When is a recession not a recession? When it’s a diversion!

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Now that the American economy has shrunk in the first two quarters of 2022, Republicans and Democrats are squabbling over whether we are in a recession.

So what is a recession? As Justice Potter Stewart once wrote about pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

But do we?

Conservative media started fretting about a recession months ago, beating the drum more frequently as the second-quarter GDP report approached. Once the numbers were out, Fox News White House reporter Peter Doocy challenged White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre about whether the White House was redefining the term “recession.”

As with so many he-said-she-said arguments, apparently they’re both right. And they’re both wrong.

When this same argument arose in 2008, at the beginning of the Great Recession, CNN published this explainer. In 1974, economist Julius Shiskin defined certain characteristics of a recession, including an extended economic slowdown. Many interpret “extended” to mean six months or more.

Even so, there seems to be no hard-and-fast rule about what a recession looks like. You certainly can’t trust Wikipedia, where editors attempted to redefine the term 41 times in one week, the Daily Caller reported.

From that article: The White House argued the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and lasts more than a few months,” and looks to various factors including inflation-adjusted income, consumption expenditures and industrial production, and various employment statistics.

That includes rising unemployment, which is quite the opposite of today’s labor situation.

Officially, a recession is whatever the National Bureau of Economic Research says it is.

So what?

But here’s the bottom line: It doesn’t matter!

The point is moot. Republicans want to label this as the “Biden recession” during a midterm election year. Democrats obviously want the opposite.

Whether we are technically in a recession or not, the economy is in trouble. Neither side really wants to do anything about it. Nor is there much they can do. There is no quick fix.

Blame is always so much easier to find than solutions.

For a clear explanation of why this recession is so difficult, listen to this podcast from WSJ’s “The Journal.”

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