GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History

Princeton University Press
3

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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About 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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4.7
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 23, 2014
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Pages
168
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ISBN
9781400849970
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / Economics / Macroeconomics
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Diane Coyle
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.

Diane Coyle
The world's leading economies are facing not just one but many crises. The financial meltdown may not be over, climate change threatens major global disruption, economic inequality has reached extremes not seen for a century, and government and business are widely distrusted. At the same time, many people regret the consumerism and social corrosion of modern life. What these crises have in common, Diane Coyle argues, is a reckless disregard for the future--especially in the way the economy is run. How can we achieve the financial growth we need today without sacrificing a decent future for our children, our societies, and our planet? How can we realize what Coyle calls "the Economics of Enough"?

Running the economy for tomorrow as well as today will require a wide range of policy changes. The top priority must be ensuring that we get a true picture of long-term economic prospects, with the development of official statistics on national wealth in its broadest sense, including natural and human resources. Saving and investment will need to be encouraged over current consumption. Above all, governments will need to engage citizens in a process of debate about the difficult choices that lie ahead and rebuild a shared commitment to the future of our societies.

Creating a sustainable economy--having enough to be happy without cheating the future--won't be easy. But The Economics of Enough starts a profoundly important conversation about how we can begin--and the first steps we need to take.

Diane Coyle
To many, Thomas Carlyle's put-down of economics as "the dismal science" is as fitting now as it was 150 years ago. But Diane Coyle argues that economics today is more soulful than dismal, a more practical and human science than ever before. Building on the popularity of books such as Freakonomics that have applied economic thinking to the paradoxes of everyday life, The Soulful Science describes the remarkable creative renaissance in how economics is addressing the most fundamental questions--and how it is starting to help solve problems such as poverty and global warming. A lively and entertaining tour of the most exciting new economic thinking about big-picture problems, The Soulful Science uncovers the hidden humanization of economics over the past two decades.

Coyle shows how better data, increased computing power, and techniques such as game theory have transformed economic theory and practice in recent years, enabling economists to make huge strides in understanding real human behavior. Using insights from psychology, evolution, and complexity, economists are revolutionizing efforts to solve the world's most serious problems by giving policymakers a new and vastly more accurate picture of human society than ever before. They are also building our capacity to understand how what we do today shapes what the world will look like tomorrow. And the consequences of these developments for human life, for governments, and for businesses are only now starting to be realized--in areas such as resource auctions, pollution-credit trading, and monetary policy.

The Soulful Science tells us how economics got its soul back--and how it just might help save the planet's.

Diane Coyle
New Wealth for Old Nations provides a guide to policy priorities in small or regional economies. It will be of interest to policymakers, students, and scholars seeking avenues to improved growth, greater opportunity, and better governance. Some of the world's leading economists combine their research insights with a discussion of the practicalities of implementing structural reforms. Scotland is the ideal case study: the recent devolution of government in the United Kingdom offers a natural experiment in political economy, one whose lessons apply to almost any small, advanced economy.

One fundamental conclusion is that policy can make a big difference to long-term prosperity in small economies open to flows of knowledge, investment, and migrants. Indeed the difficulty in introducing growth-oriented policies lies more in the politics of implementing change than in the theoretical diagnosis. Public sector governance is consequently a key issue in creating a pro-growth consensus. And faster growth must be seen to improve opportunities for the population as a whole. Further, setting out the evidence--as this book does for Scotland--is vital to overcoming entrenched institutional barriers to policy reform. The first chapter is by Jo Armstrong, John McLaren, and the editors; and the subsequent chapters are by Paul Krugman, William Baumol, Edward Glaeser, Paul Hallwood and Ronald MacDonald, James Heckman and Dimitriy Masterov, Heather Joshi and Robert Wright, Nicholas Crafts, and John Bradley.

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