New Measures for New Times

When the first estimate for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of this year (2Q14) came out, there was reason to cheer. A solid gain of 4.0% seemed to really shake off the fear cause by the figure for 1Q14, revised up to -2.1%. There wasn’t a new recession after all, and growth is back to being robust. Right?

It’s OK, we’re among friends. Your skepticism is justified. The main reason for the fall in 1Q14 was a big drop in health care expenditures, partly due to a revised way of calculating them. The problem is the way we gather this magic figure called GDP, a supposed measure of the total size of the economy. Just before the figure for 2Q14 came out a new measure of the economy, Gross Output (GO), was introduced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). It illustrates the problems with GDP, especially as we all focus on jobs as the real sign of economic health.

Continue reading