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How Accurate are Global Trade-Finance Data?
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Brian Sturgess, World Economics, June 2019
Over 80% of international trade is financed by some form of credit, but the size of the trade finance market has received little attention by economists. It has been estimated that there is currently a world trade finance gap of around US$1.5 trillion acting as a drag on international trade and GDP growth. Survey-based estimates of traditional trade finance provided by banks at US$4.6 trillion in 2017 are highly inconsistent and are based on flawed data and opaque methodologies. The problem of collecting reliable data needed to promote trade growth and to monitor financial stability is being exacerbated as the trade finance sector is undergoing rapid structural change.
Saudi Arabian Labour Market Data Outlines the Challenges of Reform
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Brian Sturgess, World Economics, March 2019
Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers approved an ambitious National Transformation Programme (NTP) in June 2016 with the aim of carrying out a complete restructuring of the economy. The implementation of Vision 2030 has major implications for the structure of Saudi Arabia’s labour market with the creation of 1.2 million non-oil private sector jobs, most of which are expected to be taken up by citizens. Official data shows the labour market has a number of distinctive features which will challenge the implementation of Vision 2030: an overreliance on expatriate labour; a preference by nationals for public sector jobs; a gender imbalance; persisting structural unemployment and problems in balancing labour supply and demand. The government is attempting to change the operation and structure of the labour market by a set of policies involving quotas, subsidies, taxes, penalties and the provision of information services, but for a number of reasons change is unlikely to proceed smoothly in the next few years.
Inequality: Concepts, Data, Perspectives and Solutions
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Michael Chibba & John M. Luiz, World Economics, March 2019
A comprehensive treatise on inequality from economic, social, business and metrics/data perspectives is lacking in the literature and this treatise fills that void. We posit that: (a) neoclassical economics has failed to address inequality within nations; (b) the social theories on inequality are of ancillary importance; (c) businesses have contributed to inequality in several ways but have also made a positive contribution towards a fairer, more equitable society; (d) data on inequality is not up to date. Taxation and social programs offer an inadequate approach to tackling inequality without a proper framework and supporting approaches. In addition, complementarity between neoclassical economics and behavioural economics would be a positive factor in addressing inequality and should be pursued. Issues of inequality metrics and data reliability have moved to the forefront of discussions as the data currently available is the basis of much dissent. Robust metrics and reliable and up to date inequality data (as well as related statistics) are indispensable for designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating inequality interventions and policies.
Measuring GDP in Fragile States
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Barbro Hexeberg & Jose Pablo Valdes Martinez, World Economics, December 2017
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is central to measuring economic performance and productivity, and monitoring fiscal and monetary policies, as well as changes in poverty and shared prosperity. Compiling GDP in accordance with internationally agreed definitions and rules is a complex and data-intensive task, but it is especially challenging in fragile countries. Data are often lacking, of poor quality, or out of date. Much economic activity takes place outside the formal economy, and measuring real growth is more difficult for countries facing armed conflict or natural disasters. But fragile states need accurate measures of GDP, because their economic losses are commonly evaluated in terms of GDP prior to the design and implementation of any mitigation policies.
Measuring the Share of Labour in GDP
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Michael Grömling, World Economics, December 2017
There is a view that increasing inequalities in advanced economies are responsible for growth problems and political polarisation. A new impetus has been injected into the analysis of macroeconomic income distribution since if capital’s share is rising this has implications for the personal distribution of income. An international comparison of data from advanced countries does not reveal any widespread or consistent decrease in labour’s share for the past quarter of a century. No pattern is discernible and a number of statistical limitations and data issues need to be taken into account when interpreting the functional distribution of income.
Trade Data: Use with Care
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Brian Sturgess, World Economics, December 2017
Politicians focus on trade deficits and surpluses between countries and threaten trade wars and retaliatory actions, but the conventional international trade statistics used by many commentators are inaccurate. World exports and imports do not balance, but asymmetries are also found in the balance of trade statistics between countries and regions and these discrepancies can be very large in emerging markets. The ‘Rotterdam effect’ distorts the measurement of trade flows and balances where goods are recorded as imports into one country, which subsequently re-exports them to third countries without taking note of the country of origin. The Apple ‘Made in China’ question, or the existence of global value chains where much trade is in intermediate inputs, indicates that conventional trade statistics involve double-counting and misallocated trade balances.
Analysis of Revisions in Indian GDP Data
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Amey Sapre & Rajeswari Sengupta, World Economics, December 2017
This paper studies constant price growth estimates of India’s annual GDP data in order to understand the revision policy adopted by the Central Statistics Office. The use of high-frequency indicators to prepare initial estimates overstates the growth of the economy, although at the aggregate level the difference between initial estimates and final revisions is low. At the sectoral level the extent of revision for almost all sectors is large and the magnitude and direction of the revision is unpredictable. The Central Statistical Office must address issues in data quality and revisions by (i) adopting a comprehensive revision policy, (ii) supplying information and data on high frequency indicators and (iii) adopting revision metrics to assess the quality of estimates.
