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Real GDP
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A Modest Challenge to GDP Reforms
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Mitsuhiko Iyoda, World Economics, June 2019
This paper explores the importance and possibility of GDP reform by examining the weaknesses of the current GDP concept. The GDP concept itself involves flawed metrics; there are more effective measures of economic and societal well-being. Here we limit our argument to economic well-being. The weaknesses of GDP can be broadly divided into two primary categories: market workability and the GDP framework. We present four types of GDP reform, among which, we consider further, is a modest improvement on current GDP. If not dealt with, the misleading aspects of GDP are likely to produce a misguided economic growth strategy and reduce the likelihood of a ‘positive sum’ result.
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 Data are often lacking, of poor quality, or out of date.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.
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.
Measuring Illegal Activities in the National Accounts
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Brian Sturgess, World Economics, June 2018
Until 2014 the only illegal activity measured in the UK National Accounts by the Office of National Statistics was the smuggling of alcohol and tobacco. The European System of National Accounts 2010 requires statistical bodies to measure consensual illegal economic activities such as drug consumption and prostitution. In 2014 the first estimates measured the contribution of illegal drugs and prostitution at 2009 prices to UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at just under £10 billion. The estimates are based on a flawed methodology using survey data while private sector figures suggest that the contribution of the cannabis market alone to GDP may be over three times the official value of £828 million .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Double Deflation Casts Doubt on Existing GDP Data
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Brian Sturgess, World Economics, June 2017
Increasingly, national income statisticians, the specialists involved in producing real national income figures, and the users of those figures are living in a parallel universe. Most countries use an outdated and inaccurate method to estimate real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by using what is termed single deflation. Best practice suggests using double deflation: one price index to deflate the prices of goods produced and another to deflate the value of intermediate goods used up in production. A recent study comparing single deflation calculations with double deflation official growth estimates for eight countries showed that, for some years, single deflation figures deviated up- or downwards from the official estimates by as much as 3–4 percentage points.
New Estimates of Regional GDP in the UK
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Julian Gough, World Economics, June 2017
Real GDP is estimated by applying a price-level estimate or deflator to nominal GDP, but GDP levels in the UK’s 12 inhabited regions are only reported at nominal prices with no allowance for differences in regional prices. A purchasing power parity (PPP) rate for the £ in each region, measuring how much a typical bundle of goods and services would cost, is required to create an accurate index to apply to nominal GDP in order to get real regional values. A solution lies in creating an expenditure-based, weighted, regional price index for consumers’ expenditure, government spending, investment and exports, to adjust nominal data to real price levels. Using imperfect public data, creating an expenditure-based index makes a significant difference to the size of each regional economy and to GDP per capita. In real terms, the London economy shrinks by 12%, the South-East contracts by 2% and all other regions increase in size.
Measuring GDP in Europe
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World Economics, June 2015
In Europe the quality of national income statistics is less constrained by the capacity and resources devoted by national statistics offices to follow international best practice than is the case in many other parts of the world. In addition the members of the European Union have to meet the harmonised standards of national accounting set by Eurostat which are based on the United Nations System on National Accounts. However, despite recent modifications both these standards fail to adequately record the size of the informal economy.
GDP as the champion of measurements
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Mark Esposito & Terence Tse, World Economics, March 2015
This paper considers the importance of measurement in complex societies and notes that the concept of measuring macroeconomic variables such as GDP was grounded in the impact of the 1929 Wall Street Crash on America. Simon Kuznets, a Harvard economist, produced a report for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) which was published in 1934. Despite warnings of the limitations of GDP, its use has expanded to include government expenditures while to Kuznets government activities were an intermediate service and not part of final output. This paper considers particular inadequacies in using GDP as a measure of welfare when it includes, prison funding, natural disaster relief or expenditure on big sports events. The paper also argues that we should move beyond GDP while still recognizing its benefits as an organized methodology. Climate change, environmental disasters and international terrorism, transcend the assumption that economic growth is all we need. It concludes that an index capable of measuring social progress, independent from economic activity is needed.
GDP figures: How the Financial Times gets it wrong
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David Henderson, World Economics,
Dollar market exchange rates are erroneously used by many publications to make cross-country comparisons of GDP. Exchange rates underestimate the relative size of developing economies and provide misleading estimates of important economic ratios such as energy intensity figures. The United Nations System of National Accounts recommend the use of Purchasing Power Parity converters which account for cross-country differences in price levels.
Measuring The Americas GDP
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World Economics, March 2015
The Americas, comprising the USA and Canada, the Spanish speaking countries of South and Central America plus Brazil and the Caribbean, is a region displaying large differences in living standards. The availability of resources has an impact on the quality and reliability of economic statistics. Chile and Mexico, both OECD members, produce economic data that can be compared favourably with the USA, Canada and many European countries. In other countries out of date base years, outdated national income accounting standards and problems in recording the size of the informal economy mean that GDP figures are likely to be underestimated. The most insidious problem in the region arises from the political manipulation of economic data in Argentina which has led to a censure of the government by the IMF.
Measuring the Asia-Pacific Region
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Brian Sturgess, World Economics, September 2014
The Asia-Pacific region covers the countries around the Pacific Rim, South East Asia, the Indian Sub-Continent and Oceania. It contains three of the world’s largest economies outside the US: China, India and Japan. The quality of economic statistics varies widely across the region mainly because of differences in the resources available to national statistical offices in the large number of poorer countries. There are other data problems affecting inter-country comparisons: the use of old standards of national income accounting; the degree to which shadow and informal economies are under-recorded; and the use of outdated base years for the calculation of real GDP. On top of these issues is the continuing question about the extent to which China’s economic data is subject to political manipulation.
Data Manipulation of Inflation Statistics Artificially Raises Real GDP
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Christopher Balding, World Economics, June 2014
Baseline Chinese economic data are unreliable. Taking published National Bureau of Statistics China data, three problems appear. First, base data on housing price inflation are manipulated. Second, the NBSC misclassifies most Chinese households as private housing occupants. Third, the NSBC applies a straight 80/20 urban/rural private housing weighting. To correct for these manipulative practices, I use third party and related NBSC data to correct the change in consumer prices in China between 2000 and 2011. I find that using conservative assumptions about price increases, the annual CPI in China should be adjusted upwards by approximately 1%. This reduces real Chinese GDP by 8–12% or more than $1 trillion in PPP terms.
Measuring Argentina’s GDP Growth
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Ariel Coremberg, World Economics, March 2014
The main purpose of this paper is to report on the results of an exhaustive reworking of Argentina’s output growth by industry realized by the ARKLEMS+LAND Argentina Productivity and Competitiveness Project. The aim was to reproduce a GDP time series since 1993 using traditional Argentinean national accounting methodology in order to check economic growth against official statistics produced after political intervention in the work of the National Statistics institute since 2007. The reproduced ARKLEMS GDP series closely approximates to official GDP between 1993 and 2007 at macro and industry level. But after 2007, Official series showed a higher growth than ARKLEMS reproducible (29.4% Official GDP vs. 15.9% ARKLEMS GDP for 2007–2012). However, the gap between the series is not related to the use of biased CPI deflators, but it is due to the abandoning of traditional methodology followed by Argentinean national accounts prior to its intervention. The paper shows that Argentina’s recent growth episode of 2002–2012 was similar to the previous positive growth cycle period of 1990–1998. Argentina was not the growth champion of the Latin America region during the later period, but it has one of the highest rates of volatility of GDP across Latin America. Argentine official GDP data has been subject to the so-called ‘Pandora’s Box’ effect as a result of the political intervention in the production of official statistics.
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.

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