Friday, March 24, 2017

How Long Have Economists Known About The Shortcomings Of GDP?

I occasionally hear about people who say we need a better measure of our economic welfare than GDP. But economists are not blind to its shortcomings. The textbook I use for my macro class includes a discussion of these issues. For example, GDP does not take into account how the quality of goods changes over time or how much leisure time we have and how that has changed over time.

There is also production that takes place outside of the market place. Economists have been aware of this since GDP was first created.

See What's the Value of US Household Production? by Timothy Taylor, Managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. He presents some comments made by economist Simon Kuznets in 1934. Kuznets was the author of the 1934 report to Congress "National Income, 1929-1932." He also won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1971.

Here is one part of that report, from Mr Taylor's post:

"Kuznets wrote in 1934:
"The volume of services rendered by housewives and other members of the  household toward the satisfaction of wants must be imposing indeed,  when totaled for the 30 million families comprising the population of  this country; and the item is thus large enough to affect materially any estimate of national income. But the organization of these services  render them an integral part of family life at large, rather than of the specifically business life of the nation. Such services are, therefore, quite removed from those which gainfully occupied groups undertake to perform in return for wages, salaries, or profits. It was considered  best to omit this large group of services from national income, especially  since no reliable basis is available for estimating their value. This  omission, unavoidable though it is, lowers the value of national income  measurements as indexes of the nation's productivity in conditions  of recent years when the contraction of the market economy was accompanied by an expansion of activity within the family. ... Thus, the estimates submitted in the present study define income in such a way as to cover primarily only  efforts whose results appear on the market place of our economy.  A student of social affairs who is interested in the total productivity  of the nation, including those efforts which, like housewives' services,  do not appear on the market, can therefore use our measures only with some qualifications.""
Taylor also mentions "The value of household services was equal to about 37% of GDP in 1965, but is currently equal to about 23% of GDP."

Click here to learn more about Kuznets' contributions to economics

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