Data, Deceit, and the Defence of Truth
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Stuart P.M. Mackintosh, World Economics, September 2018
Attacks on experts and professionals using available facts, are rising in the USA, with troubling implications for economics, for the collection of statistical data, and for the future integrity of the policymaking process. The Trump Administration is undermining fact-based decision making in a number of discreet interventions: Citizenship questions for the upcoming decennial census and in attacks on the work of an economist in the US Congressional Budget Office on healthcare costs. In Argentina from 2002 until 2015 the Kirchner government twisted the output of the official statistical agency to their own aims, publishing bogus data on inflation, GDP, and poverty. In Greece the efforts of Andreas Georgiou from 2010 to 2015 to correct the biased output on GDP and government expenditure data at the Greek Statistical Agency led a judicial persecution all the way to the Greek Supreme Court.
The Seemingly Underappreciated Role of Panel Data in Measuring Poverty and Economic Transformation
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Hai-Anh H. Dang & Calogero (Gero) Carletto, World Economics, September 2018
Panel survey data play a crucial role in producing estimates on welfare dynamics as well as insights into transformation processes in developing economies. Panel survey data are indispensable for effective policy advice for poverty reduction and growth. Fielding and maintaining a good-quality panel survey requires investment in financial and technical resources as well as careful planning, especially in developing countries. Statistical techniques can also be employed to produce estimates on poverty dynamics as an alternative methodology, but a new hybrid approach can combine the advantages of both methods.
Debt, Economic Growth and Data Adequacy
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Vighneswara Swamy, World Economics, June 2018
The effects of government debt on economic growth has become of immense importance in the backdrop of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis and Reinhart & Rogoff’s related research. This study is based on a sizeable dataset which extends the horizon of analysis to country groupings and makes it inclusive of economic, political, and regional diversities. The study overcomes issues related to data adequacy, coverage of countries, heterogeneity, endogeneity, and non-linear relationships by conducting a battery of robustness tests. An increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio is found to be associated with a reduction in average growth, but the relationship is nonlinear.
Error in Demographic and Other Quantitative Data and Analyses
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Thomas Burch, World Economics, June 2018
Statistical data consumed, analysed and produced contain errors from more sources than is often recognised and the commercialisation of survey and other statistical research and ‘inventions’ such as ‘big data’ has led to naïve and faulty analysis and propaganda. Oskar Morgenstern has noted that, in contrast to physics, there is no estimate of statistical error within economics and the various sources of error that come into play in the social sciences suggest that the error in economic observations is substantial. It is important to recognise the phenomenon of the propagation of errors; errors in our results may be disproportionate to errors in our input data. Despite documented problems social scientists cannot give up on quantitative data since many of the most important questions in social science are matters of more or less, not either/or.
The World Economy
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Ed Jones, World Economics, March 2018
The World Economy has grown for 57 out of the past 58 years, only the great recession of 2009 saw an interruption in over half a century of continuous growth. Over the whole of the last 5 decades, annual real GDP growth has averaged 3.2%, and 1.6% in per capita terms. Global Real GDP split by continent illustrates that the share of the world’s GDP in the Asian region grew considerably faster than all other continents, from 16.8% in 1960 to 47.0% in 2017. The wealth of Europe and the Americas remains considerably higher compared with Asian and African continents.
The Financial Crisis and Gender: Assessing Changes in Workforce Participation for Rural India
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Siddhartha K. Rastogi & Pradyun Rame Mehrotra, World Economics, March 2018
Labour market data in India shows female participation declining as GDP has increased, a phenomenon found in other East Asian economies over past two decades. This contradicts empirical observations, which argue over the feminization of the work force due to participation in global export markets, primarily driven by wage efficiency of female labour. The impact of the global financial crisis on female participation rates in rural India in 2009-10 is studied with a cross-state analysis to test theories about female unemployment in a downturn. One of the major findings is that as the formal wage difference between men and women decreases, the female participation gap increases, but more data is needed to identify critical causal factors.
Debunking the Relevance of the Debt-to-GDP Ratio
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Arturo C. Porzecanski, World Economics, March 2018
Historical experience does not confirm the simplistic notion that the heavier the burden of the public debt relative to GDP, the greater is the risk that governments will encounter debt-servicing difficulties. In 25 government defaults that occurred during 1998-2017, the pre-default debt-to-GDP ratios ranged from a very low of 27% (Ecuador in 2008) to a very high of 236% (Nicaragua in 2003), with a sample median of 79%. As ratios of government debt rise, some societies manage to deliver more responsible fiscal behaviour. Low debt ratios, on the other hand, often mask dangerous currency or maturity mismatches, as well as contingent liabilities, capable of suddenly impairing banks and governments. The demand for government bonds can behave unpredictably, and governments with low or high debt ratios can suddenly find themselves cut off from needed financing. Official institutions like the IMF, European Commission, and World Bank have done themselves and their member states a great disfavour by obsessing about debt ratios which do not predict fiscal outcomes.
