Thinking about fiscal policy dominates my time lately. Mostly my concern is with parsing the data in such a way to make sense of the various arguments out there about the proper course for fiscal policy. Recall that I doubt that anyone is willing to reduce spending by enough to balance the budget. So if we are to see balanced budgets at some point, the timing of that is a topic for another post, it seems likely to me that tax increases will be necessary. Anyway, those policy issues will be covered another day.
In a post last week I compared the allocation of economic activity in North Dakota with the United States. North Dakota has a larger share of activity in agriculture and extractive industries, but less in industries like information. There are many factors that influence the share of economic activity including resource endowments, transportation networks, and the list goes on. Consequently you need to be careful drawing policy conclusions from differences in allocations between two geographies. It could be very easily explained by resource endowments, such as oil in the ground.
One of the more common questions I get, from students, people at the store, on the radio, is: how would the U.S. economy would perform if it was more like North Dakota? It is a natural question given the strong performance in North Dakota and the weaker performance in the U.S. At some level this makes the comparison of growth a bit more consistent because the distribution of activity is made identical between multiple regions. In demography/population analysis (a class I am teaching this summer) the process is called standardization. It is essentially the same idea as calculating real gross domestic product with base year prices to control for the effects of price changes on growth. So lets take a look at unemployment and real GDP for the US, MN, and ND.
The GDP report for Q3 is out (available here) and it might seem good news. Q3 2013 growth is 2.8%, but it comes from inventory accumulation and that is not good. Firms added to inventories of goods which means they will need to produce less in Q4 so hiring may still be weak.
The Census Bureau released the Advance Sales Report for Retail and Food Services today (available here). While not stellar the nominal increase in sales, year-over-year, was three percent. The Conference Board also released their report today on Consumer Confidence, and it fell significantly (available here). This is why I posted that it matters more what people do than what they feel or say they will do in the future.