Tag: macroeconomic indicators

A key economic objective of governments around the world is economic growth, where economic growth is taken to mean growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This can be refined as growth in GDP per head or growth in Net National Income (NNY or NNI) – this takes account of depreciation and net flows of income to and from abroad. But is GDP (or NNY) an appropriate measure? There continues to be much debate about this and there is a lot of support for adopting an alternative measure – the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as a target for economic policy.

GDP measures the market value of production and is the value added at each stage of production. If the value of a nation’s production is what you want to measure or target, then GDP is quite a good indicator. Its main drawbacks are that it uses market prices, which may be distorted, and that much of production in the informal sector is not included.

But if GDP growth is taken to be a proxy for development or growth in wellbeing of the residents of a country, then it has serious shortcomings. This is not to say that GDP gives no indication of progress. Generally, countries with higher GDP per head have a better standard of living, but it is not necessarily the case that, if Country A has higher production in the formal sector than Country B, its residents will be happier, more fulfilled and have fewer economic or other problems.

GDP, by focusing on production, ignores many environmental and social costs of that production. Valuable but not tradable resources, such as clean air, rivers and oceans, may be sacrificed for the sake of extra production and this is recorded as a gain in GDP.

Similarly, unless GDP is specifically weighted by income groups, which virtually never happens, it does not take into account income distribution. Much of the growth in production in both rich and poor countries in recent decades has gone to the richest people. Take the case of the USA. In 1944 the share of income going to the top 1% share was 11.3%, while the bottom 90% were receiving 67.5%. Such levels remained roughly constant for the next three decades. But then things began to change.

Starting in the mid- to late 1970s, the uppermost tier’s income share began rising dramatically, while that of the bottom 90% started to fall. The top 1% took heavy hits from the dot-com crash and the Great Recession but recovered fairly quickly: [preliminary estimates for 2012 by Emmanuel Saez] have that group receiving nearly 22.5% of all pre-tax income, while the bottom 90%’s share is below 50% for the first time ever (49.6%, to be precise).

So what does GPI measure and why may it be a better target for policy-makers than GDP or NNY? The answer is that it includes a number of important items that affect the well-being of a country, such as resource depletion, social activity and income distribution, that are not measured in GDP. So what would cause GPI to rise? According to The Guardian article below, examples would include:

Getting more energy from renewables; increased energy efficiency; reducing the income gap; putting more reliable, durable products on the market (have you heard of planned obsolescence?); volunteering more for your community; preserving wetlands, forests, and farmland; shorter commutes and transport routes. In fact, there are 26 ways the GPI can go up, all measured in dollars that boil down to a single number.

GPI is being increasingly adopted as a measure of progress. In the USA, it is officially used in Vermont and Maryland and is being considered in other states, such as Hawaii, Washington and Oregon.

And there are other alternatives. For example, since 1990, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has published an annual Human Development Index (HDI) As Box 27.1 in Economics, 8th edition states:

HDI is the average of three indices based on three sets of variables: (i) life expectancy at birth, (ii) education (a weighted average of (a) the mean years that a 25-year-old person or older has spent in school and (b) the number of years of schooling that a 5-year-old child is expected to have over their lifetime) and (iii) real GNY per capita, measured in US dollars at purchasing-power parity exchange rates.

The following articles look at the suitability of GDP and GPI and whether, by targeting growth in GDP, governments are guilty of downplaying the importance of other economic and social objectives.

Beyond GDP: US states have adopted genuine progress indicators The Guardian, Marta Ceroni (23/9/14)
Forget the GDP. Some States Have Found a Better Way to Measure Our Progress. New Republic, Lew Daly and Sean McElwee (3/2/14)
Gross domestic problem Aljazeera, Sean McElwee (6/6/14)
Creating the Circular Economy, Part II Environmental Leader, David Dornfeld (17/9/14)
Development: Time to leave GDP behind Nature, Robert Costanza, Ida Kubiszewski, Enrico Giovannini, Hunter Lovins, Jacqueline McGlade, Kate E. Pickett, Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, Debra Roberts, Roberto De Vogli and Richard Wilkinson (15/1/14)
The Problems With Using GPI Rather Than GDP Forbes, Tim Worstall (5/6/14)


  1. What does GDP measure?
  2. Does GDP of a country equate to the turnover of a firm?
  3. If growth in NNY is superior to growth in GDP as a measure of economic growth, why are GDP figures more generally used than NNY figures when assessing a country’s economic performance?
  4. How suitable is using GDP as a measure of a nation’s production?
  5. What does GPI measure?
  6. Is GPI superior to GDP as a measure of a nation’s level of development? Explain why or why not.
  7. Give some examples of where a growth in GDP might correspond to a decline in economic well-being.
  8. For what reasons could GPI measures be described as subjective?
  9. Would it be a good idea for a country to target growth in GPI/GDP? Explain your answer.
  10. In addition to real GNY per capita, the Human Development Index includes measures of education and life expectancy. For what other social objectives might education and life expectancy be useful proxies?

