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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.