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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.
Bias in the ‘Proportionality Assumption’ Used in the Measurement of Offshoring
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Deborah Winkler & William Milberg, World Economics, December 2012
Most studies of offshoring rely on a ‘proportionality assumption’ where every sector is assumed to import each material and service input in the same proportion as its economy-wide use. We assess the bias resulting from this assumption. Since Germany collects imported inputs directly, we are able to compare the direct and proxy measures, where the proxy is constructed with the proportionality assumption. The proxy fails to accurately capture the variation in services offshoring intensity because – as a result of the proportionality assumption – it is strongly influenced by the variation in demand for domestic inputs. Estimation of the effect of offshoring on labour demand for 35 manufacturing sectors in Germany over 1995–2006 shows that the direct and proxy-based measures of services offshoring give very different results. The implication goes beyond the case of Germany: researchers must be cautious about drawing policy conclusions from estimates using the proxy of offshoring.
House Price Indices: Does Measurement Matter?
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Mick Silver, World Economics, September 2011
A key factor in understanding the global recession is movements in residential property price indexes (RPPIs). Of concern is that more than one national RPPI is often compiled and disseminated for a country, each differing in regard to their methodology, and thus results. Key methodological issues include the: (i) use of stocks or flows and values or quantities for weights; (ii) method of enabling constant quality measures; (iii) coverage in terms of geography, type of housing and financing; and (iv) valuation of prices. The paper outlines such issues by way of three case studies: the United Kingdom, the United States and the Russian Federation.
The Power of Price Indexes
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Raymond Cheung and Mike Waterson
World Economics, March 2011
Price indexes are the most important of all economic indicators simply because they are the tool used to calculate the real size, speed and direction of all forms of economic activity. Price indexes are compiled almost everywhere, but with major differences in method and sampling procedures. Some methods and procedures have led to significant errors. Even in the case of a country as advanced as Japan, critics have calculated that imperfections in method have led to a rate of price inflation around 1.8% per year above the level a true cost of living index would have shown. Further research undertaken by World Economics has attempted to make estimates for changes in discounting and promotional practices at the retail level. The conclusion is that, in reality, the overestimation of price changes by the Japanese CPI in recent years may well have been in excess of 2% per annum, and could have been significantly more. Different CPI assumptions change economic growth estimates dramatically. Using World Economics estimates, adding in a minimum figure for marketing and retail changes seen in recent years suggests, contrary to official data, that Japanese consumption growth exceeded that of the US.
Measuring Global Poverty Right
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M. G. Quibria, World Economics, December 2005
The international community is committed to millennium development goals which postulate a vision of global development that makes eliminating poverty and sustaining development the overriding objective of global development efforts. In the hierarchy of the MDGs, the first and foremost goal is to reduce by half, between 1990–2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than a dollar a day (a widely used yardstick to measure extreme poverty). However, estimating such poverty across developing countries and globally is by no means a simple exercise nor has it yielded unambiguous results. This article provides a brief summary of the state of the art in global poverty estimates, including the problems as well as the possible solutions.

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