Unites States Economy - History

Unites States Economy - History

UNITED STATES

Budget: Income .............. $1,720 Billion
Expenditure ... $1,653 Billion

Main Crops: Wheat, other grains, corn, fruits, vegetables, cotton; beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; forest products; fish.Natural Resources: Coal, copper, lead, molybdenum, phosphates, uranium, bauxite, gold, iron, mercury, nickel, potash, silver, tungsten, zinc, petroleum, natural gas, timber .

Major Industries: Leading industrial power in the world, highly diversified and technologically advanced; petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber, mining.
NATIONAL GNP


United States of America - Overview of economy

The United States has the largest, most technologically-advanced, and most diverse economy in the world. While the United States accounts for only about 4 percent of the world's population, its GDP is 26 percent of the world's total economic output. The American economy is a free-market, private enterprise system that has only limited government intervention in areas such as health care, transportation, and retirement. American companies are among the most productive and competitive in the world. In 1998, 9 of the 10 most profitable companies in the world were American (even the non-U.S. exception, Germany's Daimler-Chrysler, has a substantial part of its operations in the United States). Unlike their Japanese or Western European counterparts, American corporations have considerable freedom of operation and little government control over issues of product development, plant openings or closures, and employment. The United States also has a clear edge over the rest of the world in many high-tech industries, including computers, medical care, aerospace, and military equipment.

In the 1990s, the American economy experienced the second-longest period of growth in the nation's history. The economy grew at an average rate of 3-4 percent per year and unemployment fell below 5 percent. In addition, there were dramatic gains in the stock market and many of the nation's largest companies had record profits. Finally, a record number of Americans owned their own homes. This long period of growth ended in 2001, when the economy slowed dramatically following a crash in the high-technology sector.

The United States has considerable natural resources. These resources include coal, copper, lead, phosphates, uranium, bauxite, gold, iron, mercury, nickel, silver, tungsten, zinc, petroleum, natural gas, and timber. It also has highly productive agricultural resources and is the world's largest food producer. The economy is bolstered by an excellent, though aging, infrastructure which makes the transport of goods relatively easy.

Despite its impressive advantages, the American economy faces a number of problems. Most of the products and services of the nation are consumed internally, but the economy cannot produce enough goods to keep up with consumer demand. As a result, for several decades the United States has imported far more products than it exports. This trade deficit exists entirely in manufactured goods. The United States actually has trade surpluses in agriculture and services. When adjusted for the surpluses, the U.S. trade deficit in 2000 amounted to a record $447 billion. The United States has been able to sustain trade deficits year after year because foreign individuals and companies remain willing to invest in the United States. In 2000, there was $270 billion in new foreign investment in American companies and businesses.

Another major problem for the American economy is growth of a 2-tier economy, with some Americans enjoying very high income levels while others remain in poverty. As the workplace becomes more technologically sophisticated, unskilled workers find themselves trapped in minimum wage or menial jobs. In 1999, despite the strong economic growth of the 1990s, 12.7 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line. There are other wage problems in the United States. Although the economy has grown substantially, most of the gains in income have gone to the top 20 percent of households. The top 10 percent of households earned 28.5 percent of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 10 percent accounted for only 1.5 percent. There is also a growing number of Americans who are not covered by medical insurance.

Although there is great diversity in the American economy, services dominate economic activity. Together, services account for approximately 80 percent of the country's GDP. Manufacturing accounts for only 18 percent, while agriculture accounts for 2 percent. Financial services, health care, and information technology are among the fastest growing areas of the service sector. Although industry has declined steeply from its height in the 1950s, the American manufacturing sector remains strong. Two of the largest American corporations, General Electric and General Motors, have manufacturing and production as their base, although they have both diversified into the service sector as well. Meanwhile, despite continuing declines, agriculture remains strong in the United States. One of the main trends in the agricultural sector has been the erosion of the family farm and its replacement by the large corporate farm. This has made the sector more productive, although there has also been a decrease in the number of farmers and farm workers.

Since the middle of the 20th century, the United States has aggressively pursued free and open trade. It helped found a number of international organizations whose purpose is to promote free trade, including the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), now known as the World Trade Organization (WTO). It has also engaged in free trade agreements with particular nations. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico is an example of this. One continuing problem for American companies engaged in foreign trade is that the United States is much more open to trade than many other nations. As a result, it is easy for foreign companies to sell their goods and services in the United States, but American firms often find it difficult to export their products to other countries.


Unites States Economy - History

The U.S. Economy:
A Brief History

The U.S. Economy:
A Brief
History
The modern American economy traces its roots to the quest of European settlers for economic gain in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The New World then progressed from a marginally successful colonial economy to a small, independent farming economy and, eventually, to a highly complex industrial economy. During this evolution, the United States developed ever more complex institutions to match its growth. And while government involvement in the economy has been a consistent theme, the extent of that involvement generally has increased.
North America's first inhabitants were Native Americans -- indigenous peoples who are believed to have traveled to America about 20,000 years earlier across a land bridge from Asia, where the Bering Strait is today. (They were mistakenly called "Indians" by European explorers, who thought they had reached India when first landing in the Americas.) These native peoples were organized in tribes and, in some cases, confederations of tribes. While they traded among themselves, they had little contact with peoples on other continents, even with other native peoples in South America, before European settlers began arriving. What economic systems they did develop were destroyed by the Europeans who settled their lands.
Vikings were the first Europeans to "discover" America. But the event, which occurred around the year 1000, went largely unnoticed at the time, most of European society was still firmly based on agriculture and land ownership. Commerce had not yet assumed the importance that would provide an impetus to the further exploration and settlement of North America.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailing under the Spanish flag, set out to find a southwest passage to Asia and discovered a "New World." For the next 100 years, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French explorers sailed from Europe for the New World, looking for gold, riches, honor, and glory.
But the North American wilderness offered early explorers little glory and less gold, so most did not stay. The people who eventually did settle North America arrived later. In 1607, a band of Englishmen built the first permanent settlement in what was to become the United States. The settlement, Jamestown, was located in the present-day state of Virginia.

Colonization
Early settlers had a variety of reasons for seeking a new homeland. The Pilgrims of Massachusetts were pious, self-disciplined English people who wanted to escape religious persecution. Other colonies, such as Virginia, were founded principally as business ventures. Often, though, piety and profits went hand-in-hand.
England's success at colonizing what would become the United States was due in large part to its use of charter companies. Charter companies were groups of stockholders (usually merchants and wealthy landowners) who sought personal economic gain and, perhaps, wanted also to advance England's national goals. While the private sector financed the companies, the King provided each project with a charter or grant conferring economic rights as well as political and judicial authority. The colonies generally did not show quick profits, however, and the English investors often turned over their colonial charters to the settlers. The political implications, although not realized at the time, were enormous. The colonists were left to build their own lives, their own communities, and their own economy -- in effect, to start constructing the rudiments of a new nation.
What early colonial prosperity there was resulted from trapping and trading in furs. In addition, fishing was a primary source of wealth in Massachusetts. But throughout the colonies, people lived primarily on small farms and were self-sufficient. In the few small cities and among the larger plantations of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, some necessities and virtually all luxuries were imported in return for tobacco, rice, and indigo (blue dye) exports.
Supportive industries developed as the colonies grew. A variety of specialized sawmills and gristmills appeared. Colonists established shipyards to build fishing fleets and, in time, trading vessels. The also built small iron forges. By the 18th century, regional patterns of development had become clear: the New England colonies relied on ship-building and sailing to generate wealth plantations (many using slave labor) in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas grew tobacco, rice, and indigo and the middle colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware shipped general crops and furs. Except for slaves, standards of living were generally high -- higher, in fact, than in England itself. Because English investors had withdrawn, the field was open to entrepreneurs among the colonists.
By 1770, the North American colonies were ready, both economically and politically, to become part of the emerging self-government movement that had dominated English politics since the time of James I (1603-1625). Disputes developed with England over taxation and other matters Americans hoped for a modification of English taxes and regulations that would satisfy their demand for more self-government. Few thought the mounting quarrel with the English government would lead to all-out war against the British and to independence for the colonies.
Like the English political turmoil of the 17th and 18th centuries, the American Revolution (1775-1783) was both political and economic, bolstered by an emerging middle class with a rallying cry of "unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property" -- a phrase openly borrowed from English philosopher John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government (1690). The war was triggered by an event in April 1775. British soldiers, intending to capture a colonial arms depot at Concord, Massachusetts, clashed with colonial militiamen. Someone -- no one knows exactly who -- fired a shot, and eight years of fighting began. While political separation from England may not have been the majority of colonists' original goal, independence and the creation of a new nation -- the United States -- was the ultimate result.

