GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History [NOOK Book]

Overview

Why did the size of the U.S. economy increase by 3 percent on one day in mid-2013?or Ghana?s balloon by 60 percent overnight in 2010? Why did the U.K. financial industry show its fastest expansion ever at the end of 2008?just as the world?s financial system went into meltdown? And why was Greece?s chief statistician charged with treason in 2013 for apparently doing nothing more than trying to accurately report the size of his country?s economy? The answers to all these questions lie in the way we define and ...

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GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History

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Overview

Why did the size of the U.S. economy increase by 3 percent on one day in mid-2013—or Ghana’s balloon by 60 percent overnight in 2010? Why did the U.K. financial industry show its fastest expansion ever at the end of 2008—just as the world’s financial system went into meltdown? And why was Greece’s chief statistician charged with treason in 2013 for apparently doing nothing more than trying to accurately report the size of his country’s economy? The answers to all these questions lie in the way we define and measure national economies around the world: Gross Domestic Product. This entertaining and informative book tells the story of GDP, making sense of a statistic that appears constantly in the news, business, and politics, and that seems to rule our lives—but that hardly anyone actually understands.

Diane Coyle traces the history of this artificial, abstract, complex, but exceedingly important statistic from its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century precursors through its invention in the 1940s and its postwar golden age, and then through the Great Crash up to today. The reader learns why this standard measure of the size of a country’s economy was invented, how it has changed over the decades, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. The book explains why even small changes in GDP can decide elections, influence major political decisions, and determine whether countries can keep borrowing or be thrown into recession. The book ends by making the case that GDP was a good measure for the twentieth century but is increasingly inappropriate for a twenty-first-century economy driven by innovation, services, and intangible goods.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] little charmer of a book . . . GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History is just what the title promises. . . . Cowperthwaite himself would nod in agreement over Ms. Coyle's informed discussion of what the GDP misses and how it misfires. . . . Ms. Coyle—a graceful and witty writer, by the way—recounts familiar problems and adds some new ones. . . . [E]xcellent."—James Grant, Wall Street Journal

"Anyone who wants to know how GDP and the SNA have come to play such important roles in economic policy-making will gain from reading Coyle's book. As will anyone who wants to gain more understanding of the concept's strengths and weaknesses."—Nicholas Oulton, Science

"Diane Coyle's new book, GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History, is a timely contribution to discussions of modern economic performance."—Arnold Kling, American

"[E]xcellent."—Adam Creighton, The Australian

"Diane Coyle's book is as good a simple guide as we are likely to see."—Samuel Brittan, Financial Times

"Coyle does good work explicating a topic that few understand, even if it affects each of us daily. A pleasure for facts-and-numbers geeks, though accessibly written and full of meaningful real-world examples."—Kirkus Reviews

"[S]mart and lucid. . . . [S]hort but masterful."—Todd G. Buchholz, Finance & Development

"[G]reat (and well-timed) new book."—Uri Friedman, The Atlantic

"In a charming and accessible new book, Diane Coyle untangles the history, assumptions, challenges and shortcomings of this popular rhetorical device, which has become so central to policy debates around the world. . . . Coyle's book is a good primer for the average citizen as well as the seasoned economist."—Adam Gurri, Ümlaut

"[I]t is interesting and important, particularly when it comes to the emphasis now given to GDP, and the inadequacies of this now time-honoured measurement of how our economies are doing. . . . With clarity and precision, she explains its strengths and weaknesses."—Peter Day, BBC News Business
"Diane Coyle has bravely attempted in a recent book to make the subject once more accessible, and even interesting."—John Kay, Financial Times

"[T]his is as engaging a book about GDP as you could ever hope to read. It falls into that genre of books that are 'biographies of things'—be they histories of longitude, the number zero or the potato—and is both enlightening and entertaining."—Andrew Sawers, FS Focus

Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-31
It's inadequate and misleading, but it's the best we've got. No, not Congress—we're talking about gross domestic product, the measure that economists use to tell us how we're doing. Put it this way: Music companies bemoan ever falling levels of sales, fewer and fewer units moved of what used to be surefire best-sellers. Does this mean that no one is listening to music? Of course not, observes British economic consultant Coyle: We are awash in music, but no one is paying for it in what has been called the "everything's free economy." GDP, as the author notes, is a "made-up entity" that has been with us only since the World War II era, "an abstract statistic derived in extremely complicated ways, yet one that has tremendous importance." Designed to give some sort of statistical parity to different kinds of economies (agricultural and industrial, say), so that apples could be compared to oranges and still be a fruitful index of well-being, GDP has built-in biases. In at least one important dimension, it puts perhaps undue emphasis on the idea of growth—the sort of mass production that, as Coyle notes, allowed cheap penicillin into the market, among other items in a technological "flood of innovations" that ordinary people could afford. But in a time of increasing abstraction and specialization, when so much economic activity centers on consuming and the servicing of consumers rather than actually making anything, can GDP serve as a reliable measuring stick? It's a flawed instrument, Coyle allows, before urging that, even in the wake of the Great Recession, and for all its inability to gauge "happiness" and other less quantifiable aspects of our lives, "we should not be in a rush to ditch GDP." Coyle does good work explicating a topic that few understand, even if it affects each of us daily. A pleasure for facts-and-numbers geeks, though accessibly written and full of meaningful real-world examples.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400849970
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/23/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Core Textbook
  • Pages: 168
  • Sales rank: 103,073
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Diane Coyle is the author of a number of books, including "The Economics of Enough" and "The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters" (both Princeton). She holds a PhD in economics from Harvard and is a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
ONE From the Eighteenth Century to the 1930s: War and Depression 7
TWO 1945 to 1975: The Golden Age 41
THREE The Legacy of the 1970s: A Crisis of Capitalism 59
FOUR 1995 to 2005: The New Paradigm 77
FIVE Our Times: The Great Crash 93
SIX The Future: Twenty-first-Century GDP 119
Acknowledgments 141
Notes 143
Index 153
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