Endless Economic Expansion is Not An Entitlement
Today's Americans, their pain threshold lowered by the successful modulation of business cycles, now regard recessions as not mere misfortunes but as violations of an entitlement to perpetual economic serenity. In the 50 years prior to 1945, contractions were frequent and ferocious enough to fray the social fabric. There were three contractions of 5% of GDP, two of 10% and two of 15%. Since postwar demobilization, the most severe contraction -- that of 1982, when President Ronald Reagan and Fed Chairman Paul Volcker stifled inflation -- was 1.9%.
That recession ended in November 1982. If another recession did start last month, then in the 302 months from November 1982 through December 2007, the economy was in recession only 14 months -- 4.6% of the time. The economy was in recession 22.4% of the time between 1945 and 1982.
A recession-free economy is neither an entitlement nor, truth be told, desirable: The "wisdom of crowds" is real but even markets make mistakes and recessions, aka corrections, are, by definition, constructive. Even so, the modern economy's rhythms are much less alarming than any previous generation could have imagined.
From George Will's most recent column
Note: Recessions between 1854 and 1945 lasted an average of about 20 months, compared to the average of only 10 months since 1945, and 8 months for the last two (1990-1991 and 2001).