Alan Krueger, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Affairs, suggested in a recent speech a useful metaphor to distinguish different kinds of economic indicators. Some indicators are like the gauges on the dashboard of the car — industrial production, unemployment, inflation and so on. They give the latest bits of information on the business cycle outlook, for businesspeople, government policy-makers, economic forecasters, and anyone else who wishes to follow such developments at high frequency. Many of these numbers are collected on a monthly basis. Other statistics are like the results of 10,000 mile checkups – the poverty rate, infant mortality, life expectancy, carbon emissions, natural resource depletion, the crime rate, traffic congestion, leisure time, and other measures of inequality, health, the environment and the quality of life. They supplement market-measured activity and are needed in order to get a comprehensive feel for welfare and the longer term sustainability of the economy. This second category of statistics is more often collected on an annual basis.read more
The quip “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics” is variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain. What should the public make of government statistics, such as the monthly employment report released today, Thursday, July 2, by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)?
There is no lying in US government statistics. But there are always commentators who will use the numbers to make whatever point they want. One should learn enough to be able to interpret the numbers for oneself. That is the only way to prevent being misled.read more
Is the United States in recession? If one looked solely at the adverse shocks that have hit the economy over the last year, one would infer an unusually high probability of a recession. If one consulted some of the most import economic measures over the last year, one would say the country clearly entered a recession last January. If one gauged the popular mood, one would hear, “Of course we are in recession !”
The one criterion that has been missing is the one criterion that people most commonly have in their minds as the definition of a recession: two consecutive quarters of negative growth. This morning, October 30, the Commerce Department released the advance estimate of GDP for the 3rd quarter. It showed a decline. The decline was small: just 0.3 per cent at an annual rate; and it is only one quarter, not yet two. But at this point there can be little doubt that we are really truly in recession.read more