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A New Method of Estimating Potential Real GDP Growth: Implications for the Labor Market and the Debt/GDP Ratio

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  • Robert J. Gordon

Abstract

Forecasts for the two or three years after mid-2014 have converged on growth rates of real GDP in the range of 3.0 to 3.5 percent, a major stepwise increase from realized growth of 2.1 percent between mid-2009 and mid-2014. However, these forecasts are based on the demand for goods and services. Less attention has been paid to how the accelerated growth of real GDP will be supplied. Will the unemployment rate, which has declined at roughly one percent per year, decline even faster from 6.1 percent in June, 2014 to 3.0 percent or below in 2017? Will the supply-side support for the demand-side optimism be provided instead by a major rebound of productivity growth from the average of 1.2 percent over the past decade and 0.6 percent for the last four years, or perhaps by a reversal of the minus 0.8 percent growth rate since 2007 of the labor-force participation rate? The paper develops a new and surprisingly simple method of calculating the growth rate of potential GDP over the next decade and concludes that projections of potential output growth for the same decade in the most recent reports of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) are much too optimistic. If the projections in this paper are close to the mark, the level of potential GDP in 2024 will be almost 10 percent below the CBO's current forecast. Further, the new potential GDP series implies that the debt/GDP ratio in 2024 will be closer to 87 percent than the CBO's current forecast of 78 percent. This paper also has profound implications for the Federal Reserve. The unemployment rate has declined rapidly, particularly within the last year. Faster real GDP growth will accelerate the decline in the unemployment rate and soon reduce it beyond any estimate of the constant-inflation NAIRU, even if productivity growth experiences a rebound and the labor force participation rate stabilizes. The macro economy is on a collision course between demand-side optimism and supply-side pessimism.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. Gordon, 2014. "A New Method of Estimating Potential Real GDP Growth: Implications for the Labor Market and the Debt/GDP Ratio," NBER Working Papers 20423, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20423
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert J. Gordon, 1997. "The Time-Varying NAIRU and Its Implications for Economic Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 11-32, Winter.
    2. John G. Fernald, 2015. "Productivity and Potential Output before, during, and after the Great Recession," NBER Macroeconomics Annual, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 1-51.
    3. Robert E. Hall, 2015. "Quantifying the Lasting Harm to the US Economy from the Financial Crisis," NBER Macroeconomics Annual, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 71-128.
    4. Robert J. Gordon, 2003. "Exploding Productivity Growth: Context, Causes, and Implications," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 34(2), pages 207-298.
    5. Robert J. Gordon, 2013. "The Phillips Curve is Alive and Well: Inflation and the NAIRU During the Slow Recovery," NBER Working Papers 19390, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Robert J. Gordon, 2014. "The Demise of U.S. Economic Growth: Restatement, Rebuttal, and Reflections," NBER Working Papers 19895, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Forecasting Future Growth
      by dvollrath in The Growth Economics Blog on 2015-03-12 21:15:17

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    Cited by:

    1. Fontanari, Claudia & Palumbo, Antonella & Salvatori, Chiara, 2020. "Potential Output in Theory and Practice: A Revision and Update of Okun's Original Method," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 247-266.
    2. Mendieta-Muñoz, Ivan, 2015. "Is potential output growth falling?," MPRA Paper 68278, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Mengheng Li & Ivan Mendieta‐Muñoz, 2020. "Are long‐run output growth rates falling?," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 71(1), pages 204-234, February.
    4. John G. Fernald & Robert E. Hall & James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 2017. "The Disappointing Recovery of Output after 2009," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 48(1 (Spring), pages 1-81.
    5. Juan Antolin-Diaz & Thomas Drechsel & Ivan Petrella, 2017. "Tracking the Slowdown in Long-Run GDP Growth," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 99(2), pages 343-356, May.
    6. Olivier Coibion & Yuriy Gorodnichenko & Mauricio Ulate, 2018. "The Cyclical Sensitivity in Estimates of Potential Output," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 49(2 (Fall)), pages 343-441.
    7. Michael Fritsch & Alina Sorgner & Michael Wyrwich & Evguenii Zazdravnykh, 2016. "Historical shocks and persistence of economic activity: evidence from a unique natural experiment," HSE Working papers WP BRP 143/EC/2016, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
    8. Alexander Yu. Apokin & Irina B. Ipatova, 2016. "Structural Breaks in Potential GDP Of Three Major Economies: Just Impaired Credit or the “New Normal”?," HSE Working papers WP BRP 142/EC/2016, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
    9. Stock, J.H. & Watson, M.W., 2016. "Dynamic Factor Models, Factor-Augmented Vector Autoregressions, and Structural Vector Autoregressions in Macroeconomics," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & Harald Uhlig (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 0, pages 415-525, Elsevier.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E00 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - General
    • E01 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • E27 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Forecasting and Simulation: Models and Applications
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • J64 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment: Models, Duration, Incidence, and Job Search

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