In George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” the authoritarian ruling regime operated a Ministry of Truth that quite literally rewrote history and changed the commonly understood meaning of certain words in order to more favorably align with that regime’s current narratives.
That appears to be what is happening now with President Joe Biden’s administration and the definition of an economic recession, as evidenced by a recent “edit war” on the Wikipedia page for that economic condition, Breitbart reported.
In the end, though Wikipedia editors were not able to completely erase the previously commonly understood consensus on the general definition of a recession — two consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product growth — that definition was nonetheless downplayed and replaced by a much broader and more vague definition favored by the White House.
Wikipedia’s “edit war” over recession definition
After more than 70 edits were made in just a matter of days, site administrators locked the Wikipedia page on recession and ultimately allowed both the prior general consensus about negative GDP growth as well as the new favored narrative that downplays GDP and looks instead at a variety of different economic factors.
As of the time of this writing, the page now reads, “Although the definition of a recession varies between different countries and scholars, two consecutive quarters of decline in a country’s real gross domestic product (real GDP) is commonly used as a practical definition of a recession.”
The page continued, “In the United States, a recession is defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) as ‘a significant decline in economic activity spread across the market, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.'”
The Wikipedia page went on to assert that the NBER, a “private economic research organization,” is “considered the official arbiter of recession start and end dates,” and also appeared to suggest that only the United Kingdom still uses the consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth indicator that, up until last week, was the commonly used definition by virtually everyone around the globe.
The White House’s Ministry of Truth in action
This all started on July 21 when the White House, undoubtedly in an effort to get out ahead of an anticipated report showing a second consecutive quarter of negative GDP growth, published a blog post that, in essence, changed the common definition of a recession.
“While some maintain that two consecutive quarters of falling real GDP constitute a recession, that is neither the official definition nor the way economists evaluate the state of the business cycle,” the White House blog stated. “Instead, both official determinations of recessions and economists’ assessment of economic activity are based on a holistic look at the data — including the labor market, consumer and business spending, industrial production, and incomes.”
“Based on these data, it is unlikely that the decline in GDP in the first quarter of this year — even if followed by another GDP decline in the second quarter — indicates a recession,” the blog added.
Most, but not all, media fall in line with new definition
Following some initial shock over the sheer audacity of that Orwellian move, Breitbart noted that much of the mainstream media has now fallen in line and is dutifully touting the administration’s preferred narrative on how to define an economic recession.
Not everybody is buying it, though, and the New York Post reported that the White House has been repeatedly hammered by a few reporters on the blatantly obvious — yet fervently denied — efforts to, for all intents and purposes, fundamentally change the decades-old commonly understood definition of a recession to more favorably reflect on President Biden’s dismal handling of the economy ahead of an important midterm election cycle.