Using Price-Adjusted Income Data to Measure Regional Income Inequality Across the UK
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Julian Gough, World Economics, March 2018
Data for gross disposable household income for each region of the UK are published annually by the Office for National Statistics. The latest provisional data available are for the year 2015. The annual data for household income are in nominal terms only—i.e. they do not allow for differences in prices between regions of the UK, which distorts the results. A reliable deflator to correct the nominal data for differences in inter-regional price levels was derived from the regular survey of prices for calculating the Retail Prices Index, augmented by a special survey of prices of goods and services. When allowing for price level variations between nominal and real household income in different regions the greatest impact is on London. In real terms, household incomes in London are 6% lower than in nominal terms, amounting to a reduction of about £12.4 billion.
Commercial Real Estate Data - New Demands, Old Challenges
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David Rees, World Economics, March 2018
The global financial crisis, followed by a global portfolio shift towards commercial real estate, has reinforced the demand for timely, consistent and transparent valuation metrics and transactions data. Current initiatives at global, country and market level are addressing shortcomings in this area; nevertheless commercial real estate markets pose unique data collection and presentation challenges. While users of these data should be aware of the difficulties and qualifications inherent in the collection and compilation process, enforcing uniformity of processes and definitions across markets and sub-sectors may come at a cost. Propositions that more data are always better than less and that market transparency is always better than opacity are fruitful topics for debate in the context of commercial real estate markets.
Measuring the Success of Industrial Policy in Australia
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Andrew Marks, World Economics, December 2016
Industry policy in the context of trade liberalization has played a critical reinforcing role in re-orienting production in the Australian manufacturing sector from the domestic to international market. In the textile, clothing, footwear and motor vehicle industries this has promoted sustainable output and employment growth. This policy has also been instrumental in improving the structure of manufacturing exports from simple to elaborately transformed manufacturing products. The niche capital and knowledge intensive nature of elaborately transformed manufacturing products is of particular importance because they exhibit a comparative advantage in international markets. This has helped to offset the competitive advantage provided by industry policy in stimulating manufacturing exports in the countries of the South East Asian region which constitute Australia’s major export markets. Pressure is also being applied on other countries to implement industrial policy in order to remain competitive on the international market and in particular in this rapidly growing region of the world.
Making Data Measurement Errors Transparent: The Case of the IMF
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Peter A.G. van Bergeijk, World Economics, September 2017
In 1950 Morgenstern pointed out that absolute precision and certainty are impossible in economic observations, but estimates are often hampered by a substantial degree of measurement error. Unlike the natural sciences, economists in general do not report measurement errors for the key concepts such as prices, value or production that it seeks to define, measure and explain. For most macroeconomic concepts two approaches are available: the Implicit Minimal Measurement Error and the Maximum Ratio. Studying different vintages of the IMF World Economic Outlook data base it was found that the estimates on average have an implicit minimal measurement error of 4.3% and maximum ratio of 17.9%. An agenda is proposed for removing disincentives (creating incentives) for stakeholders (academics, data collectors and producers) since reporting measurement error will result in better research, better policy and ultimately better data.
What Makes Maddison Right
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Jan Luiten van Zanden & Debin Ma, World Economics, September 2017
The ‘Great Divergence debate’ in economic history relates to the question of when China fell behind the levels of well-being in Western Europe. A recent paper published in this journal argues that existing historical data cannot answer this question and criticizes estimates of Angus Maddison of GDP per capita based on limited evidence. The authors believe, in contrast, that critiques, assessments and summaries on the state of the Great Divergence debate even if flawed are in the original spirit of the Maddison research. Maddison’s work is less about right or wrong than about trying to achieve better or best estimates by overcoming the current constraint on data and methodologies over time.
Why Maddison was Wrong
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Kent Deng & Patrick O'Brien, World Economics, June 2017
Much academic debate in Western and Chinese universities has engaged in testing the hypothesis that standards of living in China did not fall behind those of the populations of the national economies of Western Europe until late in the eighteenth century Unfortunately, the data for China accessible in secondary sources do not provide historical runs of estimates either for GDP or for total population, let alone for any purchasing-power-parity rates of exchange estimates. Angus Maddison used short-cut methods to circumvent these difficulties, but a platoon of distinguished economists have found his methods and estimates to be conceptually and statistically unacceptable as historical evidence. The data currently available for China are and may well remain too fragmentary, ambiguous and insecure to sustain a Kuznetsian perception for investigation into the historical origins of the Great Divergence.

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