This is the economic forecasting season as state governments begin to prepare their fiscal year budgets (or biennium budgets for 19 states).
Most of these forecasts suggest that 2015 will be better than 2014, with faster GDP and job growth. If everything goes as forecast, 2015 will be the best year of economic performance since 2007. This is a low bar if ever there was one.
Still, no economist I know is especially pleased. Thus far in 2014, the U.S. economy has grown by 2.0 percent. At this rate, standards of living in America will double in about 80 years.
This is far beneath the average
post-World War II growth rate of
3.4 percent. It is also well beneath the growth we should be seeing at this point in a recovery.
The most important part of economic forecasting is constructing a good model. I note with transient glee that my model predicted that 2.0 percent growth for the U.S. economy in 2014, so I will be exactly right for another quarter.
But it is also important to look past the model in trying to understand what might be materializing on the horizon. This is especially true because human intervention in the economy is a political process that will weigh more heavily on decisions than an economic model’s forecast.
For 2015, we should be very worried about the things our model does not see.
First, Europe is troubled in many ways. Both NATO and Russia are preparing for a widening war involving Ukraine and Baltic states. Sanctions on Russia are slowing economic growth on the continent.
This will get worse — perhaps catastrophic — before it gets better, and several analysts believe the richest European countries already have entered a recession.
We narrowly dodged entering a recession in 2012 as southern European economies collapsed. That was the first time we’ve escaped a European slowdown in the postwar years. We shall not be so lucky the next time as our large, northern European trading partners see slowing growth.
Japan also has entered its third major recession since 2008. The extreme stimulus known as Abe-nomics (named after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) has failed an economy that has been stagnant since the late 1980s.
China is stumbling. Its three-decade growth miracle has almost entirely involved forcing subsistence farmers into 19th-century factories. Incredibly they are now running out of peasants while quite predictably they have yet to find the miracle answer that only free market economies possess. The country will emerge more like Cuba than South Korea, which means the Chinese consumer will not be buying large this year.
The data used in our forecasting models doesn’t yet capture these worries, but we can see them plain and stark before us.
The best we can hope for is that the models are right, and that the alarm bells that are sounding over the world economy are just a fire drill. The worst of these offer us a very bleak year.
Michael J. Hicks is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and an associate professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. Send comments to email@example.com.