Fed Chief Calls Super Bowl a GDP Killer

Fed Chief Calls Super Bowl a GDP Killer

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Ben Bernanke sure knows how to deflate a football game.

At the end of his appearance at the National Press Club today, the Federal Reserve Board chairman was asked who he was rooting for in this weekend’s Super Bowl. The superb politician that he is, Bernanke dodged the question.

But as a parting crack, he said he knew one thing about the weekend’s festivities. Holding up his hand in the shape of an “O,” he said: “GDP during those three hours will drop to zero.”

Say it ain’t so, Ben. How about all those pricey television ads, the truckloads of beer and junk food consumed, the crowded bars? How about all the betting that will undoubtedly take place in the underground economy? Surely this once-a-year event – the apogee of American sports hoopla – contributes something to gross domestic product, perhaps even creates a job or two.

“I’ll have to think about that,” said Gus Faucher, chief of macroeconomics at Moody’s Analytics, which consistently contends for the championship in the economic forecasting league. “If people weren’t spending the money on the food and the bars, they’d be spending it somewhere else.”

But surely those high-priced ads surely aren’t replicable at other times of year, so their cost has to bump up GDP. “The point is that during the Super Bowl people are watching the advertising, they are not buying anything,” noted Brad DeLong, the University of California at Berkeley economist who brings a left coast perspective to issues. “You catch the value of those ads when the goods are actually sold. Frankly, he’s not that far off.”

Okay, let’s try a conservative economist. I shot a quick email to N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University, who chaired President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2003 to 2005.
“Not quite zero,” he fired back, “for the team themselves are producing sizable entertainment services.”
Yet, their huge salaries are already in the bank. It turns out that playing in the game of the year may be good for their egos, but it doesn’t do much for the nation’s bottom line.

Given that sad survey, here’s my advice. Don’t think about GDP while you’re watching the game. And don’t invite an economist over to share the dip.

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spent 25 years as a foreign correspondent, economics writer and investigative business reporter for the Chicago Tribune and other publications. He is the author of the 2004 book, The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs.