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The Longest Recovery Ever? Yes, but Also the Weakest

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Although this may come as a surprise to some Americans, especially those stuck in the gig economy who have not had wage increases in years, the U.S. just set a record for the longest U.S. economic expansion ever recorded.

As described in this article, the expansion began in June 2009 and just celebrated its 10th anniversary. It is now headed into its 11th year. Not only that, but there are no strong signs of a recession on the horizon despite fretting about the inverted yield curve. Inflation is low (too low for the Fed), unemployment is at 50-year lows and minority unemployment is at all-time lows.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is the weakest expansion in U.S. history. Average annual growth since the expansion started is 2.25%, versus average annual growth of 3.23% for all expansions since 1980. That 1.0% difference may not sound like much but compounded over time it has resulted in a $5 trillion “wealth gap” between what the economy actually produced and what it would have produced if the higher growth average had prevailed.

Imagine what the U.S. economy could do with infrastructure or health care if it suddenly found $5 trillion stuffed under the mattress. That’s the effect of what bond maven Bill Gross calls the “new normal” and what Harvard Professor Larry Summers calls “secular stagnation.”

My view is that the U.S. is stuck in a depression that actually started in 2007. Depression does not mean continual contraction. It means continual below-trend growth with no tendency either toward trend growth or collapse. This growth trend should continue (at a depressed level), which helps Trump’s reelection chances.

But there is no way out of this weak trend and it may continue for decades in the same manner as in Japan (where a similar trend started in 1990). Meanwhile, debt keeps growing faster than the economy, which sets up a debt debacle and loss of confidence in the dollar sooner rather than later.

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