Mismeasuring long-run growth: The bias from spliced national accounts
Leandro Prados de la Escosura 27 September 2014
As demonstrated by the dramatic upward revision of Nigeria’s GDP for 2013, the choice of a benchmark year matters when computing GDP statistics. This column explains how the replacement of benchmark years creates an inconsistency between new and old national accounts series, and how different ways of resolving this inconsistency yield very different estimates of historical GDP levels and growth rates. When used to evaluate the relative historical performance of Spain and France, the interpolation procedure for splicing national accounts produces more plausible results than the conventional ‘retropolation’ approach.
In April it was made public that Nigeria’s GDP figures for 2013 had been revised upwards by 89%, as the base year for its calculation was brought forward from 1990 to 2010 (Financial Times, 7 April 2014). As a result, Nigeria became the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa. Though spectacular, this is not an exceptional case. Ghana (2010), Argentina (1993), and Italy (1987) also experienced dramatic upward revisions of their GDP. How should this revision affect GDP time series and, consequently, the country’s relative position?
Development Economic history
GDP, GDP measurement, national accounts, statistics, measurement, measurement error, data
Using happiness scales to inform policy: Strong words of caution
Timothy N. Bond, Kevin Lang 04 July 2014
Self-reported measures of happiness are growing in popularity as alternatives to GDP. This column presents a novel statistical critique of the validity of comparing such measures across groups. Since monotonic transformations of individuals’ happiness levels can reverse average happiness rankings between countries, no meaningful comparison can be made without assumptions on the distribution of happiness.
Economists have long known that GDP is an imperfect measure of well-being. In addition to missing nonmarket transactions, it ignores environmental degradation, the quality of social interactions, and many other outcomes of economic interest. But at least since Easterlin (1974) some economists have gone further, and challenged the view that per capita GDP and well-being are positively related.
Frontiers of economic research
happiness, wellbeing, GDP measurement
Measuring economic progress
Diane Coyle 17 February 2014
Criticism of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of the health of the economy has grown in recent years, in part because of a new focus on measures of subjective well-being or ‘happiness’. This column argues that the debate needs to distinguish between the different purposes of measurement: economic activity, social welfare, and sustainability are distinct concepts and cannot be captured by a single indicator. There are good arguments for paying less attention to GDP and more to indicators of welfare and sustainability, but it would be a mistake to adjust or replace GDP.
The debate about how best to measure economic activity dates back to well before the ‘invention’ of GDP by Richard Stone and others during the Second World War (Stone 1947). The earliest attempt was William Petty’s 1665 estimate of income and expenditure in England and Wales, followed by a variety of other approaches in the 18th and 19th centuries. By the 1930s, partly in response to the demand from policymakers for a better handle on what was happening in the economy, the current approach to national income was taking shape (Coyle 2014).
Frontiers of economic research
happiness, GDP measurement, hedonic price index