Underestimating the Real Growth of GDP, Personal Income and Productivity

26 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2017

See all articles by Martin S. Feldstein

Martin S. Feldstein

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) (deceased); Harvard University (deceased)

Date Written: March 2017

Abstract

The problems involved in estimating real output that I discuss in this paper cause the official government statistics to underestimate of the rates of growth of real GDP, real personal income, and productivity. That underestimation is important not just to economists trying to understand where the economy is going but also to the broader public and to the political system.The understatement of real growth reflects the enormous difficulty of dealing with quality change and the even greater difficulty of measuring the value created by the introduction of new goods and services. Despite the vast amount of attention that has been devoted to this subject in the economic literature and by the government agencies, there remains insufficient understanding of just how imperfect the official estimates actually are. It is important for economists to recognize the limits of our knowledge and to adjust public statements and policies to what we can know.This paper is not about the recent slowdown in measured productivity but that subject is discussed briefly.

Suggested Citation

Feldstein, Martin S., Underestimating the Real Growth of GDP, Personal Income and Productivity (March 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w23306, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2946688

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