The US Economy Is Growing Much Slower Than You Think...

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Bill Bonner via Acting-Man blog,

Deceptive and Fraudulent …

"Products are paid for with products," said French economist and free-trade proponent Jean-Baptiste Say. He meant that if you want to get something, you better have something you can trade for it. What would Say make of the latest US GDP report?

Last week brought two important pieces of news: one deceptive, the other fraudulent. 

The deceptive news was that the Fed, in its last Ben Bernanke moment, would stay the course. The course in question is the "12-Step Counterfeiters Anonymous" program popularly known as "tapering" of QE.

The Fed says it will stay on the program, leading investors to believe that the central bank's PhDs were steadfast in their commitment to end their bond buying … and that the economy was healthy enough that it didn't need QE to prop it up. Neither of those things is true.

The fraudulent news was that US economy grew at a 3.2% annualized pace in the last quarter of 2013. We're still in the weakest recovery since the end of World War II. But since 1950, the composition of the US economy has changed so substantially that GDP 'growth' no longer means what it used to mean.

"Disappointing numbers on jobs and housing also raise concerns about whether the economy is accelerating," reports the Wall Street Journal.  Wait. Jobs and housing are fairly important. If the news from those quarters is disappointing, what's really up with the economy?

The explanation: "A big driver of growth in the fourth quarter was consumer spending, which grew 3.3%." The Journal quotes Bill Simon, Wal-Mart's USA CEO: "I never cease to be amazed at the American consumers. They figure out a way to make it work …"

A New Kind of Growth

We are not so much amazed as appalled. And we are not so much reassured at this recovery, however weak, as we are alarmed by it. Where did consumers get the money?

They didn't earn it. So, they had to run down their balance sheets, either by spending their savings … or taking on debt. That makes this a new kind of growth: The more you grow the poorer you get.

The economy used to grow by making people wealthier. Now, consumers go further into debt, while their incomes are stagnant or falling. In 1980, a $7 trillion economy included $2 trillion of what City economist and author of Life After Growth Tim Morgan calls "globally marketable output" (GMO) – real wealth, the kind of stuff you can sell to pay your bills.

But then the economy underwent plastic surgery at the hands of quack policy makers. Now, it's unrecognizable. Today, we have a $16 trillion economy. But how much of that is from GMO? Well, about $13 trillion is consumer spending. And various statistical adjustments. Only $3 trillion is what Morgan calls GMO.

That's the real growth of the US economy since 1980 – a piddly, pathetic $33 billion a year. Barely enough to keep up with population increases.

Growth? Forget it.