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Economic statistics have not kept pace with our needs or new sources of data

Last week’s Treasury report from Sir Charlie Bean on the methods by which national economic statistics are collected confirms that there has been relatively little change since the ONS began measuring GDP 75 years ago in wartime Britain. Yet our data needs – and our ability to collect them through digital sources – has changed considerably.

The limits to productivity growth are set only by the limits to human inventiveness

Robert Gordon’s magisterial book The Rise and Fall of American Growth argues that the years from 1870 to 1970 were the “special century” for technological developments. And that the past 50 years, by contrast, have been “dazzling but disappointing”. Yet, if not much seems to have happened, it is perhaps because we see that much is yet to come.

Look at home to find the efficiency gains from recent technological innovation

The technological changes that have occurred in the past decade have, from an economic perspective, increased at virtually no cost the efficiency of household production. Trying to account for this kind of development is the considerable challenge being undertaken by Sir Charles Bean’s review of the UK’s national statistics.

Box-tickers should not be the ones making decisions

Typically reasons given for judgment are rationalisations after the event, the consultation is a formality rather than a sincere search for opinions, and the accountability is a matter of extensive paperwork rather than a genuine appraisal of performance.

Smoking, cynicism and sheer muddled thinking

The measure of the productivity of an activity is the public and private benefit from a good or service that results from that activity.

Why data, soft or hard, cannot replace eyes and ears

In all areas of human endeavour, there are hard data and soft data. The happiness of a society or the progress of a civilisation, are multi-dimensional: components are determined by subjective consensus, not objective measurement.

Airlines and the canine features of unprofitable industries

The efficient industry hypothesis suggests that if an industry looks particularly attractive, or unattractive, then companies will enter, or leave, until the attractiveness or unattractiveness disappears. But then there are businesses which governments are keen on. The airline industry is one of them and governments fight to allow their taxpayers to pour ever more money into black holes.

The question of how countries compete

The question, to which “The US, Finland and Singapore” is the answer, is “Which countries have policies of which the IMD and WEF most approve?” This week, John discusses national competitiveness surveys.

The greying generation is an old problem

We should appreciate the extent to which the world economy has absorbed demographic changes in the last two decades without anyone really noticing. In the second part of a commentary on the debate about the employment of older people, John takes a look at 20th century population changes and their repercussions.

Britannia Farm is right to be kind to its old horses

The notion that there is some abstract entity called the economy, which is distinct from the welfare of the people who live in it, is a crude materialistic fallacy. In the first of a two part commentary on the debate surrounding retirement, John draws parallels between Britannia Farm and the employment of older people.

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