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If the Economy’s So Good, Why Is GDP So Low?



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There’s something missing in today’s so-called historically strong economy: blowout GDP numbers.
During the last half of the past century, the Department of Commerce released some pretty impressive GDP reports. Here are the highest annual real GDP readings during each decade from 1950 until 2000: 8.7% (1950), 6.6% (1966), 5.6% (1973 and 1978), 7.3% (1984), and 4.7% (1999). Those are hefty numbers compared to the 21st century. Between 2001 and 2010, the highest real GDP recorded was 3.8% (2004), and from 2011 until today the highest yearly rate was 2.9%, which happened twice (2015 and 2018).
With an economy as complex as the United States, it’s never one thing, but here are a few elements contributing to tamer numbers on the GDP front. “As we’ve matured as an economy, we consume 65% services,” says Marc Chandler, Chief Market Strategist with Bannockburn Global Forex. “Compare that to China, which has consumed more cement in the last 20 years than the U.S. has for the last 200 years.” That follows a pattern where economies will spend money on fixed capital first, which is a strong stimulus for growth. That includes roads, highways—and houses. “Let’s say you’re starting a family. First, you buy a house, then you buy furniture and TV’s. After that, you buy services.” And that brings us up to today: a largely service economy.

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