Much of this debate centers on the distinction between a rule of thumb and a rule. It’s the difference between walking off the size of a room and measuring it accurately. When right-wing critics make declarations like “two quarters of contraction, that’s what we have always said for decades is a recession,” they are blending the two, probably intentionally.
Politico’s Ben White, another of those elevated by right-wing critics for purportedly changing his tune on the definition of “recession,” actually understands the distinction.
“Wall Street analysts, economists and even some in the Biden administration itself expect a report on Thursday to show the economy shrank for a second straight quarter, meeting a classic — though by no means the only — definition of a recession,” White wrote, later adding that “[m]any economists agree that this post-pandemic moment doesn’t meet many criteria for recession.”
His tweet promoting the article, declaring that the White House was “pretty obviously right” in noting that two quarters of slowdown didn’t necessarily mark a recession, was contrasted with a March 2020 tweet. At that point, he pointed to GDP declines as an indication that “we are in a recession right now” — which we were. But since he used two quarters of decline and nothing else as his trigger for that announcement, it was portrayed as hypocritical.