The New Nation's Economy
The U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1787 and in effect to this day, was in many ways a work of creative genius. As an economic charter, it established that the entire nation -- stretching then from Maine to Georgia, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi Valley -- was a unified, or "common," market. There were to be no tariffs or taxes on interstate commerce. The Constitution provided that the federal government could regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states, establish uniform bankruptcy laws, create money and regulate its value, fix standards of weights and measures, establish post offices and roads, and fix rules governing patents and copyrights. The last-mentioned clause was an early recognition of the importance of "intellectual property," a matter that would assume great importance in trade negotiations in the late 20th century.
Alexander Hamilton, one of the nation's Founding Fathers and its first secretary of the treasury, advocated an economic development strategy in which the federal government would nurture infant industries by providing overt subsidies and imposing protective tariffs on imports. He also urged the federal government to create a national bank and to assume the public debts that the colonies had incurred during the Revolutionary War. The new government dallied over some of Hamilton's proposals, but ultimately it did make tariffs an essential part of American foreign policy -- a position that lasted until almost the middle of the 20th century.
Although early American farmers feared that a national bank would serve the rich at the expense of the poor, the first National Bank of the United States was chartered in 1791 it lasted until 1811, after which a successor bank was chartered.
Hamilton believed the United States should pursue economic growth through diversified shipping, manufacturing, and banking. Hamilton's political rival, Thomas Jefferson, based his philosophy on protecting the common man from political and economic tyranny. He particularly praised small farmers as "the most valuable citizens." In 1801, Jefferson became president (1801-1809) and turned to promoting a more decentralized, agrarian democracy.

Movement South and Westward
Cotton, at first a small-scale crop in the South, boomed following Eli Whitney's invention in 1793 of the cotton gin, a machine that separated raw cotton from seeds and other waste. Planters in the South bought land from small farmers who frequently moved farther west. Soon, large plantations, supported by slave labor, made some families very wealthy.
It wasn't just southerners who were moving west, however. Whole villages in the East sometimes uprooted and established new settlements in the more fertile farmland of the Midwest. While western settlers are often depicted as fiercely independent and strongly opposed to any kind of government control or interference, they actually received a lot of government help, directly and indirectly. Government-created national roads and waterways, such as the Cumberland Pike (1818) and the Erie Canal (1825), helped new settlers migrate west and later helped move western farm produce to market.
Many Americans, both poor and rich, idealized Andrew Jackson, who became president in 1829, because he had started life in a log cabin in frontier territory. President Jackson (1829-1837) opposed the successor to Hamilton's National Bank, which he believed favored the entrenched interests of the East against the West. When he was elected for a second term, Jackson opposed renewing the bank's charter, and Congress supported him. Their actions shook confidence in the nation's financial system, and business panics occurred in both 1834 and 1837.
Periodic economic dislocations did not curtail rapid U.S. economic growth during the 19th century. New inventions and capital investment led to the creation of new industries and economic growth. As transportation improved, new markets continuously opened. The steamboat made river traffic faster and cheaper, but development of railroads had an even greater effect, opening up vast stretches of new territory for development. Like canals and roads, railroads received large amounts of government assistance in their early building years in the form of land grants. But unlike other forms of transportation, railroads also attracted a good deal of domestic and European private investment.
In these heady days, get-rich-quick schemes abounded. Financial manipulators made fortunes overnight, but many people lost their savings. Nevertheless, a combination of vision and foreign investment, combined with the discovery of gold and a major commitment of America's public and private wealth, enabled the nation to develop a large-scale railroad system, establishing the base for the country's industrialization.

Industrial Growth
The Industrial Revolution began in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and it quickly spread to the United States. By 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president, 16 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas, and a third of the nation's income came from manufacturing. Urbanized industry was limited primarily to the Northeast cotton cloth production was the leading industry, with the manufacture of shoes, woolen clothing, and machinery also expanding. Many new workers were immigrants. Between 1845 and 1855, some 300,000 European immigrants arrived annually. Most were poor and remained in eastern cities, often at ports of arrival.
The South, on the other hand, remained rural and dependent on the North for capital and manufactured goods. Southern economic interests, including slavery, could be protected by political power only as long as the South controlled the federal government. The Republican Party, organized in 1856, represented the industrialized North. In 1860, Republicans and their presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln were speaking hesitantly on slavery, but they were much clearer on economic policy. In 1861, they successfully pushed adoption of a protective tariff. In 1862, the first Pacific railroad was chartered. In 1863 and 1864, a national bank code was drafted.
Northern victory in the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), however, sealed the destiny of the nation and its economic system. The slave-labor system was abolished, making the large southern cotton plantations much less profitable. Northern industry, which had expanded rapidly because of the demands of the war, surged ahead. Industrialists came to dominate many aspects of the nation's life, including social and political affairs. The planter aristocracy of the South, portrayed sentimentally 70 years later in the film classic Gone with the Wind , disappeared.

Inventions, Development, and Tycoons
The rapid economic development following the Civil War laid the groundwork for the modern U.S. industrial economy. An explosion of new discoveries and inventions took place, causing such profound changes that some termed the results a "second industrial revolution." Oil was discovered in western Pennsylvania. The typewriter was developed. Refrigeration railroad cars came into use. The telephone, phonograph, and electric light were invented. And by the dawn of the 20th century, cars were replacing carriages and people were flying in airplanes.
Parallel to these achievements was the development of the nation's industrial infrastructure. Coal was found in abundance in the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania south to Kentucky. Large iron mines opened in the Lake Superior region of the upper Midwest. Mills thrived in places where these two important raw materials could be brought together to produce steel. Large copper and silver mines opened, followed by lead mines and cement factories.
As industry grew larger, it developed mass-production methods. Frederick W. Taylor pioneered the field of scientific management in the late 19th century, carefully plotting the functions of various workers and then devising new, more efficient ways for them to do their jobs. (True mass production was the inspiration of Henry Ford, who in 1913 adopted the moving assembly line, with each worker doing one simple task in the production of automobiles. In what turned out to be a farsighted action, Ford offered a very generous wage -- $5 a day -- to his workers, enabling many of them to buy the automobiles they made, helping the industry to expand.)
The "Gilded Age" of the second half of the 19th century was the epoch of tycoons. Many Americans came to idealize these businessmen who amassed vast financial empires. Often their success lay in seeing the long-range potential for a new service or product, as John D. Rockefeller did with oil. They were fierce competitors, single-minded in their pursuit of financial success and power. Other giants in addition to Rockefeller and Ford included Jay Gould, who made his money in railroads J. Pierpont Morgan, banking and Andrew Carnegie, steel. Some tycoons were honest according to business standards of their day others, however, used force, bribery, and guile to achieve their wealth and power. For better or worse, business interests acquired significant influence over government.
Morgan, perhaps the most flamboyant of the entrepreneurs, operated on a grand scale in both his private and business life. He and his companions gambled, sailed yachts, gave lavish parties, built palatial homes, and bought European art treasures. In contrast, men such as Rockefeller and Ford exhibited puritanical qualities. They retained small-town values and lifestyles. As church-goers, they felt a sense of responsibility to others. They believed that personal virtues could bring success theirs was the gospel of work and thrift. Later their heirs would establish the largest philanthropic foundations in America.
While upper-class European intellectuals generally looked on commerce with disdain, most Americans -- living in a society with a more fluid class structure -- enthusiastically embraced the idea of moneymaking. They enjoyed the risk and excitement of business enterprise, as well as the higher living standards and potential rewards of power and acclaim that business success brought.
As the American economy matured in the 20th century, however, the freewheeling business mogul lost luster as an American ideal. The crucial change came with the emergence of the corporation, which appeared first in the railroad industry and then elsewhere. Business barons were replaced by "technocrats," high-salaried managers who became the heads of corporations. The rise of the corporation triggered, in turn, the rise of an organized labor movement that served as a countervailing force to the power and influence of business.
The technological revolution of the 1980s and 1990s brought a new entrepreneurial culture that echoes of the age of tycoons. Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft, built an immense fortune developing and selling computer software. Gates carved out an empire so profitable that by the late 1990s, his company was taken into court and accused of intimidating rivals and creating a monopoly by the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division. But Gates also established a charitable foundation that quickly became the largest of its kind. Most American business leaders of today do not lead the high-profile life of Gates. They direct the fate of corporations, but they also serve on boards for charities and schools. They are concerned about the state of the national economy and America's relationship with other nations, and they are likely to fly to Washington to confer with government officials. While they undoubtedly influence the government, they do not control it -- as some tycoons in the Gilded Age believed they did.

