What GDP really tells us

(What is really scary is that the chart above stops in 2005..)

Written by: Joshua Gayman

Gross Domestic Product(GDP) is the sum of all final goods and services produced within a nation’s borders for a given period(year). GDP is made up of only 4 different factors:

1. Personal Consumption Expenditure: The amount spent by individuals on goods and services.

2. Private Investment: Private investing into things such as factories, equipment, and residential/non-residential buildings.

3. Net Trade: The amount the US exports minus the amount it imports.(This is currently a negative number, hence the term: “Trade Deficit.”)

4. Government Spending: Doesn’t matter if it is buying Barbies, war tanks or investing in medical research. It has the same effect on GDP.

In 2011, the United States’ GDP was $15,000 billion.(NOTE: 1,000 Billion = 1 Trillion. This really puts the $16 Trillion national debt into perspective doesn’t it..) Of that $15,000 Billion, Personal Consumption accounted for 71% of GDP. Private Investment accounted for 13% of GDP. Net Exports is a negative number because we import more than we export. You could say it accounted for -4% of GDP. Finally, Government Spending(federal and state levels) accounted for 20% of GDP.

Let’s take a closer look at these four factors of GDP:

1. Personal Consumption: At 71% of GDP, this factor is by far the most important. The amount that individuals spend is determined by two factors: how much money they earn and how much money they can borrow. These two factors are also the most important factors for 2.Private Investment, because business investment and residential construction both are driven by consumer demand, which is driven by the ability for the consumer to take on more debt.

The expansion of debt owed by the individuals in the United States was the strongest factor driving the economy from the early 1990s up until the economic crisis of 2008. In 1993, the total debt of the household sector first topped $4 Trillion. This number peaked near $14 Trillion in the 3rd quarter of 2008. At that point, the donkey collapsed from too much debt on it’s back when individuals could no longer afford the interest payments on their loans and began to default. (From 2002-2007, the household sector increased its borrowing by an average of $1 Trillion per year.) It was all of this debt that funded personal consumption and therefore GDP.

When loans began to default in 2008, the banks refused to lend the household sector any more money. With credit cards and Home Equity Lines of Credit(HELOCS) getting cut, people were forced to spend less money. With personal consumption contracting, private investment began to contract even more. The result of this was a STEEP decline in US GDP in the 4th quarter of 2008. During the same quarter, unemployment shot up to 10%. At this point, the US Government began to spend much, much more. Had it not done so, the economy would have collapsed into a Greater Depression. It’s just math:

Personal Consumption + Private Investment – Net Trade + Government Spending = GDP

3. Net Exports: This number really comes down to the competitiveness of the country’s goods and services in the global economy. Since this number is negative in the US, it is obvious that we consume more than we produce. We offset this number by holding Reserve Currency status and printing money. Luckily for us, the system will collapse when the world no longer buys American debt, therefore the financial system is doing whatever they have to do to keep the dollar alive. This of course is not a good thing if you are a saver.

4. Government Spending: In the United States, government spending is supposed to be determined by elected officials in response to the demands of the voting public, but the voting public is gaining an increased awareness that government spending is actually determined by the demands of corporate donors.

All of these numbers and stats for me to point out one simple thing: Debt is more important to the United States than production. If it weren’t, we would stop taking on debt, stop paying for unfunded liabilities, and start competing to produce and sell in the global economy(export). it is much easier for us to simply take on more debt, as long as the world will buy our bonds and allow us to print dollars.

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