Dude, Where's My Recession?

Today's GDP report shows the American economic expansion refuses to die.

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Out: Recession. In: Expansion. That's my quick take on today's first-quarter gross domestic product number, which showed that the economy grew 0.6 percent in the first quarter. Now that's not a robust number by any means, but it's not so bad given all the worry out there that the economy is headed off a cliff. Before you declare a recession, as many economic pundits have, shouldn't the economy, well, actually recess a bit—if only for a quarter?

Remember, the shorthand rule for declaring a recession is back-to-back quarters of negative growth. The semiofficial recession judge, the National Bureau of Economic Research, has a more complex formula, but I am not sure it has ever declared a recession when the economy never actually shrank. And consider this: The Intrade online betting market now says there is a meager 25 percent chance of a recession—using the negative-back-to-back-quarters definition—in 2008.

Plus, don't forget that there's a lag before all that monetary stimulus from the Fed kicks in. (It's not too late to do nothing today, Bernanke!) Who knows—those rebate checks might even help a bit, though we're probably not getting much bang for the nearly $200 billion we're spending.

As a movie buff, I keep looking for the right cinematic analogy for the American economy. Try this one: It's like the Terminator. Not the Schwarzenegger one—the other one, the Terminator from the second film. You could empty a shotgun—or in this case, an imploding housing market, credit crunch, and high oil prices—into that morphing metal dude, and before you know it, the thing's all healed and chasing you again.