion our values, taking the battle to our adversaries with the eloquence and conviction of a Thatcher or a Churchill? Both recognise the importance of reaching out to new voters – but which one can devise and push through the policies needed to unite the Tory shires with the Leave voters of the north? Consider carefully and cast your vote.

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GDP Posts 3.2% Increase In First Quarter As “Professional Forecasters” Line Up To Commit Seppuku In Atonement

Westlake Legal Group gdp-posts-3-2-increase-in-first-quarter-as-professional-forecasters-line-up-to-commit-seppuku-in-atonement GDP Posts 3.2% Increase In First Quarter As “Professional Forecasters” Line Up To Commit Seppuku In Atonement Tom Nichols Politics gdp growth GDP Front Page Stories Featured Story Economy donald trump democrats Allow Media Exception

There are two parts to this story. First, the news:

The U.S. economy grew at a faster pace than expected in the first quarter and posted its best growth to start a year in four years.

First-quarter GDP expanded by 3.2%, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said in its initial read of the economy for that period…

Exports rose 3.7% in the first quarter, while imports decreased by 3.7%. Economic growth also got a lift from strong investments in intellectual property products. Those investments expanded by 8.6%.

Disposable personal income increased by 3%, while prices increased by 1.3% when excluding food and energy. Overall prices climbed by 0.8% in the first quarter.

There is really damned little bad or marginal news here. Government share of GDP stayed nearly constant. Wages were up. Exports were up. Inflation came in at an annualized rated of 3.2% which is about where it should be.

Now for the second part. Former Vichy Republican, I say former because he’s quit the GOP at least twice, Tom Nichols wrote a book called the “Death of Expertise” in which he bemoans the fact that people, like him, with no experience doing anything but shooting their mouths off are dismissed by the lumpen proletariat and their vast body of “expertise” is dismissed. This, allegedly, is to the detriment of society and the world because experts know everything. That’s why they are called experts.

On March 1, this was the CNBC headline Atlanta Fed’s closely watched GDP tracker shows next to no growth for first quarter.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow initial model estimate shows negligible growth for the first quarter of just 0.3 percent.

The Atlanta Fed noted Friday that the 2.6 percent estimate on Thursday of fourth-quarter real GDP growth was slightly above the forecast it released earlier in the week.

The first-quarter report, which was released on the Atlanta Fed’s website, sent stocks lower Friday morning, but they later recovered.

Westlake Legal Group q1-gdp-2018-summary-620x411 GDP Posts 3.2% Increase In First Quarter As “Professional Forecasters” Line Up To Commit Seppuku In Atonement Tom Nichols Politics gdp growth GDP Front Page Stories Featured Story Economy donald trump democrats Allow Media Exception

Graphic via ZeroHedge https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-04-26/q1-gdp-smashes-expectations-soars-32-fed-finds-itself-trapped

Many Wall Street economists see growth below 2 percent for the quarter, but for the most part they remain above 1 percent. Goldman Sachs cut its estimate of first-quarter growth to 0.9 percent Friday, and Macroeconomic Advisors reduced its call to 1 percent from 1.1 percent.

Let’s go back a Month ago to March 22 to a survey of “professional forecasters”:

The U.S. economy looks weaker now in the next few quarters than it did four months ago, according to 38 forecasters surveyed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The forecasters predict real GDP will grow at an annual rate of 1.5 percent this quarter and 2.4 percent next quarter, down from the previous estimates of 2.4 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. On an annual-average over annual-average basis, the forecasters predict real GDP to grow 2.4 percent in 2019, 2.0 percent in 2020, and 1.8 percent in 2021. The projection for 2019 is 0.3 percentage point lower than the estimate of four months ago, while the projections for 2020 and 2021 are roughly unchanged.

They also have the quarterly inflation rate at 1.1%, or an annual rate of 4.4.%.

