At times, one has to consider if President Biden understands the chaos happening around him. Mere days ago, the president opined that “God willing — I don’t think we’re going to see a recession.” Well, God was not willing, as the economy shrank for the second consecutive time over a three month period. Look up almost any technical definition of a recession, and that makes a match. Two quarters of negative growth? You have a recession.
Except maybe when you don’t? While the two quarters definition of a recession provides an immutable standard for at least determining where a country stands, we have a different system in the United States. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a purportedly non-partisan group of professional economists, is widely known as the arbiter of when the U.S. has slumped into the dreaded widow-maker of political careers. So, for Biden’s purposes, God’s will is being manifested through the NBER’s analysis.
Why the NBER has this declaratory right is unclear, though it seems to play well enough for our media moguls. The NBER takes into account the two quarters definition but also includes “other factors” in its evaluation, such as job growth or inflation. Hence, Janet Yellen, our Keynesian Treasury secretary, has already dismissed fears of a recession by pointing to the strong job growth numbers, and this seems to have redounded through the media headlines this morning:
A very professional snapshot of leading headlines
You may be rightly confused by the indeterminacy. It’s not a recession; it’s a set of “recession fears” (WaPo). Or, maybe a recession signal (CNBC). Actually, you know what? I think we've just "narrowly averted" it (Bloomberg). Praise be to God (maybe He did will it). Strangely enough, NBER had no problem declaring a recession quite quickly when Trump was in office, not even waiting for the traditional two quarters data to be official. Granted it was a foregone conclusion with COVID, but the eagerness to declare a recession and peg a start date back in 2020 pales in comparison to its reticence to use the word “recession” now.
There’s nothing secret or impenetrable about this doublespeak. Words have consequences, and the Biden administration knows very well what adding “recession” to their list of fumbles and bumbles means for November and beyond. Likely this is what drove its Council of Economic Advisors to preempt the report with some tactical obfuscation. What’s more infuriating is the naked partisanship of the media and, frankly, the NBER for trying to weasel out of the word “recession” for political reasons. And don’t be naive, the reasoning is political. Business leaders are more resilient than an angry, spooked electorate.
You don’t have to be a perfect centrist to have moral cred, and you don’t have to like Republicans to be trustworthy. That’s not the point. You do have a responsibility to stop talking out of the side of your mouth and to report honestly to the people who give you a trusting ear. The communal circus ring of headlines surrounding this report is one more blow to media credibility and respectability, and they wonder why people have a hard time trusting them. For shame and good riddance once again.
Originally published at Bereans at the Gate.
Matthew Beal is an operations manager in Northern Virginia, where he is blessed to know good friends and a great God.