GDP: the best kind of bad news

By Felix Salmon
August 27, 2010
this is the best sort of sluggish growth to have:

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If you’re going to have a sluggish growth figure, this is the best sort of sluggish growth to have:

Growth in the last quarter was stifled by a 32.4 percent surge in imports, the largest since the first quarter of 1984, dwarfing a 9.1 percent rise in exports. That created a trade deficit, which sliced off 3.37 percentage points from GDP, the largest subtraction since the fourth quarter of 1947.

Obviously, a trade surplus would be better than a trade deficit, especially in terms of generating employment growth domestically rather than abroad. But exports did rise, at quite a healthy clip. They were just eclipsed by this whopping rise in imports — which are a sign that there’s still a lot of demand in the economy.

This is a subject which came up at the Treasury blogger meeting last week: while no one at Treasury is exactly overjoyed at seeing imports rising so much faster than exports, any sign of increased economic activity is being taken as a good sign. Certainly this kind of thing is preferable to seeing the opposite happen, where exports fall and imports fall faster. Even if that would have a better effect on GDP.

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