Archives for GDP



Italy to Include Prostitution and Illegal Drugs in GDP

Bloomberg reports that Italy will now begin including its shadow economy in the country’s GDP, in an effort to reduce the national deficit:

Italy will include prostitution and illegal drug sales in the gross domestic product calculation this year, a boost for its chronically stagnant economy and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s effort to meet deficit targets.

Drugs, prostitution and smuggling will be part of GDP as of 2014 and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the Istat national statistics office said today. The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

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Why GDP Will Rise (Not What You Think)

In Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Peter Coy writes an excellent piece on the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s upcoming revision of  Gross Domestic Product measurement. That may not sound very interesting but Coy does a great job showing the macro and micro angles. To wit:

On July 31, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis will rewrite history on a grand scale by restating the size and composition of the gross domestic product, all the way back to the first year it was recorded, 1929. The biggest change will be the reclassification—nay, the elevation—of research and development. R&D will no longer be treated as a mere expense, like the electricity bill or food for the company cafeteria. It will be categorized on the government’s books as an investment, akin to constructing a factory or digging a mine. In another victory for intellectual property, original works of art such as films, music, and books will be treated for the first time as long-lived assets.

And:

The U.S. generates a disproportionate share of its wealth from the likes of patents, copyrights, trademarks, designs, cultural creations, and business processes. To see the intangible economy in numbers, look at Apple’s (AAPL) balance sheet: Property, plant, and equipment, those traditional forms of wealth from the industrial and preindustrial eras, account for $15 billion of its $400 billion market value—just 4 percent of the total. They’re only 7 percent of market value at moviemaker Time Warner (TWX) and drugmaker Pfizer (PFE).

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What Countries Should Maximize

We watched some of the Diamond Jubilee celebration and loved it. The only disturbing part was to see media comments that the U.K. would have been better off if people hadn’t had the Monday holiday for the Jubilee (much less the Tuesday holiday that some workers also had). The argument was that GDP would have been higher without the holiday.

Perhaps, but workers often make up for lost output when they return from holiday. Much more important is that no nation’s purpose should be maximizing output (and income). Instead, maximizing utility is what societies should be about. While well-being is much less readily measurable than output, measurement difficulties should not seduce us into becoming market fetishists. Perhaps if the U.S. emulated the U.K. (and Europe generally), and we took longer vacations and had more public holidays, our country would be better off (even if output were slightly lower).



Time for a “Brave New Math”?

Channeling some of the logic in our “Health of Nations” podcast, Peter Marber argues in World Policy Journal that it’s time for a “brave new math.” Marber takes issue with economists’ ongoing reliance on old measures of economic health — GDP, inflation, and unemployment:

Traditional measures point to an American economy that’s up even when Americans are feeling down. Across Europe and in Japan, there is also a sense of confusion over current economic directions—a universal sense that the numbers that have been our staples are increasingly meaningless to everyday people.

Newspapers, radio, and television routinely spout headlines about key statistics on GDP, inflation, and employment—astonishingly influential indicators computed in the United States by the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and in capitals around the world. Most seem to have little correlation with the realities on the street. 

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Christmas Gift Spending by Country

The Economist features an interesting chart this week, showing the correlation between a country’s wealth, and the average amount its citizens spend on Christmas gifts. Note the two outliers, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Despite their considerable wealth, the Dutch have clearly maintained their minimalist austerity chic. Not the case in Luxembourg, which has the highest GDP per capita in the EU, and the third highest in the world. Read More »



Bring Your Questions for Brandwashed Author Martin Lindstrom

Though the exact percentage is debatable, the fact is that the vast majority of U.S. GDP is made up of personal consumption. The American consumer doesn’t just drive the U.S. economy, for decades he’s been driving the global one as well. Though that dynamic is slowly changing as Americans cut back on just about everything we buy, for the better part of the last 60 years, the U.S. consumer has been king. And from this has sprung a massive marketing and advertising industry coldly focused on a singular goal: getting us to buy as much stuff as they possibly can.

In his new book Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, marketing guru Martin Lindstrom trains a bright light on his own industry to uncover all the unsavory things that marketers do to subtly, or not so subtly, influence our buying habits. Lindstrom’s agreed to answer your questions, so fire away in the comments section. As always, we’ll post his replies in due course. Read More »



Are We Really Losing 1% of GDP Due to Poor Health? Also, a Poll on Polling

We’ve been writing a lot about obesity recently. First, it was this study about projected future obesity rates, then we covered Denmark’s saturated fat tax, which Steve Sexton then criticized for being inefficient. So, if you’re tired of reading fat-related posts on our blog, I get it. But as long as reports like this one from Gallup keep coming out, we’re going to keep writing about them, especially when they include so many interesting conversation points.

Here are the top-line numbers:

About 86% of full-time American workers are above normal weight or have at least one chronic condition. These workers miss a combined estimate of 450 million more days of work each year than their healthy counterparts, resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity per year. That’s roughly 1% of GDP. Read More »



What Would it Be Like to Climb 26 Years of Federal Spending?

Data is often difficult to comprehend, especially when the numbers are huge. As Sanjoy Mahajan points out, the $14.3 trillion national debt seems impossible to fathom. It’s not a numeracy problem; it’s more a question of how to divide the gigantic number into parcels we can understand. Mahajan suggests using smaller measures we can handle – namely thinking about debt in per capita terms.

Fortunately there are also some media tech folks to the rescue. This spring, two computer engineers from Minneapolis challenged designers and coders to come up with a visual program to help the public understand the U.S. federal budget. You can see the winners here. If you want a fun way to understand the cuts that Obama’s talking about, the game Budget Climb lets you physically experience 26 years of federal spending data in a virtual reality, interactive format. Read More »