Guest Post: Can We Please Stop Pretending the GDP Is "Growing"?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

Can We Please Stop Pretending the GDP Is "Growing"?

The Federal Government borrowed and spent $5.1 trillion to get $700 billion in total GDP "growth" from 2008-2011. In constant dollars, there was no growth at all.

The Federal government borrowed and spent $5.1 trillion over the past four years to generate a cumulative $700 billion increase in the nation's GDP. That means we've borrowed and spent $7.28 for every $1 of nominal "growth" in GDP.

In constant dollars, GDP is flat: we got no growth at all for our $5.1 trillion: zip, zero, nada. In constant dollars, the GDP in 2011 might return to the 2007 level, if the economy continues "growing" at the same pace reached in the first three months of 2011. If not, then the GDP will actually be lower than pre-recession levels.

If you borrowed $7 to get $1 in your pocket, would that strike you as a good deal? How long do you reckon you could borrow $7 to get $1 of "growth" in your finances?

Let's say you need $3,000 a month to pay all the household bills. No problem, just go borrow $21,000 and your household economy will "grow" by $3,000. If this isn't the height of fiscal nonsense, then what is?

Here are the numbers, drawn from these sources: U.S. GDP by year and U.S. GDP in constant (2005) dollars.

Total public debt in 2007 (pre-recession) was $8.95 trillion.
Total public debt in 2010 was $13.53 trillion. This is an increase of $4.58 trillion. Add in the 2011 deficit of $1.6 trillion and the total is $5.1 trillion in additional debt in the four years from 2008 to 2011.

GDP in 2007 (pre-recession): $14.08 trillion
GDP in 2008 (recession starts): $14.44 trillion ($364 billion gain)
GDP in 2009 (recession officially ends in mid-2009): $14.12 trillion ($322 billion decline)
GDP in 2010: $14.51 trillion ($390 billion gain)

Let's be generous and assume the U.S. economy continues "growing" at the first-quarter pace of 1.8% for all of 2011: GDP advanced 1.8% in Q1 2011 (BEA). That would add $260 billion to the 2010 GDP, so the GDP at the end of fiscal year 2011 would total $14.77 trillion in nominal dollars. In constant dollars, it might reach back up to 2007 levels, but only if the economy doesn't roll over.

Total up the gains and declines in annual GDP for the four years from 2008 through 2011, and you get $690 billion. That's the total sum of each year's gains for the four years. That means we as a nation borrowed and spent $5.1 trillion to get $700 billion in GDP "growth." That means we borrowed and spent $7.28 for each $1 of nominal GDP "growth."

In constant (2005) dollars:

GDP in 2007 (pre-recession): $13.23 trillion
GDP in 2008 (recession starts): $13.31 trillion
GDP in 2009 (recession officially ends in mid-2009): $12.88 trillion
GDP in 2010: 13.04 trillion

GDP in 2011 (assuming 1.8% annual real growth): $13.3 trillion

In constant (2005) dollars, the economy actually shrank in the three year span of 2008-2010. Add in a couple hundred billion of real "growth" in 2011 and we're back to 2007 levels, at best.

That's what we bought with $5.1 trillion in additional debt and Federal spending.

Just as a refresher:

Federal revenues

2007 $2.56 trillion
2010 $2.16 trillion

Federal spending

2007 $2.72 trillion
2010 $3.72 trillion

In three years, Federal spending jumped almost exactly $1 trillion, or 36.7%.

In 2011, the Federal deficit is 11% of the nation's GDP.

In 2011, the Federal government is borrowing 42% of its expenditures.

And don't forget, the recession ended in mid-2009, so we're two years into a "growing economy" here in mid-2011.

Does anyone seriously believe the economy won't buckle if the Federal government doesn't keep borrowing and spending 11% of the entire GDP each and every year until Doomsday?

All we're doing with these vast sums borrowed from future generations is propping up a bloated, no-accountability, cartel-Crony Capitalist/Central State Status Quo.

Here are the deficits of the past three years, and the estimated shortfalls for fiscal year 2011:

2008: $458 billion
2009: $1.4 trillion
2010: $1.3 trillion
2011: $1.6 trillion (est.)

These don't include "supplemental appropriations" for war costs, losses in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, etc., which is why the debt has risen by more than the sum of the "official" deficits.

Notice the trend here? The deficits keep getting larger as the "recovery" continues. If we keep "recovering" at this pace, we'll soon be borrowing 50% of the Federal budget each and every year.

And of course this doesn't include the $2 trillion increase in the Federal Reserve's balance sheet--trillions squandered on propping up the housing markets--(look how successful the Fed was in propping up housing valuations), nor does it include TARP and other "off-balance sheet" Treasury bailouts and guarantees.

I have covered this before in regards to the "self-sustaining recovery": Is the Recovery "Self-Sustaining"? Here's a Test (March 22, 2011).

Does borrowing and blowing $7 to get $1 of nominal "growth" seem like a good deal to you? Does it strike you as sustainable? If it does seem sustainable and a good deal, congratulations, you are qualified to run for Congress.