Government Involvement
In the early years of American history, most political leaders were reluctant to involve the federal government too heavily in the private sector, except in the area of transportation. In general, they accepted the concept of laissez-faire, a doctrine opposing government interference in the economy except to maintain law and order. This attitude started to change during the latter part of the 19th century, when small business, farm, and labor movements began asking the government to intercede on their behalf.
By the turn of the century, a middle class had developed that was leery of both the business elite and the somewhat radical political movements of farmers and laborers in the Midwest and West. Known as Progressives, these people favored government regulation of business practices to ensure competition and free enterprise. They also fought corruption in the public sector.
Congress enacted a law regulating railroads in 1887 (the Interstate Commerce Act), and one preventing large firms from controlling a single industry in 1890 (the Sherman Antitrust Act). These laws were not rigorously enforced, however, until the years between 1900 and 1920, when Republican President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), Democratic President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), and others sympathetic to the views of the Progressives came to power. Many of today's U.S. regulatory agencies were created during these years, including the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission.
Government involvement in the economy increased most significantly during the New Deal of the 1930s. The 1929 stock market crash had initiated the most serious economic dislocation in the nation's history, the Great Depression (1929-1940). President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) launched the New Deal to alleviate the emergency.
Many of the most important laws and institutions that define American's modern economy can be traced to the New Deal era. New Deal legislation extended federal authority in banking, agriculture, and public welfare. It established minimum standards for wages and hours on the job, and it served as a catalyst for the expansion of labor unions in such industries as steel, automobiles, and rubber. Programs and agencies that today seem indispensable to the operation of the country's modern economy were created: the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates the stock market the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which guarantees bank deposits and, perhaps most notably, the Social Security system, which provides pensions to the elderly based on contributions they made when they were part of the work force.
New Deal leaders flirted with the idea of building closer ties between business and government, but some of these efforts did not survive past World War II. The National Industrial Recovery Act, a short-lived New Deal program, sought to encourage business leaders and workers, with government supervision, to resolve conflicts and thereby increase productivity and efficiency. While America never took the turn to fascism that similar business-labor-government arrangements did in Germany and Italy, the New Deal initiatives did point to a new sharing of power among these three key economic players. This confluence of power grew even more during the war, as the U.S. government intervened extensively in the economy. The War Production Board coordinated the nation's productive capabilities so that military priorities would be met. Converted consumer-products plants filled many military orders. Automakers built tanks and aircraft, for example, making the United States the "arsenal of democracy." In an effort to prevent rising national income and scarce consumer products to cause inflation, the newly created Office of Price Administration controlled rents on some dwellings, rationed consumer items ranging from sugar to gasoline, and otherwise tried to restrain price increases.

The Postwar Economy: 1945-1960
Many Americans feared that the end of World War II and the subsequent drop in military spending might bring back the hard times of the Great Depression. But instead, pent-up consumer demand fueled exceptionally strong economic growth in the postwar period. The automobile industry successfully converted back to producing cars, and new industries such as aviation and electronics grew by leaps and bounds. A housing boom, stimulated in part by easily affordable mortgages for returning members of the military, added to the expansion. The nation's gross national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950 and to more than $500,000 million in 1960. At the same time, the jump in postwar births, known as the "baby boom," increased the number of consumers. More and more Americans joined the middle class.
The need to produce war supplies had given rise to a huge military-industrial complex (a term coined by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as the U.S. president from 1953 through 1961). It did not disappear with the war's end. As the Iron Curtain descended across Europe and the United States found itself embroiled in a cold war with the Soviet Union, the government maintained substantial fighting capacity and invested in sophisticated weapons such as the hydrogen bomb. Economic aid flowed to war-ravaged European countries under the Marshall Plan, which also helped maintain markets for numerous U.S. goods. And the government itself recognized its central role in economic affairs. The Employment Act of 1946 stated as government policy "to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power."
The United States also recognized during the postwar period the need to restructure international monetary arrangements, spearheading the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank -- institutions designed to ensure an open, capitalist international economy.
Business, meanwhile, entered a period marked by consolidation. Firms merged to create huge, diversified conglomerates. International Telephone and Telegraph, for instance, bought Sheraton Hotels, Continental Banking, Hartford Fire Insurance, Avis Rent-a-Car, and other companies.
The American work force also changed significantly. During the 1950s, the number of workers providing services grew until it equaled and then surpassed the number who produced goods. And by 1956, a majority of U.S. workers held white-collar rather than blue-collar jobs. At the same time, labor unions won long-term employment contracts and other benefits for their members.
Farmers, on the other hand, faced tough times. Gains in productivity led to agricultural overproduction, as farming became a big business. Small family farms found it increasingly difficult to compete, and more and more farmers left the land. As a result, the number of people employed in the farm sector, which in 1947 stood at 7.9 million, began a continuing decline by 1998, U.S. farms employed only 3.4 million people.
Other Americans moved, too. Growing demand for single-family homes and the widespread ownership of cars led many Americans to migrate from central cities to suburbs. Coupled with technological innovations such as the invention of air conditioning, the migration spurred the development of "Sun Belt" cities such as Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and Phoenix in the southern and southwestern states. As new, federally sponsored highways created better access to the suburbs, business patterns began to change as well. Shopping centers multiplied, rising from eight at the end of World War II to 3,840 in 1960. Many industries soon followed, leaving cities for less crowded sites.

Years of Change: The 1960s and 1970s
The 1950s in America are often described as a time of complacency. By contrast, the 1960s and 1970s were a time of great change. New nations emerged around the world, insurgent movements sought to overthrow existing governments, established countries grew to become economic powerhouses that rivaled the United States, and economic relationships came to predominate in a world that increasingly recognized military might could not be the only means of growth and expansion.
President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) ushered in a more activist approach to governing. During his 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy said he would ask Americans to meet the challenges of the "New Frontier." As president, he sought to accelerate economic growth by increasing government spending and cutting taxes, and he pressed for medical help for the elderly, aid for inner cities, and increased funds for education. Many of these proposals were not enacted, although Kennedy's vision of sending Americans abroad to help developing nations did materialize with the creation of the Peace Corps. Kennedy also stepped up American space exploration. After his death, the American space program surpassed Soviet achievements and culminated in the landing of American astronauts on the moon in July 1969.
Kennedy's assassination in 1963 spurred Congress to enact much of his legislative agenda. His successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-1969), sought to build a "Great Society" by spreading benefits of America's successful economy to more citizens. Federal spending increased dramatically, as the government launched such new programs as Medicare (health care for the elderly), Food Stamps (food assistance for the poor), and numerous education initiatives (assistance to students as well as grants to schools and colleges).
Military spending also increased as American's presence in Vietnam grew. What had started as a small military action under Kennedy mushroomed into a major military initiative during Johnson's presidency. Ironically, spending on both wars -- the war on poverty and the fighting war in Vietnam -- contributed to prosperity in the short term. But by the end of the 1960s, the government's failure to raise taxes to pay for these efforts led to accelerating inflation, which eroded this prosperity. The 1973-1974 oil embargo by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pushed energy prices rapidly higher and created shortages. Even after the embargo ended, energy prices stayed high, adding to inflation and eventually causing rising rates of unemployment. Federal budget deficits grew, foreign competition intensified, and the stock market sagged.
The Vietnam War dragged on until 1975, President Richard Nixon (1969-1973) resigned under a cloud of impeachment charges, and a group of Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Teheran and held for more than a year. The nation seemed unable to control events, including economic affairs. America's trade deficit swelled as low-priced and frequently high-quality imports of everything from automobiles to steel to semiconductors flooded into the United States.
The term "stagflation" -- an economic condition of both continuing inflation and stagnant business activity, together with an increasing unemployment rate -- described the new economic malaise. Inflation seemed to feed on itself. People began to expect continuous increases in the price of goods, so they bought more. This increased demand pushed up prices, leading to demands for higher wages, which pushed prices higher still in a continuing upward spiral. Labor contracts increasingly came to include automatic cost-of-living clauses, and the government began to peg some payments, such as those for Social Security, to the Consumer Price Index, the best-known gauge of inflation. While these practices helped workers and retirees cope with inflation, they perpetuated inflation. The government's ever-rising need for funds swelled the budget deficit and led to greater government borrowing, which in turn pushed up interest rates and increased costs for businesses and consumers even further. With energy costs and interest rates high, business investment languished and unemployment rose to uncomfortable levels.
In desperation, President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) tried to combat economic weakness and unemployment by increasing government spending, and he established voluntary wage and price guidelines to control inflation. Both were largely unsuccessful. A perhaps more successful but less dramatic attack on inflation involved the "deregulation" of numerous industries, including airlines, trucking, and railroads. These industries had been tightly regulated, with government controlling routes and fares. Support for deregulation continued beyond the Carter administration. In the 1980s, the government relaxed controls on bank interest rates and long-distance telephone service, and in the 1990s it moved to ease regulation of local telephone service.
But the most important element in the war against inflation was the Federal Reserve Board, which clamped down hard on the money supply beginning in 1979. By refusing to supply all the money an inflation-ravaged economy wanted, the Fed caused interest rates to rise. As a result, consumer spending and business borrowing slowed abruptly. The economy soon fell into a deep recession.

