World Economics

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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.
Risk Exposures in International and Sectoral Balance Sheet Data
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Philip R. Lane, World Economics, December 2015
This paper outlines the opportunities and pitfalls for risk analysts in interpreting the information embedded in international and sectoral balance sheets. It places an emphasis on the different risks posed by net financial stock imbalances and the cross-holding of large stocks of gross financial assets and gross financial liabilities. It argues that it is important to supplement sectoral-level data with more disaggregated levels of data, in view of the importance of intra-sectoral financial linkages and the heterogeneity in portfolios and funding mechanisms within sectors. Finally, the growing internationalisation of financial balance sheets means that it is important to take a unified approach to the joint analysis of international and sectoral balance sheets.
Data on Singapore’s Sovereign Wealth Fund is Flawed
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Christopher Balding, World Economics, September 2015
This paper undertakes a critique of the quality of Singapore’s public economic data in the context of the claim that one of the island’s sovereign wealth funds, Temasek Holdings, reports that it has earned since inception in 1974 an average annualized rate of return of 16%. Over a similar time period the Singapore stock market earned 4.99% implying that Temasek on average outperformed the local stock market in which it was heavily invested, by a factor of more than three times every year. The paper replicates Temasek’s portfolio and analyses Singapore’s public finances and finds that irregularities may exist within Temasek financials. It concludes that if there are as of yet unknown financial weaknesses within Singaporean public finances that have yet to be realized then given the importance of the island in Asia’s financial markets, this should raise concerns over the quality of financial statements produced by government linked corporations and the public sector.
Costing a Data Revolution
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Gabriel Demombynes & Justin Sandefur, World Economics, September 2015
The lack of reliable development statistics for many poor countries has led the U.N. to call for a “data revolution” (United Nations, 2013). One fairly narrow but widespread interpretation of this revolution is for international aid donors to fund a coordinated wave of household surveys across the developing world, tracking progress on a new round of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. We use data from the International Household Survey Network (IHSN) to show (i) the supply of household surveys has accelerated dramatically over the past 30 years and that (ii) demand for survey data appears to be higher in democracies and more aid-dependent countries. We also show that given existing international survey programs, the cost to international aid donors of filling remaining survey gaps is manageable--on the order of $300 million per year. We argue that any aid-financed expansion of household surveys should be complemented with (a) increased access to data through open data protocols, and (b) simultaneous support for the broader statistical system, including routine administrative data systems.
What is Britain worth to the next generation?
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Angus Hanton, World Economics, June 2015
Government economic policy implicitly aims to build up useful reserves for future generations, or at least to not burden our children and grandchildren with unsustainable debt. Surprisingly, even though this must be an important policy objective, it is rarely discussed or measured. This paper estimates what Britain is now worth to the next generation and we explain how well recent British governments have done in building up value to hand on. The results are eye-watering for anyone who has assumed that there has been a steady build-up of wealth.
Understanding Commercial Property Price indexes
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Mick Silver, World Economics, September 2013
The type of database used for the measurement of commercial property price indexes (CPPIs) dictates the potential weaknesses in the resulting indexes and limitations of the methods available for measuring the indexes. Two major types of data are appraisals of the value of properties and recorded transaction prices. The former is based on expert judgement and may have problems of smoothing and lagging transaction prices. The latter is based on actual transactions and may have sample selectivity bias and limited sample sizes for these heterogeneous properties. These issues are examined.
Poor Economic Statistics Fuel China’s Low Consumption Myth
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Jun Zhang & Tian Zhu, World Economics, June 2013
The generally held belief that China’s consumption is too low is a myth based on inadequate theory, a misreading of official statistics and the use of market exchange rates for making international comparisons. Chinese official statistics underestimate consumption expenditure on housing, they omit consumption paid for as benefits by the corporate sector, and there are a number of problems with the household expenditure surveys employed. An adjustment for statistical issues suggests that the rate of consumption is 60–65% of GDP, not the 48% based on the widely quoted official statistics figures, and is quite similar to the level experienced by other East Asian economies.
Global Value Chains, International Trade Statistics and Policymaking in a Flattening World
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Alejandro Jara & Hubert Escaith, World Economics, December 2012
The raise of global production networks since the 1980s changed the way we understand international trade and has profound repercussions on development policies and the conduct of global governance. New comparative advantages allow large developing countries to leap-frog through their industrialization process while smaller economies without large internal market or mining resources are now able to build an industrial base. Offshoring also gave the possibility to firms from industrialised countries to remain competitive in front of fast-expanding firms from emerging countries. But in the process, the relative demand for low and medium skilled workers in industrialised countries contracted, and this employment and income effect became a political issue and fuelled demand for protectionism. Unfortunately, the debate lacks accurate data as traditional statistics give only a blurred picture of what is known as ‘trade in tasks’. Before revising the trade and governance implications, the article calls for a new measurement of international trade based on its value-added content in order to have a better understanding of the actual issues.
Maddison and Wu: ‘Measuring China’s Economic Performance’
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Yuri Dikhanov & Eric V. Swanson, World Economics, March 2010
Angus Maddison and Harry Wu (2008) claim that, in 2003, China’s GDP was 73% of that of the United States on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis. Rejecting the results of the 2005 International Comparison Program (ICP), they construct their own PPP using a 1986 GDP estimate for China (Ren & Chen 1995) which they adjust upwards, and then extrapolate to 2003 using their revised growth rates for China, which they adjust downwards. This note examines the validity of their adjustments and assumptions, and finds them to be inconsistent with recommendations both from the perspective of index number theory and recommended national accounting practices. The 2005 PPP estimates from the ICP, which Maddison and Wu reject, produce a more plausible estimate of the size of China’s economy relative to that of the US (43% in 2005).
International Comparisons of GDP
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Elio Lancieri, World Economics, September 2008
The recent publication by the World Bank of PPP-GDP estimates for 2005, referred to 146 countries, seems a good occasion to reopen the long-standing debate on the use of Purchasing Power Parities. While theoretical speculations on the subject have continued, no estimates were supplied for more than a decade. The author’s alternative method for GDP estimation is based on inflationadjusted long-term exchange rates, where real GDP estimates are obtained through simultaneous equations. He describes the method in the light of his experience and compares its results for 100 countries with both ICP estimates and GDPs at exchange rates.
Measuring China’s Economic Performance
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Andreas (Andy) Jobst & Harry X. Wu, World Economics, June 2008
China is the world’s fastest growing economy and is also the second largest. However, the official estimates of the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics exaggerate GDP growth and need adjustment to conform to international norms as set out in the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA). This paper presents and discusses the necessary adjustments. The two major contributions are new volume indices for the industrial sector and for "non-material" services. Finally, in order to measure the level of Chinese GDP in internationally comparable terms, the authors use a measure of purchasing power parity (PPP) instead of the exchange rate.
From Big Macs to iMacs
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Jonathan Haskel & Holger Wolf, World Economics, June 2000
The authors review recent international price comparisons to examine the veracity of claims about “rip-off Britain”. They reach three conclusions. First, methodologically, the data requirements for a meaningful price comparison are very demanding and most of the evidence does not meet these standards. Second, price differences within countries seem, in many cases, to be just as high if not higher than price differences between countries. Third, for most goods, the difference between the UK and the rest of the EU seems to be minor relative to the difference between the EU and the United States. The real puzzle is the comparatively high prices in the EU.

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