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postban's picture

The only thing growing in this country is the size of Michelles ass

SheepDog-One's picture

Whole country has too much junk in the trunk! 

TheTmfreak's picture

I'd rather have junk in the trunk so when shit hits the fan you might be able to miss quite a few meals and still be ok.

nonclaim's picture

Unless your body is able to burn fat efficiently the extra weight you have to carry around while "gathering" will actually speed up your demise. The thing is most people can't burn fat efficiently; it is good to keep at least a routine of one long walk once a week.

2DollarBill's picture

the trunk don't pack itself.

Conrad Murray's picture

That gorilla faced bitch is one disgusting waste of oxygen. But that Barack...he's so eloquent, a great speechist. I mean, it totally changed what I thought about black people. I'm so glad I voted for him. And no, it wasn't to prove I'm not racist: I have lots of black friends! I don't care how much money he has to spend to pull this ditch out of the car! We need our unions and you mega wealthy yacht owners need to pay your fair share. Spread that wealth around like jam on lamb.

I never had any hope there would be real change until I saw what that poor Kenyan/Indonesian/Muslim/Christian-American had done with himself. It was the first time in my life I was proud to be an American. My only regret is that I can't send my kids to a school where they sing songs of praise to our dear leader all day long. I sure hope little Jenny finds a stud of a fella like Barry O. He's really a game changer on the race-mixing front going forward.

DaveyJones's picture

you do realize you're complimenting him by giving him the cause. He's just another crooked pawn.  

ElvisDog's picture

Anyone who says or writes "I'm not racist: I have lots of black friends!" has proven that he is in fact racist. But if your post was a parody, then, well, never mind.

malek's picture

Anybody bringing up such crap as reasoning to claim the moral highground for himself is just otally ucked.

Edit: oh ford, I am one myself as I didn't write himself/herself

Montgomery Burns's picture

Maybe zerohedge needs some kind of a basic intelligence test before people are allowed to post or junk comments. Hope this helps.


[sahr-kaz-uhm] Show IPA –noun
harsh or bitter derision or irony. 2.
a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark: a review full of sarcasms.

theopco's picture

too bad you couldn't see the sarcasm in what I wrote.



Montgomery Burns's picture

You're brilliant. OUCH!  (I didn't junk you though)

JR's picture

"I never had any hope there would be real change until I saw what that poor Kenyan/Indonesian/Muslim/Christian-American had done with himself."

Now that's change you can believe in! I mean, that's change you can see!

Thanks for the tongue-in-cheek, Conrad. Priceless!

SoNH80's picture

Long grape soda and fried chicken

ElvisDog's picture

Oh come on. Include links to before and after pictures so we can compare.

JR's picture

By the looks of it, it appears that when Michelle proclaimed that in order to get the things she wants “someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie (that’s you) so that someone else can have more,” she took most of the pie.

Reminds me of Charlie Rangel’s philosophy in that old joke when he got a call from his banker telling him his account was overdrawn. Yelled Charlie: “Whaddya mean, I’m overdrawn?  I still have my checkbook!”

Nothing like lining up for “your share” of a pie someone else baked.

Sam Clemons's picture

And the awareness that the Federal Reserve "system" is a cartel and primarily exists for the benefit of government "solvency" and the already wealthy.

I'm glad someone else finally put this type of article out there.  GDP "growth" is a really silly measure of how good life is getting for people when it is measured in currency units that are worth less in real terms on a daily basis. 

How about real wealth growth per capita?  Or purchasing power growth per capita?


trav7777's picture

When facing unacceptable reality, all you have left is pretend, isn't it?

We can go down a list of "truths" people in this country cling to, just think about what's politically correct versus what is real.  Things which people emotionally react to, etc.  Just go down and list them; it's huge.

Problem Is's picture

I like John Williams' analysis at Shadow Stats...

2% GDP growth = 0% Real Growth
Massively understating inflation by manipulating the CPI overstates GDP on the PCE side by about 2%...

breezer1's picture

lets not forget the importance of manipulating the price of PMs to hide inflation.

AbandonShip's picture

I just automatically subtract 3% from the headline GDP number.  The first 3% is the NBER "gimme" which doesn't count. Like my first 90 strokes on an 18-hole course.

SheepDog-One's picture

Just a freakin nightmare someone let me off this stupid cheap carnival ride!!

DaveyJones's picture

and the best part of the analogy is that the operators are low class criminals.

Hedgetard55's picture

Hilarious. Hitler rants about Anthony Weiner.

Problem Is's picture

His name is WEINER!
Wasn't it only a matter of time before he posted a picture of his Johnson (albeit, a Photoshopped enlargement) on the internet???

baby_BLYTHE's picture

I saw the pic. He ain't packin' much.

Clowns on Acid's picture

b_Blythe - Apparently Weiner sent the pic to the coed and asked, "Do you know what this is?"

Coed replied, "It looks like a penis, only smaller".

