Facing up to uncertainty in official economic statistics
Charles F Manski 21 May 2014
Many economic statistics move markets when first released, and move them again when they are revised. This column suggests ways of measuring the transitory statistical uncertainty in estimates of official statistics based on incomplete data and the permanent statistical uncertainty stemming from survey non-response. Government agencies would be doing the public and policymakers a service by being clear about these uncertainties.
Government statistical agencies commonly report official economic statistics as point estimates. Agency documents describing data and methods may acknowledge that estimates are subject to error, but they typically do not quantify error magnitudes. News releases present estimates with little if any mention of potential error.
In the absence of agency guidance, users of official statistics may misinterpret the information that the statistics provide. I urge statistical agencies to measure uncertainty and report it in their news releases and technical publications.
uncertainty; economic statistics