Economic Growth

This chapter analyzes economic growth by examining the aggregate production function. Sources of economic growth are identified and growth rates of different countries are compared.

The Significance of Economic Growth

Case in Point: Presidents and Economic Growth

Presidents and Economic Growth

President Annual Increase in Real GDP (%) Growth Rate (%)
Truman 1949–1952 5.4 4.4
Eisenhower 1953–1960 2.5 3.3
Kennedy-Johnson 1961–1968 5.1 4.4
Nixon-Ford 1969–1976 2.8 3.4
Carter 1977–1980 3.2 3.1
Reagan 1981–1988 3.5 3.1
G. H. W. Bush 1989–1992 2.1 2.9
Clinton 1993–2000 3.8 3.3
G. W. Bush 2001–2008 1.6 2.6

Presidents are often judged by the rate at which the economy grew while they were in office. This test is unfair on two counts. First, a president has little to do with the forces that determine growth. And second, such tests simply compute the annual rate of growth in real GDP over the course of a presidential term, which we know can be affected by cyclical factors. A president who takes office when the economy is down and goes out with the economy up will look like an economic star; a president with the bad luck to have reverse circumstances will seem like a dud. Here are annual rates of change in real GDP for each of the postwar presidents, together with rates of economic growth, measured as the annual rate of change in potential output.

The presidents' economic records are clearly affected by luck. Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton, for example, began their terms when the economy had a recessionary gap and ended them with an inflationary gap or at about potential output. Real GDP thus rose faster than potential output during their presidencies. The Eisenhower, Nixon-Ford, G. H. W. Bush, and G. W. Bush administrations each started with an inflationary gap or at about potential and ended with a recessionary gap, thus recording rates of real GDP increase below the rate of gain in potential. Only Jimmy Carter, who came to office and left it with recessionary gaps, presided over a relatively equivalent rate of increase in actual GDP versus potential output.

How did Barack Obama fare? As this case was written after he was in office for less than a full term, you will have to check for yourself!