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James Pethokoukis | No, ‘austerity’ isn’t killing the US economy

US economic output fell at a 0.1% annualized rate in the fourth quarter, adjusted for inflation. Blame spending cuts, say the Democrats. Blame Republican “austerity.” And one more thing: Stop the sequester. As the Center for American Progress put it: “The economy most certainly would have grown at a faster rate were it not for the ongoing political brinksmanship over the debt ceiling and the risk of sharp fiscal contraction in the form of the pending automatic ‘sequestration’ budget cuts.”

If you break down the GDP report, you begin to see the problem with this line of argument. Private-sector GDP actually added 1.2 percentage points to overall GDP during the past three months. A decent rise in consumer spending was slightly offset by a drop in gross private domestic investment (thought equipment and software spending was up) and a rise in imports. Government spending, however, subtracted 1.3 percentage points, turning the overall GDP number slightly negative.

But so what? Liberals are confusing a metric used to measure the size of the US economy with the actual US economy. What if GDP internals were reversed? What if government spending contributed 1.2 percentage points, and the private sector subtracted 1.3 percentage points? The overall GDP report would have been superficially the same, but in reality much, much worse with the real economy contracting.


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