I would submit that if your forecast is off by about 100% you might consider looking for a new job…you might even be a bit reticent to call yourself a “professional.” I would also submit that if you make business decisions based on what the experts tell you is going to happen, you’re going to be living in a refrigerator carton under an bridge abutment in the very near future.

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Rebound: Economic growth hits 3.2% in Q1

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It’s been years since our operating philosophy was “it’s the economy, stupid,” but perhaps it’s time to return to it. Economic growth spiked upward in a quarter usually known for its retreats, hitting an annualized rate of 3.2% growth in Q1. That’s a full point above 2018Q4’s disappointing 2.2% growth rate:

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter of 2018, real GDP increased 2.2 percent.

The Bureau’s first-quarter advance estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see “Source Data for the Advance Estimate” on page 2). The “second” estimate for the first quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on May 30, 2019.

The increase in real GDP in the first quarter reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), private inventory investment, exports, state and local government spending, and nonresidential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased (table 2). These contributions were partly offset by a decrease in residential investment.

Not only does it show a recovery from a disappointing previous quarter, it breaks a Q1 trend that had developed over the last few years. For some reason, economic growth measures in the first quarter became oddly depressed; the last three years, the Q1 GDP turned out to be the worst reading of each year, sometimes dramatically so as in the past two years.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some potential dark clouds on the horizon. Personal income didn’t increase as much in Q1 as it did in the previous quarter despite the higher growth rate. Disposable personal income only increased at an annualized rate of 2.4%, just over half the Q4 rate of 4.3%. That may have led to a falloff on the rate of growth for consumer spending (PCE), which fell from 3.5% in 2018Q3 to 2.5% in Q4, and again to 1.2% in Q1.

If consumer spending expansion didn’t drive the quarter’s growth results, what did? A significant drop in imports helped, falling 3.7% from the previous quarter. Exports also grew 3.7%, which doubled the impact from trade. Business investment had a strong quarter, growing 5.1%, mainly in intellectual-property investment. The growth rate of 2.5% for final sales to domestic purchasers shows that inventory expansion played a significant role in the overall GDP number too. However, with income and consumer spending growth slowing, those factors may well be too transient to expect them to last into Q2.

The Washington Post cheers the report with a headline that it “smashed expectations,” but also notes the longer-term issues:

The U.S. economy expanded at a strong 3.2 percent annualized rate from January through March, the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday, mainly because of companies beefing up their inventories and a smaller trade deficit, factors that aren’t expected to last.

Better-than-expected growth, the ongoing strength in the job market and fresh stock market highs this week are allaying fears that a recession or severe downturn is on the horizon.

Many economists initially predicted anemic growth at the start of 2019 as the partial government shutdown and a rash of extremely cold weather caused many businesses and consumers to hit the pause button on big purchases, but forecasters raised their estimates to 2.3 percent as it became clear companies were re-stocking their shelves. Growth ended up coming in almost a full percentage point higher than expected, the best start to the year since 2015.

Over half of the strong first quarter growth was driven by a surge in inventories and U.S. exports to other nations. State and local government spending also boosted growth by the biggest amount in three years.

Bloomberg highlighted weaker demand in the report:

Gross domestic product expanded at a 3.2 percent annualized rate in the January-March period, according to Commerce Department data Friday that topped all forecasts in a Bloomberg survey calling for 2.3 percent growth. That followed a 2.2 percent advance in the prior three months.

But underlying demand was weaker than the headline number indicated. Consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, rose a slightly-above-forecast 1.2 percent, while business investment cooled. A Federal Reserve-preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures price index excluding food and energy, slowed to 1.3 percent, well below policy makers’ 2 percent objective.

Even so, the data showing faster growth and tame inflation helped push U.S. stock futures higher and Treasury yields lower on Friday.

Overall, it’s good news. It might just not be quite as good as the top-line GDP growth rate suggests. If any of the cautionary figures are still dealing with the Q1 reporting blues, however, we might see a very big Q2.

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