The Economy in the 1980s
The nation endured a deep recession throughout 1982. Business bankruptcies rose 50 percent over the previous year. Farmers were especially hard hit, as agricultural exports declined, crop prices fell, and interest rates rose. But while the medicine of a sharp slowdown was hard to swallow, it did break the destructive cycle in which the economy had been caught. By 1983, inflation had eased, the economy had rebounded, and the United States began a sustained period of economic growth. The annual inflation rate remained under 5 percent throughout most of the 1980s and into the 1990s.
The economic upheaval of the 1970s had important political consequences. The American people expressed their discontent with federal policies by turning out Carter in 1980 and electing former Hollywood actor and California governor Ronald Reagan as president. Reagan (1981-1989) based his economic program on the theory of supply-side economics, which advocated reducing tax rates so people could keep more of what they earned. The theory was that lower tax rates would induce people to work harder and longer, and that this in turn would lead to more saving and investment, resulting in more production and stimulating overall economic growth. While the Reagan-inspired tax cuts served mainly to benefit wealthier Americans, the economic theory behind the cuts argued that benefits would extend to lower-income people as well because higher investment would lead new job opportunities and higher wages.
The central theme of Reagan's national agenda, however, was his belief that the federal government had become too big and intrusive. In the early 1980s, while he was cutting taxes, Reagan was also slashing social programs. Reagan also undertook a campaign throughout his tenure to reduce or eliminate government regulations affecting the consumer, the workplace, and the environment. At the same time, however, he feared that the United States had neglected its military in the wake of the Vietnam War, so he successfully pushed for big increases in defense spending.
The combination of tax cuts and higher military spending overwhelmed more modest reductions in spending on domestic programs. As a result, the federal budget deficit swelled even beyond the levels it had reached during the recession of the early 1980s. From $74,000 million in 1980, the federal budget deficit rose to $221,000 million in 1986. It fell back to $150,000 million in 1987, but then started growing again. Some economists worried that heavy spending and borrowing by the federal government would re-ignite inflation, but the Federal Reserve remained vigilant about controlling price increases, moving quickly to raise interest rates any time it seemed a threat. Under chairman Paul Volcker and his successor, Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve retained the central role of economic traffic cop, eclipsing Congress and the president in guiding the nation's economy.
The recovery that first built up steam in the early 1980s was not without its problems. Farmers, especially those operating small family farms, continued to face challenges in making a living, especially in 1986 and 1988, when the nation's mid-section was hit by serious droughts, and several years later when it suffered extensive flooding. Some banks faltered from a combination of tight money and unwise lending practices, particularly those known as savings and loan associations, which went on a spree of unwise lending after they were partially deregulated. The federal government had to close many of these institutions and pay off their depositors, at enormous cost to taxpayers.
While Reagan and his successor, George Bush (1989-1992), presided as communist regimes collapsed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the 1980s did not entirely erase the economic malaise that had gripped the country during the 1970s. The United States posted trade deficits in seven of the 10 years of the 1970s, and the trade deficit swelled throughout the 1980s. Rapidly growing economies in Asia appeared to be challenging America as economic powerhouses Japan, in particular, with its emphasis on long-term planning and close coordination among corporations, banks, and government, seemed to offer an alternative model for economic growth.
In the United States, meanwhile, "corporate raiders" bought various corporations whose stock prices were depressed and then restructured them, either by selling off some of their operations or by dismantling them piece by piece. In some cases, companies spent enormous sums to buy up their own stock or pay off raiders. Critics watched such battles with dismay, arguing that raiders were destroying good companies and causing grief for workers, many of whom lost their jobs in corporate restructuring moves. But others said the raiders made a meaningful contribution to the economy, either by taking over poorly managed companies, slimming them down, and making them profitable again, or by selling them off so that investors could take their profits and reinvest them in more productive companies.

The 1990s and Beyond
The 1990s brought a new president, Bill Clinton (1993-2000). A cautious, moderate Democrat, Clinton sounded some of the same themes as his predecessors. After unsuccessfully urging Congress to enact an ambitious proposal to expand health-insurance coverage, Clinton declared that the era of "big government" was over in America. He pushed to strengthen market forces in some sectors, working with Congress to open local telephone service to competition. He also joined Republicans to reduce welfare benefits. Still, although Clinton reduced the size of the federal work force, the government continued to play a crucial role in the nation's economy. Most of the major innovations of the New Deal, and a good many of the Great Society, remained in place. And the Federal Reserve system continued to regulate the overall pace of economic activity, with a watchful eye for any signs of renewed inflation.
The economy, meanwhile, turned in an increasingly healthy performance as the 1990s progressed. With the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communism in the late 1980s, trade opportunities expanded greatly. Technological developments brought a wide range of sophisticated new electronic products. Innovations in telecommunications and computer networking spawned a vast computer hardware and software industry and revolutionized the way many industries operate. The economy grew rapidly, and corporate earnings rose rapidly. Combined with low inflation and low unemployment, strong profits sent the stock market surging the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had stood at just 1,000 in the late 1970s, hit the 11,000 mark in 1999, adding substantially to the wealth of many -- though not all -- Americans.
Japan's economy, often considered a model by Americans in the 1980s, fell into a prolonged recession -- a development that led many economists to conclude that the more flexible, less planned, and more competitive American approach was, in fact, a better strategy for economic growth in the new, globally-integrated environment.
America's labor force changed markedly during the 1990s. Continuing a long-term trend, the number of farmers declined. A small portion of workers had jobs in industry, while a much greater share worked in the service sector, in jobs ranging from store clerks to financial planners. If steel and shoes were no longer American manufacturing mainstays, computers and the software that make them run were.
After peaking at $290,000 million in 1992, the federal budget steadily shrank as economic growth increased tax revenues. In 1998, the government posted its first surplus in 30 years, although a huge debt -- mainly in the form of promised future Social Security payments to the baby boomers -- remained. Economists, surprised at the combination of rapid growth and continued low inflation, debated whether the United States had a "new economy" capable of sustaining a faster growth rate than seemed possible based on the experiences of the previous 40 years.
Finally, the American economy was more closely intertwined with the global economy than it ever had been. Clinton, like his predecessors, had continued to push for elimination of trade barriers. A North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had further increased economic ties between the United States and its largest trading partners, Canada and Mexico. Asia, which had grown especially rapidly during the 1980s, joined Europe as a major supplier of finished goods and a market for American exports. Sophisticated worldwide telecommunications systems linked the world's financial markets in a way unimaginable even a few years earlier.
While many Americans remained convinced that global economic integration benefited all nations, the growing interdependence created some dislocations as well. Workers in high-technology industries -- at which the United States excelled -- fared rather well, but competition from many foreign countries that generally had lower labor costs tended to dampen wages in traditional manufacturing industries. Then, when the economies of Japan and other newly industrialized countries in Asia faltered in the late 1990s, shock waves rippled throughout the global financial system. American economic policy-makers found they increasingly had to weigh global economic conditions in charting a course for the domestic economy.
Still, Americans ended the 1990s with a restored sense of confidence. By the end of 1999, the economy had grown continuously since March 1991, the longest peacetime economic expansion in history. Unemployment totaled just 4.1 percent of the labor force in November 1999, the lowest rate in nearly 30 years. And consumer prices, which rose just 1.6 percent in 1998 (the smallest increase except for one year since 1964), climbed only somewhat faster in 1999 (2.4 percent through October). Many challenges lay ahead, but the nation had weathered the 20th century -- and the enormous changes it brought -- in good shape.


Contents

Attempts have been made to date recessions in America beginning in 1790. These periods of recession were not identified until the 1920s. To construct the dates, researchers studied business annals during the period and constructed time series of the data. The earliest recessions for which there is the most certainty are those that coincide with major financial crises. [8] [9]

Beginning in 1835, an index of business activity by the Cleveland Trust Company provides data for comparison between recessions. Beginning in 1854, the National Bureau of Economic Research dates recession peaks and troughs to the month. However, a standardized index does not exist for the earliest recessions. [8]

In 1791, Congress chartered the First Bank of the United States to handle the country's financial needs. The bank had some functions of a modern central bank, although it was responsible for only 20% of the young country's currency. In 1811 the bank's charter lapsed, but it was replaced by the Second Bank of the United States, which lasted from 1816 to 1836. [9]

In the 1830s, U.S. President Andrew Jackson fought to end the Second Bank of the United States. Following the Bank War, the Second Bank lost its charter in 1836. From 1837 to 1862, there was no national presence in banking, but still plenty of state and even local regulation, such as laws against branch banking which prevented diversification. In 1863, in response to financing pressures of the Civil War, Congress passed the National Banking Act, creating nationally chartered banks. There was neither a central bank nor deposit insurance during this era, and thus banking panics were common. Recessions often led to bank panics and financial crises, which in turn worsened the recession. [ citation needed ]

The dating of recessions during this period is controversial. Modern economic statistics, such as gross domestic product and unemployment, were not gathered during this period. Victor Zarnowitz evaluated a variety of indices to measure the severity of these recessions. From 1834 to 1929, one measure of recessions is the Cleveland Trust Company index, which measured business activity and, beginning in 1882, an index of trade and industrial activity was available, which can be used to compare recessions. [nb 3]

