These Guys Call the End of the Recession

“Once upon a time, in the beginning of my tenure here, when we had to make a decision, we actually had a meeting where people sat down in the same room and talked and looked at pieces of paper on which there were data,” Ms. Zerwitz said. “Now, almost everything occurs via email. [Everyone] has access to the same data, which they share with each other, which Chairman Hall generates sometimes, or Bob Gordon sometimes. But they’re sharing their info either through a call, or a series of emails back and forth.”

 

ON SOME LEVEL, IT doesn’t much matter when a recession officially begins or ends. As Mr. Bernanke reportedly acknowledged on Tuesday, “[I]t’s still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time, as many people will still find that their job security and their employment status is not what they wish it was.”

Yet it’s not an entirely meaningless exercise, either.

“It does help to study recessions,” said Robert Frank, a Cornell economist unaffiliated with the committee. “It’s nice to know everybody’s working with a common definition.”

And, as both Drs. Frank and Frankel pointed out, controlling the definition of history, be it economic or otherwise, has political implications.

“I like to give the example of presidential candidates,” Dr. Frankel said. “If it weren’t for us, every member of a political party, if it was in office, would make assertions that the other party was in office when the recession started. That’s an example of how this sort of disciplines the debate.”

Shared definitions, in other words, allow for reasoned argument.

Speaking of which, when will the committee define the end of this ruthless recession?

Ms. Zerwitz said the committee doesn’t make predictions. Dr. Frankel, for his part, would say only that the group tends to follow this general rule: “We don’t make the call until we can ask ourselves the question: If tomorrow the economy plunged, would we call that a second recession? Or would we say that’s part of the same recession?”

drubinstein@observer.com