Another Keynesian Myth Refuted: Cold Winters Do Not Shrink The Economy

Submitted by Devin Leary-Hanebrink via the Ludwig von Mises Institute,

In February, the Federal Reserve made a cursory observation that the unusually severe winter was partly to blame for the stagnant pace of the US economy. The news media, ranging from liberal to conservative, all highlighted the Fed’s report and provided their respective “spin” on how the weather damages the economy. But soon enough, focus turned back to the brutally cold temperatures and not winter’s economic impact.

Recently, however, the Commerce Department reported that the US economy actually contracted 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014. This was the Department’s third attempt at revising its figures, with previous reports estimating first 0.1 percent growth and then a 1.0 percent contraction. While this little statistical “revision” was inconvenient, it was quickly followed (in true Orwellian fashion) by a slew of reports confirming that the economy has already rebounded and the second quarter will be even better than previously anticipated. (According to an advanced estimate released last week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, GDP increased 4.0 percent in the second quarter and the first quarter’s numbers were revised yet again.)

Naturally, the “blame the weather” campaign popped up again. In fact, Gus Faucher, Vice President and Senior Macroeconomist with PNC in Pittsburgh, estimates that over half of the contraction can be blamed on the severe winter weather. Well, this certainly begs the question, “Can weather actually cause the economy to contract?”

Weather obviously affects the economy. However, the claim that weather can actually drag down the economy is dubious at best. While severe winter weather may slow construction, idle auto sales, and reduce ice cream consumption, the economy never goes into hibernation. Instead, economic activity simply shifts.

A great analogy is household consumption spending. Each month, the average household allocates a certain amount of disposable income to entertainment. How this money is spent — at restaurants, traveling, shopping malls, or the theater — is irrelevant. The point is that people tend to budget a relatively fixed amount of income toward leisurely pursuits. If a new restaurant opens to rave reviews or a blockbuster movie debuts, a young couple does not drastically increase their monthly budget to accommodate the new entertainment options. Instead, consumption spending may shift from the mall or the theater to dinner and a movie. Similarly, a family that is planning a big vacation or a day at the ballpark either budgets additional savings throughout the year or scales back other expenses. To assume that new retail options magically increase spending is flawed economics.


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