Following the end of World War II and the large adjustment as the economy adjusted from wartime to peacetime in 1945, the collection of many economic indicators, such as unemployment and GDP, became standardized. Recessions after World War II may be compared to each other much more easily than previous recessions because of these available data. The listed dates and durations are from the official chronology of the National Bureau of Economic Research. [6] GDP data are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, unemployment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (after 1948). The unemployment rate often reaches a peak associated with a recession after the recession has officially ended. [38]

Until the start of the COVID-19 recession in 2020, no post-World War II era came anywhere near the depth of the Great Depression. In the Great Depression, GDP fell by 27% (the deepest after demobilization is the recession beginning in December 2007, during which GDP has fallen 5.1% as of the second quarter of 2009) and unemployment rate reached 10% (the highest since was the 10.8% rate reached during the 1981–82 recession). [39]

The National Bureau of Economic Research dates recessions on a monthly basis back to 1854 according to their chronology, from 1854 to 1919, there were 16 cycles. The average recession lasted 22 months, and the average expansion 27. From 1919 to 1945, there were six cycles recessions lasted an average 18 months and expansions for 35. From 1945 to 2001, and 10 cycles, recessions lasted an average 10 months and expansions an average of 57 months. [6] This has prompted some economists to declare that the business cycle has become less severe. [40]

Many factors that may have contributed to this moderation including the establishment of deposit insurance in the form of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933 and increased regulation of the banking sector. [41] [42] [43] Other changes include the use of fiscal policy in the form of automatic stabilizers to alleviate cyclical volatility. [44] [45] The creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913 has been disputed as a source of stability with it and its policies having mixed successes. [46] [47] Since the early 1980s the sources of the Great Moderation has been attributed to numerous causes including public policy, industry practices, technology, and even good luck. [48] [49]

Aug 1929–Mar 1933 Oct 1929–Dec 1941

Since 2017, a major global slowdown in growth has been taking place in many countries of the world, and several European governments have had economic crises. These measures began to be exacerbated in September 2019, when the Federal Reserve had to begin interventions in the repo market after the overnight lending rate spiked above the Fed's target rate in an attempt to keep the economy afloat due to a liquidity issue. The Fed's efforts began to fail when the first documented case of COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China in November 2019. The government in China first instituted travel restrictions, quarantines and stay-at-home orders. When efforts to contain the virus in China were unsuccessful, other countries instituted similar measures in an attempt to contain and slow the spread of the virus, which prompted many cities to close. The initial outbreak expanded into a global pandemic. The economic effects of the pandemic were severe. More than 24 million people lost jobs in the United States in just three weeks. [83] Official economic impact of the virus is still being determined but the stock market responded negatively to the shock to supply chains, primarily in technology industries. [84] [85] [ needs update ]


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Nobody knew, as the stock market imploded in October 1929, that years of depression lay ahead and that the market would stay seized up for years. In its regular summation of the president’s week after Black Tuesday (Oct. 29), TIME put the market crash in the No. 2 position, after devastating storms in the Great Lakes region. TIME described the stock-swoon this way: “For so many months, so many people had saved money and borrowed money and borrowed on their borrowings to possess themselves of the little pieces of paper by virtue of which they became partners of U.S. Industry. Now they were trying to get rid of them even more frantically than they had tried to get them. Stocks bought without reference to their earnings were being sold without reference to their dividends.” The crisis that began that autumn and led into the Great Depression would not fully resolve for a decade.

Read the Nov. 4, 1929, issue, here in the TIME Vault:Bankers v. Panic

Here&rsquos proof that the every-seven-years formulation hasn&rsquot always held true: The OPEC oil embargo is widely viewed as the first major, discrete event after the Crash of 󈧡 to have deep, wide-ranging economic effects that lasted for years. OPEC, responding to the United States’ involvement in the Yom Kippur War, froze oil production and hiked prices several times beginning on October 16. Oil prices eventually quadrupled, meaning that gas prices soared. The embargo, TIME warned in the days after it started, “could easily lead to cold homes, hospitals and schools, shuttered factories, slower travel, brownouts, consumer rationing, aggravated inflation and even worsened air pollution in the U.S., Europe and Japan.”

Read the 1973 cover story, here in the TIME Vault:The Oil Squeeze

The recession of the early 1980s lasted from July 1981 to November of the following year, and was marked by high interest rates, high unemployment and rising prices. Unlike market-crash-caused crises, it’s impossible to pin this one to a particular date. TIME&rsquos cover story of Feb. 8, 1982, is as good a place as any to take a sounding. Titled simply “Unemployment on the Rise,” the article examined the dire landscape and groped for solutions that would only come with an upturn in the business cycle at the end of the year. “For the first time in years, polls show that more Americans are worried about unemployment than inflation,” TIME reported. A White House source told TIME: “If unemployment breaks 10%, we’re in big trouble.&rdquo Unemployment peaked the following November at 10.8%.

Read the 1982 cover story, here in the TIME Vault:Unemployment: The Biggest Worry

If the meaning of the Crash of 󈧡 was underappreciated at the time it happened, the meaning of Black Monday 1987 was probably overblown&mdashthough understandably, given what happened. The 508-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on October 19 was, and remains, the biggest one-day percentage loss in the Dow’s history. But the reverberations weren’t all that severe by historical standards. “Almost an entire nation become paralyzed with curiosity and concern,” TIME reported. “Crowds gathered to watch the electronic tickers in brokers’ offices or stare at television monitors through plate-glass windows. In downtown Boston, police ordered a Fidelity Investments branch to turn off its ticker because a throng of nervous investors had spilled out onto Congress Street and was blocking traffic.”

Read the 1987 cover story, here in the TIME Vault:The Crash

The dot-com bubble deflated relatively slowly, and haltingly, over more than two years, but it was nevertheless a discrete, identifiable crash that paved the way for the early-2000s recession. Fueled by speculation in tech and Internet stocks, many of dubious real value, the Nasdaq peaked on March 10, 2000, at 5132. Stocks were volatile for years before and after the peak, and didn’t reach their lows until November of 2002. In an article in the Jan. 8, 2001, issue, TIME reported that market problems had spread throughout the economy. The “distress is no longer confined to young dotcommers who got rich fast and lorded it over the rest of us. And it’s no longer confined to the stock market. The economic uprising that rocked eToys, Priceline.com, Pets.com and all the other www. s has now spread to blue-chip tech companies and Old Economy stalwarts.”

Read the 2001 cover story, here in the TIME Vault:How to Survive the Slump

On Sept. 15, 2008, after rounds of negotiations between Wall Street executives and government officials, Lehman Bros. collapsed into bankruptcy. And so did AIG. Merrill Lynch was forced to sell itself to Bank of America. And that was just the beginning. TIME pulled no punches in its September 29 cover story, titled “How Wall Street Sold Out America” and written by Andy Serwer and Allan Sloan. “If you’re having a little trouble coping with what seems to be the complete unraveling of the world’s financial system, you needn’t feel bad about yourself,” the men wrote. “It’s horribly confusing, not to say terrifying even people like us, with a combined 65 years of writing about business, have never seen anything like what’s going on. They advised readers that “the four most dangerous words in the world for your financial health are ‘This time, it’s different.’ It’s never different. It’s always the same, but with bigger numbers.”

Read the 2008 cover story, here in the TIME Vault: How Wall Street Sold Out America


Unites States Economy - History

It’s easy to rank sports teams. There are a clear set of rules, a clear scoring system, and a transparent record of the teams’ past wins and losses.

Ranking US presidents, on the other hand, is nearly impossible. First, what is important? Which topics should be scored and which ignored? And even if something is important enough to consider, how do you assign points? How do you measure the effect of a president’s actions in the short-term and the long-term?

Dozens of publications and organizations have attempted to do so, from the Wall Street Journal to History News Network to the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of London. Those serious about the rankings attempt to minimize the bias that such a ranking necessarily includes. Such surveys usually put the larger-than-life American heroes high on the list—such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, JFK, and Thomas Jefferson—and disliked or even disgraced presidents at the bottom, such as Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

But for The 5-Minute Economist, the inevitable question is simple: how well did the economy do under their watch? Did presidents’ policies improve the performance of the economy or not?

As we’ve already said, we can’t ascribe the failure of the economy to one person anymore than we can credit its success to them. We have to believe, though, that a president’s policies and decisions must have some effect on the economy. Logically, the longer the president is in office, the greater that effect should be.

Therefore, to rank US presidents, in this study we’re going to rank them according to the difference in the EPI score from their first full year in office to their last full year. We offer the rankings of all the presidents in a table at the end of this section, but to begin with, let’s focus on post-WWII presidents:

So Ronald Reagan leads the pack with an astounding 15% increase in the EPI from when he took office until he handed the reins to George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter bring up the rear with a cringe-inducing decrease of more than 10%. Let’s break down all eleven and see what contributed to how these leaders wound up with the scores they did.

