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The Politics of Economic Recovery

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from isee’s training and consulting partner, Corey Peck of Lexidyne LLC.

The mid-term elections are now a month behind us and the political airwaves are still abuzz with commentary about the results.  Exit polls showed that unemployment was at the top of most voters’ list of issues, and that concerns about the federal government’s financial condition (record deficits and debt levels) were a hot topic as well.  Voters appeared to be asking “How can the federal government spend so much money and have so little positive impact on the nation’s economy?” 

The responses by politicians to such an important question are all over the map.  Democrats are claiming that economic conditions would have been much worse if not for massive federal bailouts and stimulus spending.  Republicans are touting the situation as a death knoll for the Obama platform in an effort to position themselves for 2012.  And the Tea Party movement has emerged to push for a roll-back of what they see as an intrusive and ineffective “Big Government”.

But, this political posturing reminds me that one of the true strengths of Systems Thinking is to force people to think very clearly and very operationally about the structure/behavior link embedded in such cases.  A little over a year ago, we sat down with Dr. Mark Paich, who used some very simple stock/flow language and some well-established principles of macroeconomics to lay out some relevant dynamics about the economic crisis and its aftermath:

  • Why the collapse of the housing market made consumers re-evaluate their net asset position and hence started saving more of their incomes to pay off high interest credit card debt.
  • How such actions on the part of consumers, in aggregate, kicked off a vicious cycle of decreased spending and contracting national output.
  • Why government stimulus spending could close some, but not all, of the gap left by suddenly thrifty consumers, and that the recovery was likely to be a long, slow one.

We certainly don’t know how the future will play out, but the data suggest that consumers are indeed cutting back spending, and paying off debt.  (The Bureau of Economic Analysis has terrific historical data on household balance sheets and income.)  The unemployment numbers remain stubbornly high (around 9.5%), and although the recession is technically over, few economists are predicting rapid post-crisis economic expansion.

For a bit of clarity amidst all the rhetoric, you may want to check out Mark’s video offering.  His model and associated explanation do not provide a “magic bullet” of a solution, but they do provide some substance (and perhaps insight) to this vexing situation.  Now if only the politicians could follow suit!

To read a previous blog post about Modeling the Economic Crisis or view a 5-minute video trailer, click here.

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  • Milbourn A

    There is probably not a magic bullet, but I am not sure it helps if he can’t offer a better solution. The thing is we have been here before with Keynes. The solution was implemented at Bretton Woods along with constraints on the financial systems by national governments. Unfortunately, some bright sparks had a bonfire of all the controls which led directly to the current mess.

  • Corey Peck

    I’ve always felt that finding solutions requires shared understanding of key structure/behavior dynamics, and that using the iThink/STELLA software is a great way to translate implicit mental models into explicit structural models that can be evaluated in a meaningful way. Stimulating discussion on such an important topic is perhaps an avenue towards a set of solutions — so thank you for your contribution to the conversation and I’m hoping others in the community will share their thoughts as well!

  • Eric

    Still bothers me that ISEE is selling video talks like this rather than making them available for free.