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A wish list for economic statistics?

Posted by: Michael Mandel on March 05

Here’s the question. If you were an economic policymaker, what is the one (or two) economic statistics that you would like to have, that you don’t have right now? Or what statistics would you like to see improved?

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Reader Comments


March 5, 2008 12:46 PM

Pretty much any data from the developing world, especially historical data (though that would probably take time travel of some kind).

Without the kinds of numbers in the developing world that we have come to rely on in the industrialized countries, we'll never be able to draw broad conclusions about growth in the poor countries. The recent revision of official Chinese data is one high-profile example, but just check out the World Bank or UN development databases. The countries missing data are the ones where meaningful analysis is needed most.

Joe Cushing

March 5, 2008 01:18 PM

I would like to see better statistics for measuring inflation. The current indexes are not enough. I don't know how to design them though. How do you determine the portion of price changes that are real and the portion that are do to changes in the money supply? What effect does the value of the dollar overseas have on its value at home? Could we make an index with less lag? On one hand we like to take certain commodities out of inflation indexes because of their volatility; on the other hand, I don't think we can ignore the price of oil right now. I don't think it is just a matter of demand shift. This gets back to my first question, real or inflation.


March 5, 2008 01:50 PM

We need much more on the service sector.
The data systems are still focused on the industrial sector and do not report nearly enough on the services sectors.Within this I would love to see data on services unit labor costs and productivity.

Brandon W

March 5, 2008 03:40 PM

1. A measurement of inflation that isn't a complete farce.

2. A way to calculate the costs of production on the environment. In a similar vein, a way to measure the true cost of the use of non-renewable resources.

3. A human stress-factor. The math of economics assumes humans can process infinitely more information and complexity, and/or work infinitely longer hours, or work infinitely faster.


March 5, 2008 03:55 PM

population age structure
age dependent labor force participation rate

Thomas A. Coss

March 5, 2008 11:12 PM

A meaningful measurement of health care labor efficiency, and while I'm at it, a non controversial non building capital investment number. I suspect we can do the math from there.



March 6, 2008 12:42 PM

(1) Really good house price statistics that don't depend on a particular type (or any) mortgage.

(2) Much more funding for BLS price statistics: CPI, PPI, and particularly construction cost indexes.

(3) International asset holdings.

Dan Olson

March 6, 2008 01:29 PM

How about statistics that measure job growth in terms of the wages they provide. When I hear that we've added or lost jobs in the economy it doesn't mean much to me -- even if the data is focused on a particular sector. Wouldn't it be more useful to hear how many jobs we're adding (or losing) at particular wage or income levels?

Denis Drew

March 6, 2008 01:43 PM


Approaching 37% of American families below a better defined poverty line?

The 50 percentile American family income in 2005 was $56,277 (technically, that's mean third-quintile in the Census tables).

The "minimum needs" table on p.44 of the 2001 book, Raise the Floor, maps out a very plausible poverty line for a family of three at $31,111 in 2005 dollars -- assuming health care is otherwise provided. Add $11,000 to purchase a family health plan and this plausible poverty line rises to $42,111 for a family of three (three years ago) -- the Raise' line computed by a totaling up of actual needs, not the half-century old federal formula of three times the price of an "emergency" diet.

(Raise' provides extensive explanations for its minimum needs parameters in Appendix B -- its tables cite Solutions for Progress. Average family size is 3.13 persons.)

The difference between second and third quintile averages ($35,000 and $56,000) runs roughly $1,000/percentile. So, needing to add $7,000 to $35,000 -- the 30 percentile mark -- to get $42,000 demarks 37%* of American families below poverty, at least without food stamps and other helps. Assuming all families were covered by comprehensive health insurance would still leave 26% of families on the wrong side of Raise's minimum needs line without helps -- don't know how many of those families between 26% and 37% are covered or by how much.

However perfectly accurate Raise's tables may or may not be, our media continuing to report the decades now, mis-measured federal poverty line of 12.5% without qualification is like the press of Columbus' era repeating without comment that the world is flat -- it makes no waves; but informed folks know better. :-)

[* Raise's tables allot $3,000 for yearly medical expenses for a family of three even if insured.]


March 6, 2008 06:12 PM

1) Accurate Composite Measurement
Consumer Psychological Outlook
(calculated on 24 hour basis using)
(readily available "market" data)

2) Accurate Composite Measurement
Investor Psychological Outlook
(calculated on 24 hour basis using)
(readily available "market" data)

Mike Mandel

March 10, 2008 11:58 AM

Great suggestions. I'm going to come back with a post on this. I think we need a lot more data than we have.


March 13, 2008 12:29 PM

1) More timely and accurate data are clearly needed in the service sector. Much of the monthly data available on the service sector are estimated with trend, meaning they are most wrong at turning points -- exactly when you most need it to be right! We usually only get accurate service sector data a year or two down the road, when the detailed annual benchmark data are incorporated.

2) I disagree with the need for more inflation data. Individuals are largely constrained by their incomes. As such, the only real inflation risk is that rising inflation expectations result in escalators in wage/salary adjustments (see the 1970s). As such, the sole focus for inflation should be on inflation expectations and the degree to which that is impacting wage growth outside of productive gains. There is actually fairly timely and accurate data on both of these inflation measures, especially relative to the service sector data.

Brandon W

March 14, 2008 12:53 PM

The absurdity of the CPI statistic was demonstrated in todays report. How any government economist can look at us straight-faced and tell us there was zero inflation in February is beyond me.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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