(1) RONALD REAGAN (R) 1981-1989

President Reagan gets an advantage in this particular ranking because the economy was doing so poorly to begin with when he took office the EPI scored it at 76.4% in 1981. Despite what many fiscal conservatives assert, he presided over a collection of fiscally expansive policies, from defense spending to greater social welfare programs, that tripled the national debt. Combine that with a marked reduction in federal income taxes and it sounds like a recipe for disaster. However, the Federal Reserve tightening of the money supply tamed inflation and GDP growth picked up in the mid-1980s, with unemployment dropping to 5.3% by the end of his term.
The result: an EPI score of 90.8%, making his presidency the best—economically—in recent history.

(2) BARACK OBAMA (D) 2009-2016

Similarly, President Obama gets a boost because of how bad things were when he took office. The global financial crisis was just getting underway and the US economy was performing at 74.5%, worse than when Reagan took office. In spite of a breath-taking spending surge, the economy has scored high at the end of his term. After taking eight years to recover, the US and wider global economies have rebounded. Moderate GDP growth and low unemployment, combined with a stable inflation rate, allow President Obama to leave an economic legacy to rival Reagan’s.

(3) BILL CLINTON (D) 1993-2001

You would probably have expected President Clinton to score high on this list. The 1990s were a period of almost unprecedented growth in US history, fueled by a surge in global trade, the rise of the tech sector, and undiminished economic growth in nearly every sector. At the same time, inflation, unemployment, and the federal deficit all fell. If you ranked the presidents by the average EPI score during their term (instead of the change), Clinton actually scores higher than Reagan and Obama. Furthermore, President Clinton’s last full year in office was just as the tech bubble was popping and years before the housing crisis.

(4) JOHN F. KENNEDY (D) 1961-1963, (6) DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (R) 1953-1961, AND (7) LYNDON B. JOHNSON (D) 1963-1969

The fourth, sixth and seventh places go to Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Johnson respectively. The span of these terms from 1953 to 1969 encompasses the “golden age of capitalism”— the post-war prosperity years. Growth happened almost magically, jobs abounded, the global demand for American goods kept inflation down yet wages up, and the middle class rose to a new standard of living. The average EPI score during this period was about 96.5%, a solid A, for nearly two decades.
Despite this prosperity, the presidents’ rankings aren’t that impressive. Kennedy experienced a scant 3.0% increase. Eisenhower and Johnson both lost ground with -3.2% and -4.2% respectively. Although they presided over one of the greatest periods of economic success in US history, individually their impact seems negligible.

(5) GEORGE H. W. BUSH (R) 1989-1993

President George H. W. Bush falls squarely in the middle of these eleven leaders, losing 3.2% from assuming the office from Reagan. Still, he left the economy running at 88.3%, a fine C+ performance as far as the EPI is concerned. He might have performed better, but a slowdown in the economy from its rampant growth in the 80s, combined with a ballooning federal deficit (not helped by the war in the Middle East) left him with an economy that ultimately cost him the presidency.

(9) GEORGE W. BUSH (R) 2001-2009

George W. Bush’s policies certainly didn’t help the economy avoid the Great Recession and whether the ensuing global financial crisis. Like his father, he took office immediately after a period of fantastic economic growth, so it would have been difficult to leave the White House with the economy in even better shape. However, between his rounds of tax cuts, rebate checks, and funding two international wars plus the war on terror, the debt-to-GDP ratio increased precipitously. When he handed the presidency to Barack Obama, the economy was already slipping into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

(8) GERALD FORD (R) 1974-1977, (10) RICHARD NIXON(R) 1969-1974, AND (11) JIMMY CARTER (D) 1977-1981

After two decades of growth under Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Johnson, the economy slid into a decade of the doldrums under Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Although many historians state the post-war prosperity period lasted until the recession of 1973, the EPI clearly shows the economy began deteriorating in the late 1960s, as inflation and the federal deficit grew while GDP growth slowed.
Historians tend to agree that the political leadership and economic policies of these presidents were particularly weak and misguided. Such examples include Bretton Woods, where the American dollar was unlinked from the gold standard, wage and price controls, the expansion of unsustainable social insurance programs, the unsuccessful “Whip Inflation Now” initiative, “windfall taxes” on energy, and more.
Altogether, this was a period of high inflation, high interest rates, vastly increased government spending, start-and-stall economic growth, and misguided fiscal and economic policies in which each president left the economy worse off than when they found it.

RANKING OF ALL PRESIDENTS

If we’re going to judge presidents solely on the difference between when they took office and when they stepped down, though, we need to see all of them to have some context.
Interestingly enough, the president almost universally acknowledged to be the best since the founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln, ranks dead last for average EPI during his office. Obviously, a president’s legacy really is about more than just “the economy, stupid.”


Unites States Economy - History

The modern American economy traces its roots to the quest of European settlers for economic gain in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The New World then progressed from a marginally successful colonial economy to a small, independent farming economy and, eventually, to a highly complex industrial economy. During this evolution, the United States developed ever more complex institutions to match its growth. And while government involvement in the economy has been a consistent theme, the extent of that involvement generally has increased.
North America's first inhabitants were Native Americans -- indigenous peoples who are believed to have traveled to America about 20,000 years earlier across a land bridge from Asia, where the Bering Strait is today. (They were mistakenly called "Indians" by European explorers, who thought they had reached India when first landing in the Americas.) These native peoples were organized in tribes and, in some cases, confederations of tribes. While they traded among themselves, they had little contact with peoples on other continents, even with other native peoples in South America, before European settlers began arriving. What economic systems they did develop were destroyed by the Europeans who settled their lands.
Vikings were the first Europeans to "discover" America. But the event, which occurred around the year 1000, went largely unnoticed at the time, most of European society was still firmly based on agriculture and land ownership. Commerce had not yet assumed the importance that would provide an impetus to the further exploration and settlement of North America.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailing under the Spanish flag, set out to find a southwest passage to Asia and discovered a "New World." For the next 100 years, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French explorers sailed from Europe for the New World, looking for gold, riches, honor, and glory.
But the North American wilderness offered early explorers little glory and less gold, so most did not stay. The people who eventually did settle North America arrived later. In 1607, a band of Englishmen built the first permanent settlement in what was to become the United States. The settlement, Jamestown, was located in the present-day state of Virginia.


Unites States Economy - History

How the
U.S. Economy
Works
In every economic system, entrepreneurs and managers bring together natural resources, labor, and technology to produce and distribute goods and services. But the way these different elements are organized and used also reflects a nation's political ideals and its culture.
The United States is often described as a "capitalist" economy, a term coined by 19th-century German economist and social theorist Karl Marx to describe a system in which a small group of people who control large amounts of money, or capital, make the most important economic decisions. Marx contrasted capitalist economies to "socialist" ones, which vest more power in the political system. Marx and his followers believed that capitalist economies concentrate power in the hands of wealthy business people, who aim mainly to maximize profits socialist economies, on the other hand, would be more likely to feature greater control by government, which tends to put political aims -- a more equal distribution of society's resources, for instance -- ahead of profits.
While those categories, though oversimplified, have elements of truth to them, they are far less relevant today. If the pure capitalism described by Marx ever existed, it has long since disappeared, as governments in the United States and many other countries have intervened in their economies to limit concentrations of power and address many of the social problems associated with unchecked private commercial interests. As a result, the American economy is perhaps better described as a "mixed" economy, with government playing an important role along with private enterprise.
Although Americans often disagree about exactly where to draw the line between their beliefs in both free enterprise and government management, the mixed economy they have developed has been remarkably successful.