According to labour market data released by Office for National Statistics on 16 September, unemployment has risen to a 14-year high. The Labour Force Survey figures show a rise in unemployment from 2.26 million (7.2%) in the three months to April 2009 to 2.47 million (7.9%) in the three months to July 2009. The data also show a 12,000 rise in the claimant count between July and August.

However, there are signs that the UK economy is growing again. This was underlined by evidence given to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee on 15 September by the Governor of the Bank of England. So does this mean that businesses will take on more labour and that unemployment will fall?

The problem is that unemployment is a lagging indicator of economic activity. The reason is that many firms are reluctant to shed labour in recession and simply take up the slack as the economy recovers, without taking on extra labour. Even if they are short of labour, they may prefer to offer overtime to existing staff rather than employing new staff for fear that the upturn may be short-lived.

So what is likely to happen to unemployment over the coming months? Will it slowly fall or will it go on rising and, if so, for how long? Read the articles and then attempt the questions.

UK unemployment at 14 year high (video) BBC News (16/9/09)
UK jobless rate hits 14-year high Telegraph (17/9/09)
Unemployment crisis creates divide between private and public sector Telegraph (16/9/09)
Record one in five young people out of work (including video) Times Online (16/9/09)
Unemployment hits highest since 1995 Guardian (16/9/09)
Rising UK unemployment (charts of UK unemployment from 1984 to the present day) Guardian (16/9/09)
Unemployment at highest level since 1995 (including video) Channel 4 News (16/9/09)


  1. What is meant by the terms ‘leading indicators’ and ‘lagging indicators’? Give some examples of each.
  2. What determines the length of lag between a rise in output and (a) a rise in employment and (b) a fall in unemployment?
  3. Is unemployment a good measure of the excess supply of labour in the labour market? What other evidence might you need in order to assess the degree of slack in individual labour markets?
  4. If labour becomes more flexible in terms of the hours that people are prepared to work, will the unemployment lag increase or decrease? Explain.
  5. Under what circumstances does obtaining a university degree improve your job prospects?
  6. To what extent would reforming the benefits system, so as to reduce the poverty trap and give people a greater incentive to work, reduce unemployment (a) during a recession and (b) over the long term? What type of unemployment would be affected?

On the eve of the September 5/6 G20 meeting of Finance Ministers in London, the OECD published an interim forecast of the macroeconomic and financial performance of the G7 economies. According to the OECD, “Recovery from the global recession is likely to arrive earlier than had been expected a few months ago but the pace of activity will remain weak well into next year.” So is it time to start reversing the various fiscal and monetary stimuli adopted around the world? Or should governments and central banks continue to stimulate aggregate demand in order to maintain the fragile recovery? The following news releases, speeches and articles look at answers given to these questions by various countries and international institutions.

Recovery arriving quicker than expected but activity will remain weak, says OECD OECD News release (3/9/09)
What is the economic outlook for OECD countries? An interim assessment OECD Economic Outlook, Interim Assessment (3/9/09)
IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn sees Renewed Stability but remains cautious about Global Economic Recovery, notes need for Continued Policy Actions IMF press release (4/9/09)
Beyond the Crisis: Sustainable Growth and a Stable International Monetary System Speech by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (4/9/09)
Brown urges further G20 spending (video) Gordon Brown on BBC News (5/9/09)
America’s Timothy Geithner says it’s ‘too early’ to withdraw economic stimulus Telegraph (3/9/09)
Finance chiefs warn against early end to state support for eurozone economies Guardian (3/9/09)
Keep spending – Darling warns G20 against complacency Independent (3/9/09)
Brown’s agenda deserves a hearing Financial Times (1/9/09)
Tories join Germany and France in call for exit strategy from G20 bailout Times Online (3/9/09)
UK recession: Why are we lagging our neighbours? Telegraph (3/9/09)

Reflections after the conference:
After the shock, challenges remain BBC News (7/9/09)
The G20 has saved us, but it’s failing to rein in those who caused the crisis Observer (6/9/09)
The world is as one on not endangering recovery Times Online (t/9/09)


  1. Why is the pace of recovery in the G7 countries likely to be modest for some time?
  2. Why have unemployment rates risen much more rapidly in some countries than in others (see page 19 of the OECD report)?
  3. Referring to the OECD report, how would you summarise changes in the global financial situation over the past few months?
  4. Assess the arguments put forward by France and Germany for reining in their expansionary fiscal and monetary policies.
  5. Why is the UK economy, according to the OECD, likely to be the last of the G7 countries to pull out of recession?