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Where's the economy headed? Why forecasts are so unreliable

The main lesson about macroeconomic predictions is that they have a disturbing tendency to be inaccurate

January 26, 2023 / 10:57 AM IST
The US might sidestep a recession for mysterious reasons specific to the aggregate demand model. (Source: Reuters)

The US might sidestep a recession for mysterious reasons specific to the aggregate demand model. (Source: Reuters)

It is possible, contrary to the predictions of most economists, that the US will get through this disinflationary period and make the proverbial “soft landing.” This should prompt a more general reconsideration of macroeconomic forecasts.
The lesson is that they have a disturbing tendency to go wrong. It is striking that Larry Summers was right two years ago to warn about pending inflationary pressures in the US economy, when most of his colleagues were wrong. Yet Summers may yet prove to be wrong about his current warning about the looming threat of a recession. The point is that both his inflation and recession predictions stem from the same underlying aggregate demand model.

It is understandable when a model is wrong because of some big and unexpected shock, such as the war in Ukraine. But that is not the case here. The US might sidestep a recession for mysterious reasons specific to the aggregate demand model. The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy has indeed been tighter, and disinflations usually bring high economic costs.

It gets more curious yet. Maybe Summers will turn out to be right about a recession. When recessions arrive, it is often quite suddenly. Consulting every possible macroeconomic theory may be of no help.

Or consider the 1990s. President Bill Clinton believed that federal deficits were too high and were crowding out private investment. The Treasury Department worked with a Republican Congress on a package of fiscal consolidation. Real interest rates fell, and the economy boomed — but that is only the observed correlation. The true causal story remains murky.