Basic Ingredients of the U.S. Economy
The first ingredient of a nation's economic system is its natural resources. The United States is rich in mineral resources and fertile farm soil, and it is blessed with a moderate climate. It also has extensive coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as on the Gulf of Mexico. Rivers flow from far within the continent, and the Great Lakes -- five large, inland lakes along the U.S. border with Canada -- provide additional shipping access. These extensive waterways have helped shape the country's economic growth over the years and helped bind America's 50 individual states together in a single economic unit.
The second ingredient is labor, which converts natural resources into goods. The number of available workers and, more importantly, their productivity help determine the health of an economy. Throughout its history, the United States has experienced steady growth in the labor force, and that, in turn, has helped fuel almost constant economic expansion. Until shortly after World War I, most workers were immigrants from Europe, their immediate descendants, or African-Americans whose ancestors were brought to the Americas as slaves. In the early years of the 20th century, large numbers of Asians immigrated to the United States, while many Latin American immigrants came in later years.
Although the United States has experienced some periods of high unemployment and other times when labor was in short supply, immigrants tended to come when jobs were plentiful. Often willing to work for somewhat lower wages than acculturated workers, they generally prospered, earning far more than they would have in their native lands. The nation prospered as well, so that the economy grew fast enough to absorb even more newcomers.
The quality of available labor -- how hard people are willing to work and how skilled they are -- is at least as important to a country's economic success as the number of workers. In the early days of the United States, frontier life required hard work, and what is known as the Protestant work ethic reinforced that trait. A strong emphasis on education, including technical and vocational training, also contributed to America's economic success, as did a willingness to experiment and to change.
Labor mobility has likewise been important to the capacity of the American economy to adapt to changing conditions. When immigrants flooded labor markets on the East Coast, many workers moved inland, often to farmland waiting to be tilled. Similarly, economic opportunities in industrial, northern cities attracted black Americans from southern farms in the first half of the 20th century.
Labor-force quality continues to be an important issue. Today, Americans consider "human capital" a key to success in numerous modern, high-technology industries. As a result, government leaders and business officials increasingly stress the importance of education and training to develop workers with the kind of nimble minds and adaptable skills needed in new industries such as computers and telecommunications.
But natural resources and labor account for only part of an economic system. These resources must be organized and directed as efficiently as possible. In the American economy, managers, responding to signals from markets, perform this function. The traditional managerial structure in America is based on a top-down chain of command authority flows from the chief executive in the boardroom, who makes sure that the entire business runs smoothly and efficiently, through various lower levels of management responsible for coordinating different parts of the enterprise, down to the foreman on the shop floor. Numerous tasks are divided among different divisions and workers. In early 20th-century America, this specialization, or division of labor, was said to reflect "scientific management" based on systematic analysis.
Many enterprises continue to operate with this traditional structure, but others have taken changing views on management. Facing heightened global competition, American businesses are seeking more flexible organization structures, especially in high-technology industries that employ skilled workers and must develop, modify, and even customize products rapidly. Excessive hierarchy and division of labor increasingly are thought to inhibit creativity. As a result, many companies have "flattened" their organizational structures, reduced the number of managers, and delegated more authority to interdisciplinary teams of workers.
Before managers or teams of workers can produce anything, of course, they must be organized into business ventures. In the United States, the corporation has proved to be an effective device for accumulating the funds needed to launch a new business or to expand an existing one. The corporation is a voluntary association of owners, known as stockholders, who form a business enterprise governed by a complex set of rules and customs.
Corporations must have financial resources to acquire the resources they need to produce goods or services. They raise the necessary capital largely by selling stock (ownership shares in their assets) or bonds (long-term loans of money) to insurance companies, banks, pension funds, individuals, and other investors. Some institutions, especially banks, also lend money directly to corporations or other business enterprises. Federal and state governments have developed detailed rules and regulations to ensure the safety and soundness of this financial system and to foster the free flow of information so investors can make well-informed decisions.
The gross domestic product measures the total output of goods and services in a given year. In the United States it has been growing steadily, rising from more than $3.4 trillion in 1983 to around $8.5 trillion by 1998. But while these figures help measure the economy's health, they do not gauge every aspect of national well-being. GDP shows the market value of the goods and services an economy produces, but it does not weigh a nation's quality of life. And some important variables -- personal happiness and security, for instance, or a clean environment and good health -- are entirely beyond its scope.

A Mixed Economy: The Role of the Market
The United States is said to have a mixed economy because privately owned businesses and government both play important roles. Indeed, some of the most enduring debates of American economic history focus on the relative roles of the public and private sectors.
The American free enterprise system emphasizes private ownership. Private businesses produce most goods and services, and almost two-thirds of the nation's total economic output goes to individuals for personal use (the remaining one-third is bought by government and business). The consumer role is so great, in fact, that the nation is sometimes characterized as having a "consumer economy."
This emphasis on private ownership arises, in part, from American beliefs about personal freedom. From the time the nation was created, Americans have feared excessive government power, and they have sought to limit government's authority over individuals -- including its role in the economic realm. In addition, Americans generally believe that an economy characterized by private ownership is likely to operate more efficiently than one with substantial government ownership.
Why? When economic forces are unfettered, Americans believe, supply and demand determine the prices of goods and services. Prices, in turn, tell businesses what to produce if people want more of a particular good than the economy is producing, the price of the good rises. That catches the attention of new or other companies that, sensing an opportunity to earn profits, start producing more of that good. On the other hand, if people want less of the good, prices fall and less competitive producers either go out of business or start producing different goods. Such a system is called a market economy. A socialist economy, in contrast, is characterized by more government ownership and central planning. Most Americans are convinced that socialist economies are inherently less efficient because government, which relies on tax revenues, is far less likely than private businesses to heed price signals or to feel the discipline imposed by market forces.
There are limits to free enterprise, however. Americans have always believed that some services are better performed by public rather than private enterprise. For instance, in the United States, government is primarily responsible for the administration of justice, education (although there are many private schools and training centers), the road system, social statistical reporting, and national defense. In addition, government often is asked to intervene in the economy to correct situations in which the price system does not work. It regulates "natural monopolies," for example, and it uses antitrust laws to control or break up other business combinations that become so powerful that they can surmount market forces. Government also addresses issues beyond the reach of market forces. It provides welfare and unemployment benefits to people who cannot support themselves, either because they encounter problems in their personal lives or lose their jobs as a result of economic upheaval it pays much of the cost of medical care for the aged and those who live in poverty it regulates private industry to limit air and water pollution it provides low-cost loans to people who suffer losses as a result of natural disasters and it has played the leading role in the exploration of space, which is too expensive for any private enterprise to handle.
In this mixed economy, individuals can help guide the economy not only through the choices they make as consumers but through the votes they cast for officials who shape economic policy. In recent years, consumers have voiced concerns about product safety, environmental threats posed by certain industrial practices, and potential health risks citizens may face government has responded by creating agencies to protect consumer interests and promote the general public welfare.
The U.S. economy has changed in other ways as well. The population and the labor force have shifted dramatically away from farms to cities, from fields to factories, and, above all, to service industries. In today's economy, the providers of personal and public services far outnumber producers of agricultural and manufactured goods. As the economy has grown more complex, statistics also reveal over the last century a sharp long-term trend away from self-employment toward working for others.

Government's Role in the Economy
While consumers and producers make most decisions that mold the economy, government activities have a powerful effect on the U.S. economy in at least four areas.
Stabilization and Growth. Perhaps most importantly, the federal government guides the overall pace of economic activity, attempting to maintain steady growth, high levels of employment, and price stability. By adjusting spending and tax rates (fiscal policy) or managing the money supply and controlling the use of credit (monetary policy), it can slow down or speed up the economy's rate of growth -- in the process, affecting the level of prices and employment.
For many years following the Great Depression of the 1930s, recessions -- periods of slow economic growth and high unemployment -- were viewed as the greatest of economic threats. When the danger of recession appeared most serious, government sought to strengthen the economy by spending heavily itself or cutting taxes so that consumers would spend more, and by fostering rapid growth in the money supply, which also encouraged more spending. In the 1970s, major price increases, particularly for energy, created a strong fear of inflation -- increases in the overall level of prices. As a result, government leaders came to concentrate more on controlling inflation than on combating recession by limiting spending, resisting tax cuts, and reining in growth in the money supply.
Ideas about the best tools for stabilizing the economy changed substantially between the 1960s and the 1990s. In the 1960s, government had great faith in fiscal policy -- manipulation of government revenues to influence the economy. Since spending and taxes are controlled by the president and the Congress, these elected officials played a leading role in directing the economy. A period of high inflation, high unemployment, and huge government deficits weakened confidence in fiscal policy as a tool for regulating the overall pace of economic activity. Instead, monetary policy -- controlling the nation's money supply through such devices as interest rates -- assumed growing prominence. Monetary policy is directed by the nation's central bank, known as the Federal Reserve Board, with considerable independence from the president and the Congress..
Regulation and Control. The U.S. federal government regulates private enterprise in numerous ways. Regulation falls into two general categories. Economic regulation seeks, either directly or indirectly, to control prices. Traditionally, the government has sought to prevent monopolies such as electric utilities from raising prices beyond the level that would ensure them reasonable profits. At times, the government has extended economic control to other kinds of industries as well. In the years following the Great Depression, it devised a complex system to stabilize prices for agricultural goods, which tend to fluctuate wildly in response to rapidly changing supply and demand. A number of other industries -- trucking and, later, airlines -- successfully sought regulation themselves to limit what they considered harmful price-cutting.
Another form of economic regulation, antitrust law, seeks to strengthen market forces so that direct regulation is unnecessary. The government -- and, sometimes, private parties -- have used antitrust law to prohibit practices or mergers that would unduly limit competition.
Government also exercises control over private companies to achieve social goals, such as protecting the public's health and safety or maintaining a clean and healthy environment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans harmful drugs, for example the Occupational Safety and Health Administration protects workers from hazards they may encounter in their jobs and the Environmental Protection Agency seeks to control water and air pollution.
American attitudes about regulation changed substantially during the final three decades of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1970s, policy-makers grew increasingly concerned that economic regulation protected inefficient companies at the expense of consumers in industries such as airlines and trucking. At the same time, technological changes spawned new competitors in some industries, such as telecommunications, that once were considered natural monopolies. Both developments led to a succession of laws easing regulation.
While leaders of both political parties generally favored economic deregulation during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, there was less agreement concerning regulations designed to achieve social goals. Social regulation had assumed growing importance in the years following the Depression and World War II, and again in the 1960s and 1970s. But during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the government relaxed rules to protect workers, consumers, and the environment, arguing that regulation interfered with free enterprise, increased the costs of doing business, and thus contributed to inflation. Still, many Americans continued to voice concerns about specific events or trends, prompting the government to issue new regulations in some areas, including environmental protection.
Some citizens, meanwhile, have turned to the courts when they feel their elected officials are not addressing certain issues quickly or strongly enough. For instance, in the 1990s, individuals, and eventually government itself, sued tobacco companies over the health risks of cigarette smoking. A large financial settlement provided states with long-term payments to cover medical costs to treat smoking-related illnesses.
Direct Services. Each level of government provides many direct services. The federal government, for example, is responsible for national defense, backs research that often leads to the development of new products, conducts space exploration, and runs numerous programs designed to help workers develop workplace skills and find jobs. Government spending has a significant effect on local and regional economies -- and even on the overall pace of economic activity.
State governments, meanwhile, are responsible for the construction and maintenance of most highways. State, county, or city governments play the leading role in financing and operating public schools. Local governments are primarily responsible for police and fire protection. Government spending in each of these areas can also affect local and regional economies, although federal decisions generally have the greatest economic impact.
Overall, federal, state, and local spending accounted for almost 18 percent of gross domestic product in 1997.
Direct Assistance. Government also provides many kinds of help to businesses and individuals. It offers low-interest loans and technical assistance to small businesses, and it provides loans to help students attend college. Government-sponsored enterprises buy home mortgages from lenders and turn them into securities that can be bought and sold by investors, thereby encouraging home lending. Government also actively promotes exports and seeks to prevent foreign countries from maintaining trade barriers that restrict imports.
Government supports individuals who cannot adequately care for themselves. Social Security, which is financed by a tax on employers and employees, accounts for the largest portion of Americans' retirement income. The Medicare program pays for many of the medical costs of the elderly. The Medicaid program finances medical care for low-income families. In many states, government maintains institutions for the mentally ill or people with severe disabilities. The federal government provides Food Stamps to help poor families obtain food, and the federal and state governments jointly provide welfare grants to support low-income parents with children.
Many of these programs, including Social Security, trace their roots to the "New Deal" programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served as the U.S. president from 1933 to 1945. Key to Roosevelt's reforms was a belief that poverty usually resulted from social and economic causes rather than from failed personal morals. This view repudiated a common notion whose roots lay in New England Puritanism that success was a sign of God's favor and failure a sign of God's displeasure. This was an important transformation in American social and economic thought. Even today, however, echoes of the older notions are still heard in debates around certain issues, especially welfare.
Many other assistance programs for individuals and families, including Medicare and Medicaid, were begun in the 1960s during President Lyndon Johnson's (1963-1969) "War on Poverty." Although some of these programs encountered financial difficulties in the 1990s and various reforms were proposed, they continued to have strong support from both of the United States' major political parties. Critics argued, however, that providing welfare to unemployed but healthy individuals actually created dependency rather than solving problems. Welfare reform legislation enacted in 1996 under President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) requires people to work as a condition of receiving benefits and imposes limits on how long individuals may receive payments.

