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Latest Issue

Depending on the Undependable

February 14, 2020

The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of [GDP].”

—Simon Kuznets (who developed GDP), 1934

At the risk of restating the obvious, production should result in a product the producer can recognize. That’s the case even for intangible products. Artists know their songs even if hearing a pirate copy.

This also applies to a country’s aggregate production, i.e., Gross Domestic Product. Of course, we can’t expect the government to count every single widget we make. Nor should we want them to; the collection process would be pretty intrusive. But they should be able to make a reasonably close estimate.

Yet we have no such estimate. As I explained last week, we use GDP because we have nothing better, but it misses a lot. Business, government, and especially Federal Reserve policymakers look at GDP when they make important decisions. Is it any wonder that flawed data leads to flawed policies?

Today we’ll extend the GDP discussion, looking at where these numbers originate, what they miss, and what the Fed in particular does with them. As you’ll see, we need better data… but it’s not at all clear Fed officials would use such data correctly, even if they had it.

Sam Zell
Sam Zell
Chairman of Equity Group Investments

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