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It's Official: The Next Recession Will Definitely Not Happen In 2018

Last month we remarked on PhD economists’ uncanny ability to make bad predictions.

As a rule, the only people worse at their jobs than weathermen are economists and the only real difference between the two professions is that when the weatherman gets it wrong, you get caught in the rain without an umbrella, but when an economist that someone installed in the Eccles Building gets it wrong, there’s the very real potential for the financial universe to collapse. Here’s how we summed up the profession: 

If PhD economists were serious about getting things right, they would have a tough job. That goes double for PhD economists charged with making policy decisions based on their conclusions. 

That’s because economics (like sociology and political science and astrology) isn’t a real science. It’s a pseudo-science. And as is the case with other pseudo-sciences, it’s flat out impossible to discover laws and immutable truths, no matter what anyone told you in your undergrad economics course. 

 

Of course PhD economists aren’t really serious about getting things right, which means that in reality, their jobs are remarkably easy. Here’s the job description: make predictions that are almost never right and then make up any reason you want to explain away the fact that you were wrong. These explanations run the gamut from intentional obfuscation via opaque statistical tinkering (“residual seasonality”) to comically absurd attempts to turn common sense into an excuse for poor outcomes (“snow in the winter”). 

We delivered that stinging indictment of the pseudoscience that is economics on the way to noting that back in January, some 75% of experts said the Fed would have hiked by now. Considering that rather abysmal track record, we encourage you to take the following with a grain of salt (or two grains, or a whole shaker full). 

Via Bloomberg:

Some advice for President Barack Obama's successor: bring a plan to fight the next recession.

 

That's one conclusion drawn from a survey of economists Sept. 4-9, where the median forecast of 31 respondents has the next downturn occurring in 2018.

 

 

Assuming the collective wisdom of economists is right—which is a generous assumption given that predicting business cycles isn't exactly a cakewalk (ZH: manipulating business cycles isn’t a “cakewalk” either and economists try that too) —it puts the current expansion on track to have a lifespan of about nine years. That's a pretty good run, though the honor of the longest expansion on record would still belong to the decade that ended in March 2001.

 

The survey suggests that the next U.S. president will have just one calendar year to get settled before a downturn occurs. They may want to solicit some advice from Obama, who took office in January 2009, during the deepest recession in the post-World War II era.

So there you have it, rock solid proof that there will be no recession in 2018. However things are looking pretty scary for 2021 and 2022 because as you can see from the graph shown above, only 1 economist is betting on a downturn in either of those years, meaning a recession is a virtual certainty. 

As Bloomberg goes on to note, the economists surveyed "said there's a 10 percent chance of a U.S. recession within the next 12 months," which is particularly amusing because if anyone was being honest at the BEA (i.e. if someone hadn't brought out "residual seasonality" to explain why GDP data needs to be double-adjusted), the US would have been one quarter of bad "weather" away from a recession earlier this year.

It's also worth noting that the experts polled don't seem to think much of the myriad risk factors staring them squarely in the face; risk factors like a rapidly decelerating China, slumping global demand, chronically depressed global trade, a worldwide deflationary supply glut, and a veritable meltdown in emerging markets. Indeed some of those factors were recently cited by Citi's pet rock-hating chief economist Willem Buiter who, as Bloomberg also points out, this week "assigned a 55 percent chance to some form of global recession in the next couple years." Which brings us to the punchline. The fourth sentence from the top in the Buiter's note predicting better than even odds for a global recession reads as follows: 

Economics isn’t rocket science, and even rockets frequently land in the wrong place or explode in mid-air.