Poverty and Inequality
Americans are proud of their economic system, believing it provides opportunities for all citizens to have good lives. Their faith is clouded, however, by the fact that poverty persists in many parts of the country. Government anti-poverty efforts have made some progress but have not eradicated the problem. Similarly, periods of strong economic growth, which bring more jobs and higher wages, have helped reduce poverty but have not eliminated it entirely.
The federal government defines a minimum amount of income necessary for basic maintenance of a family of four. This amount may fluctuate depending on the cost of living and the location of the family. In 1998, a family of four with an annual income below $16,530 was classified as living in poverty.
The percentage of people living below the poverty level dropped from 22.4 percent in 1959 to 11.4 percent in 1978. But since then, it has fluctuated in a fairly narrow range. In 1998, it stood at 12.7 percent.
What is more, the overall figures mask much more severe pockets of poverty. In 1998, more than one-quarter of all African-Americans (26.1 percent) lived in poverty though distressingly high, that figure did represent an improvement from 1979, when 31 percent of blacks were officially classified as poor, and it was the lowest poverty rate for this group since 1959. Families headed by single mothers are particularly susceptible to poverty. Partly as a result of this phenomenon, almost one in five children (18.9 percent) was poor in 1997. The poverty rate was 36.7 percent among African-American children and 34.4 percent among Hispanic children.
Some analysts have suggested that the official poverty figures overstate the real extent of poverty because they measure only cash income and exclude certain government assistance programs such as Food Stamps, health care, and public housing. Others point out, however, that these programs rarely cover all of a family's food or health care needs and that there is a shortage of public housing. Some argue that even families whose incomes are above the official poverty level sometimes go hungry, skimping on food to pay for such things as housing, medical care, and clothing. Still others point out that people at the poverty level sometimes receive cash income from casual work and in the "underground" sector of the economy, which is never recorded in official statistics.
In any event, it is clear that the American economic system does not apportion its rewards equally. In 1997, the wealthiest one-fifth of American families accounted for 47.2 percent of the nation's income, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based research organization. In contrast, the poorest one-fifth earned just 4.2 percent of the nation's income, and the poorest 40 percent accounted for only 14 percent of income.
Despite the generally prosperous American economy as a whole, concerns about inequality continued during the 1980s and 1990s. Increasing global competition threatened workers in many traditional manufacturing industries, and their wages stagnated. At the same time, the federal government edged away from tax policies that sought to favor lower-income families at the expense of wealthier ones, and it also cut spending on a number of domestic social programs intended to help the disadvantaged. Meanwhile, wealthier families reaped most of the gains from the booming stock market.
In the late 1990s, there were some signs these patterns were reversing, as wage gains accelerated -- especially among poorer workers. But at the end of the decade, it was still too early to determine whether this trend would continue.


United States Economic Growth

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Population (million)321323325327329
GDP per capita (USD)56,78757,90160,00062,86965,076
GDP (USD bn)18,22518,71519,51920,58021,428
Economic Growth (GDP, annual variation in %)2.91.62.42.92.3
Domestic Demand (annual variation in %)3.61.92.63.12.4
Consumption (annual variation in %)3.72.72.63.02.6
Investment (annual variation in %)3.41.94.24.61.3
Exports (G&S, annual variation in %)0.50.03.53.00.0
Imports (G&S, annual variation in %)5.32.04.74.41.0
Industrial Production (annual variation in %)-1.0-2.02.33.90.9
Retail Sales (annual variation in %)2.63.04.34.53.6
Unemployment Rate5.34.94.33.93.7
Fiscal Balance (% of GDP)-2.4-3.1-3.4-3.8-4.6
Public Debt (% of GDP)104107105107108
Money (annual variation in %)5.86.85.73.95.1
Inflation Rate (CPI, annual variation in %, eop)0.62.12.11.92.3
Inflation Rate (CPI, annual variation in %)0.11.32.12.41.8
Inflation (PPI, annual variation in %)-0.90.42.32.91.7
Policy Interest Rate (%)0.500.751.502.501.75
Stock Market (annual variation in %)-2.213.425.1-5.622.3
Current Account (% of GDP)-2.2-2.3-2.3-2.4-2.3
Current Account Balance (USD bn)-407.8-428.4-439.7-491.0-498.4
Trade Balance (USD billion)-761.9-749.8-799.4-880.3-864.3

The Cambridge Economic History of the United States

This book has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Online publication date: March 2008
  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online ISBN: 9781139053815
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087
  • Subjects: American History: General Interest, Economics: General Interest, Area Studies, American Studies, History, Economic History
  • Series: Cambridge Economic History of the United States
  • Collection: Cambridge Histories - American History

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Book description

Volume III surveys the economic history of the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean during the twentieth century. Its chapters trace the century's major events, notably the Great Depression and the two world wars, as well as its long-term trends, such as changing technology, the rise of the corporate economy, and the development of labor law. The book also discusses agriculture, population, labor markets, and urban and regional structural changes. Other chapters examine inequality and poverty, trade and foreign relations, government regulation and the public sector, and banking and finance.

Reviews

‘It should already be on the shelves of any reader of this journal … reviewing this book is somewhat like reviewing the Bible. This History is also a Very Good Book … This volume and its companions should find shelf space in the personal libraries of all serious professional historians of the United States, not just of those with an interest in the institutions of a dynamic market economy and a capitalist republic … this volume is enormously impressive.’

Source: Enterprise and Society

‘ … an essential reference text for libraries and a valuable starting point for business historians interested in the US, comparative studies or aspects of business-government relations. All elements in the boo are impressive and valuable.’

‘These books definitely should be on the shelf, or easily available in the library, of every professional economic historian … they provide a rich treasure of information, analysis, and insight. The publisher, editors, and authors all are to be congratulated for producing this exemplar work of economic history.’


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