I think she will have a good chance to sue in Small Claims court.

baby_BLYTHE's picture

wonder what his wife thinks about this:

Traveling the world with Hilary must give her a 'smaller' perspective on things

FreeNewEnergy's picture

"Don't worry, Barney Frank has begun tweeting him."


hugovanderbubble's picture

THanks Charles H.S.


Im expecting a sp between 1220-1250

hugovanderbubble's picture

Tyler, look at last 2 days decorrelation between Uprising EURUSD and bearish Silver... (VERY STRANGE)

espirit's picture

I noticed that also, but am unable to pattern any FX pairs - and that is strange.

It's like removing any traces of intention.

TruthInSunshine's picture

We could pretend, but there's a super election cycle coming up in 2012.

Of course the real GDP of the United States is shrinking, given that a larger share of it is comprised of services which derive their value, in large part, from wages paid, and these wages will be under continuing pressure in both real and even nominal terms.

And then there's the big fact that more of the U.S. GDP is a function of deficit spending by government (adding to our heaping national debt year after year) than at any time since the core years of WWII, which when viewed in proper context, is a wasteful and counterproductive exercise that only subtracts from future GDP, as it will only create higher costs and a higher drag on growth in the private, real, organic economy.

One private business owner's miserable experience in a banana republic is some governmental employee's, or especially, government contractor's banana split sundae.

A Man without Qualities's picture

It's astonishing how much bullshit backs up the GDP data - hedonics, substitutions, price deflators.  My gut tells me that the productive economy has been in contraction since at least 1999, hidden by public and private debt growth and dodgy adjustments..


The importance of the price deflater used by the BEA cannot be overstated. In calculating the "real" GDP the BEA continued to use an overall 1.9% annualized inflation rate, which is substantially lower than the inflation rates being reported by any of the BEA's sister agencies. The mathematical implications of the deflater are simple: a lower deflater creates a higher ‘real’ GDP reading. If April's CPI-U (as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) of 3.2% year-over-year inflation is used as the deflater, the reported 1.84% annualized growth rate shrinks to a 0.56% annualized rate, and the ‘real final sales of domestic products’ is actually contracting at a 0.63% rate. If instead of the year-over-year CPI-U we were to use the annualized CPI-U from just the first quarter (5.7%), the ‘real’ GDP would be shrinking at a 1.82% annualized rate, and the ‘real final sales of domestic products’ would be contracting at a recession-like 3.01%.

topcallingtroll's picture

So far the script is following classic austrian economic theory that krugman derides so much.

It is requiring increasing levels of debt to generate each marginal dollar of gdp growth.

If growth is not self sustaining by now then a double dip is in our future.

Bennie has no intention of qe3 by the way. The market has yet to price it in.

topcallingtroll's picture

The market has yet to price in that there is no qe3 contemplated for now. To clarify.

A Man without Qualities's picture

"Bennie has no intention of qe3 by the way."

I wonder if this is part of the reason for the dramatic and sudden deterioration in the data releases.  Has the Treasury has been trying to push the Fed to keep monetizing their borrowings, but Bennie's been resisting? Once you get addicted to something like printing money, politicians find it very hard to break the habit, which is one of the most powerful arguments for an independent central bank..

WonderDawg's picture

Bennie doesn't make the decisions, he's merely the public face for the cartel. Never forget, he works for the cartel, not the other way around. The cartel OWNS the Fed, remember?

downwiththebanks's picture

The Austrian's prescription - liquidate everything! - is an equally hopeless failure.  

So it's fine to rip on Bennie, Turbotax Timmy, and Krugman.  But to suggest genocidal deflation as a serious alternative rather than a deranged one is more than problematic.

wngoju's picture

What the...  @down - what are you doing here?  This blog is only for Tea's, etc.  

OldTrooper's picture

Bennie has no intention of qe3 by the way.

So, you're a mind reader now?  I doubt very much that you actually know what goes on inside Ben's bankster-programed head.  Wait, you're not sleeping with him, are you?

Ok, you could easily be right (hell, the odds are 50/50 aren't they).  However, when the withdrawls from removal of easy money start we will find out for certain.  I'd wager that we see some kind of fed action to prop up things no latter than Labor Day - regardless of Ben's current intentions or desires.

TruthInSunshine's picture

You're correct in that it's a guessing game.

Some feel confident that the trend and the economic math and political calculations make it more certain than not.

The real questions that should be asked by more people, and given a deeper analysis, is whether it will matter, and if so, in what ways? What about the law of diminishing and even negative returns? What about the size, scope and type of collateral damage resulting from such distortion and suppression of free market forces?

These are the better questions.

OldTrooper's picture

No doubt, Sunshine.  Those are better questions.

Even asking questions like that requires a state of mind that I doubt exists in the circles that will make the decisions.  But, for those of us on the outside, how we answer will suggest some obvious courses of action.

GFORCE's picture

World GDP isn't growing. UK, Australia, Japan, Europe.

Bwahaha WAGFDSMB's picture

World oil production is also not growing.  Guess which way the causation goes.