Today’s dominant story, told by the Federal Reserve, the media, and many prominent economists, is that the economy has recovered from the recession and is growing about as fast as it can without overheating. This outlook has led the Fed to increase interest rates four times since December 2015, ending the historically low rates it maintained for nearly a decade. As evidence that the economy is at potential—i.e. is utilizing all productive labor, capital, and resources—many cite the unemployment rate of 4.3 percent. This is the lowest it has been since 2001, and it’s expected to continue falling, although inflation remains below the Fed’s 2 percent target.
However, Roosevelt Fellow J. W. Mason, among others, questions the premise that we have achieved full employment and GDP is currently at potential. In this report, we show that output in 2016 remains well below pre-recession expectations. Low demand and reduced investment, he argues, have kept labor and capital on the sidelines. To achieve the kind of high pressure economy that promotes investment, raises wages, and increases work force participation, the Fed should pursue much more expansionary policy.