In a post last year
, I argued that one reason economists have not successfully forecast recessions is that recession forecasts, or near-recession forecasts, prompt policymakers (usually the Fed) to act so as to prevent a recession. Only when the recession is unexpected (i.e. not forecast) will policymakers fail to act.
Spencer, an occasional blogger at Angry Bear
and a frequent commenter on many different economics-oriented blogs, suggested (in a comment somewhere; I don’t remember where or when) another mechanism that operates through inventories. When manufacturers expect a recession, they reduce their inventories in anticipation, thus inducing themselves to increase production later, thereby preventing the recession they had expected. So again, a recession only occurs when it is unexpected, when manufacturers are caught with excess inventories because they hadn’t anticipated weaker demand.
Here I’m going to suggest a third mechanism whereby forecast recessions may tend to prevent themselves. The idea comes from this YouTube video
, in which a model* discusses, among other things, her concerns about the weakening economy. Her response to those concerns: “I’m trying to book up as much work as I possibly can and get some savings cushions built up.”
This phenomenon may be specific to the modeling industry. Indeed, it may be specific to the particular model in the video. But I see no reason not to expect it to be more general. Intertemporally optimizing businesses, and self-employed individuals, in many service-producing industries (and for that matter, workers in all industries) may have a general incentive to shift their supply curves outward in response to the expectation of a future inward shift in demand curves. Thus the expectation of a recession would result in an immediate increase in economic activity.
I’m not sure what the full implications of this hypothesis are for the business cycle. It’s kind of the opposite of Spencer’s idea, in that here the expectation of a recession causes agents to produce more in the immediate time frame rather than less. I suspect, though, that manufacturers are better at planning at quarterly or longer horizons than are service-producing industries (and certainly individuals), so I suspect that the paring down of inventories happens well in advance of the expected recession, whereas the supply curve shift happens at about the time the recession is supposed to start. (The video example, one may note, took place in mid-April of this year, by which time many people believed that the US was already in a recession.) If the supply response is tardy enough, it could surely have the effect of preventing (or at least delaying) the recession to whose forecast it is responding.
*UPDATE: It occurs to me that I should identify the model, instead of just exploiting her as an example of a concept. Her name is Isobel Wren. She has a nice portfolio on One Model Place
, and she also has her own Web site (Adults only. Not work safe.
). She calls herself "the thinking man's nympho" and prides herself on being a nerd when she's not in front of the camera.
Labels: economics, macroeconomics