Good thing the National Bureau of Economic Research wasn’t established with the goal of providing timely economic analysis; otherwise its announcement Monday that the country has been in a recession since December 2007 might seem, you know, ludicrous. But the NBER’s business is quantitative historical analysis, not timely economic intelligence. As Jeffrey Frankel, a Harvard professor and member of the NBER’s business cycle dating committee, notes, “Our job is to be definitive, not fast.” And that makes Monday’s pronouncement even more worrisome. Because, according to the NBER, the current contraction, already the longest since 1982, is entirely likely to grow longer still. Certainly, that’s what all the leading economic indicators suggest. “It is clearly not going to end in a few months,” explains Frankel. “We would be lucky to get done with it in the middle of next year.”
If that proves true–if the economy doesn’t hit bottom until the second quarter of 2009–this recession will have been the longest since the Great Depression. What a horrific thought….