Larry Summers On This Week: 'Everyone Agrees The Recession Is Over'

Isn't that great news? He also told George Stephanopoulos on This Week there will be "growth in the spring." (Just like Chauncy Gardiner in "Being The
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Isn't that great news? He also told George Stephanopoulos on This Week there will be "growth in the spring." (Just like Chauncy Gardiner in "Being There.")

But it isn't true. The recession isn't over until jobs increase, and that's not really happening. Summers is saying we "only" lost 11,000 jobs last month, and that's not exactly true. The numbers were brought down by a number of factors, including the large numbers of people who have given up and stopped looking for work.

Nonetheless, everyone agrees Larry Summers is a Very Serious Person, so I will take his word for it and just sit here, waiting for my pony.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Mr. Summers, let me begin with you, and let's start with just the overall economic situation right now, especially on jobs. We saw that drop in unemployment in November, but private economists predict that unemployment is likely to head back up. Mark Zandi sees it peaking at about 10.6 percent next year. Others say it could go up to 11 percent. Is that in line with your forecast?

SUMMERS: George, here is what I know. We were talking about depression, we were talking about the financial system collapsing. Today, everybody agrees that the recession is over, and the question is what the pace of the expansion is going to be. These things happen in stages. First, GDP goes up. That has happened. Then, hours that are worked by workers who already have jobs go up. That's starting to happen. Then employment goes up. We got very close to that this year, this month, with only 11,000 jobs lost. And then unemployment starts to come down. So these problems weren't made in a month or a year, and they are going to take a substantial time to solve. But what we can take satisfaction from is that we've walked back from the brink. And you know, forget what we say. Most professional forecasters are now looking for a return to job growth by spring.

Now, when job growth starts, more people are going to be looking for work, so it will take a little longer for the unemployment statistics to come down, but make no mistake, we were losing 700,000 a month when President Bush turned the economy over to President Obama. The number last month was 11,000.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me pin you down on that, though. You believe the economy is actually going to be creating jobs in the spring.

SUMMERS: That is the judgment of most professional forecasters. That's right, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So given that...

SUMMERS: If you look at the employment statistics, they will show employment growth. They were showing losing 700,000 a month. Last month, they showed losing 11,000 jobs. They will bounce from month to month, but I believe that, as do most professional forecasters, that by spring, employment growth will start to be turning positive.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So given that, we saw the president allowed some job creation ideas earlier this week. What is the upper limit on what he will sign into law in terms of new job creation measures early next year? $100 billion?

SUMMERS: The president is going to work with Congress to do what's necessary. George, it's a bit of a Washington thing to put this in terms of price tags. For example, the president is doing a whole set of things, working with other...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the American people want to...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not a Washington thing.

SUMMERS: To promote our exports. That doesn't have a -- that does not have a direct cost. But the president has talked about doing things for infrastructure. It doesn't cost anything to encourage banks, as the president will be doing, to meet their responsibilities and expand the flow of credit to small business.

We're in a very different -- we are in a very special kind of economic situation, and frankly, jobs have to be the top priority, and every bill is going to be a jobs bill going forward. We hope we can find common ground. We emphasize support for small businesses, repairing the nation's infrastructure. These ought to be things that everybody can agree on.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me just pin you down, though, one more time on that. You did lay out a number of ideas that don't cost money, but extending unemployment costs money. Aid to states and local governments costs more money. Investing in infrastructure costs money. So what is the upper limit on what President Obama will sign?

SUMMERS: The president is going to do what's necessary to respond to this crisis. He's put a figure of $50 billion on the infrastructure support that he proposes. His proposals on unemployment insurance are primarily a continuation of the legislation that the Congress has already passed and that has been put in place. And he recognizes that when we take new steps, we have to do it in the context of a framework that is fiscally responsible. We can't just look in isolation at one measure. We've got to look at the $8 trillion in deficit over the next 10 years that the president inherited, and start making progress with respect to those deficits. That's what the president did in his budget. That's what the health care bill does with the most consequential set of health care reforms that have ever been put forward, and they are now on the brink of passage.

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