The Economics Revolution Will Be Televised

There’s a revolution underway in economics. It’s not due to the financial crisis, but rather something more mundane: Data, and computing power. At least that’s the claim that Betsey Stevenson and I make in our latest Bloomberg View column:

“Consider the stream of data you will create today. Your metro card will record what time you caught the train. Your Web browser will note how you go about your job, and how much you procrastinate. A mid-afternoon purchase at Starbucks will reveal your penchant for lattes and the occasional cookie. Your flow of e-mail traffic will trace out your professional and personal networks.

At the same time, computing power has made it extremely easy and cheap to analyze all the data you produce. An economist with a laptop can, in a matter of seconds, do the kind of number crunching it used to take a roomful of Ph.D.’s weeks to achieve. Just a few decades ago, economists used punch cards to program data analysis for their empirical studies.”

Two weeks ago, Harvard’s Raj Chetty gave a spectacular talk at the National Bureau of Economic Research, about what he called “The Transformative Potential of Administrative Data.” He documented that today’s cutting-edge research is based on crunching newly-available data from the vast databases which underlay our schools, welfare state and tax systems.  I’m just as optimistic that new data coming online from the private sector will prove to be just as useful.

A New Indication of a Double-Dip

We all have our favorite business cycle indicators. I have a new one. Last week I was at the (superb!) NBER Summer Institute. And for the first time in 15 years of attending this conference, there was no guacamole on Taco Day. The bad GDP data had come out a mere three hours earlier. Coincidence, or coincident indicator?

No need to convene the Business Cycle Dating Committee: The guacamole has spoken. It’s the first casualty of a double-dip.

Why Does the U.S Rank 29th in Longevity?

Yes, the U.S. healthcare system is full of inefficiencies which lead to bloated costs. But no, that's not the reason that U.S. longevity ranks only 29th in the world.