A better economic measure?

Discussion of economic growth often focuses on the term “gross domestic product,” but economist Mark Skousen writes in the latest issue of Forbes that another measure offers a better picture of economic health.

Starting in spring 2014, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will release a breakthrough new economic statistic on a quarterly basis. It’s called Gross Output, a measure of total sales volume at all stages of production. GO is almost twice the size of GDP, the standard yardstick for measuring final goods and services produced in a year.

This is the first new economic aggregate since Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was introduced over fifty years ago. …

… GO attempts to measure total sales from the production of raw materials through intermediate producers to final retail. Based on my research, GO is a better indicator of the business cycle, and most consistent with economic growth theory.

GO is a measure of the “make” economy, while GDP represents the “use” economy. Both are essential to understanding how the economy works.

While GDP is a good measure of national economic performance, it has a major flaw: In limiting itself to final output, GDP largely ignores or downplays the “make” economy, that is, the supply chain and intermediate stages of production needed to produce all those finished goods and services. This narrow focus of GDP has created much mischief in the media, government policy, and boardroom decision-making. For example, journalists are constantly overemphasizing consumer and government spending as the driving force behind the economy, rather than saving, business investment, and technological advances. Since consumer spending represents 70% or more of GDP, followed by 20% by government, the media naively concludes that any slowdown in retail sales or government stimulus is necessarily bad for the economy. (Private investment comes in a poor third at 13%.)

In short, by focusing only on final output, GDP underestimates the money spent and economic activity generated at earlier stages in the production process. It’s as though the manufacturers and shippers and designers aren’t fully acknowledged in their contribution to overall growth or decline.

Gross Output exposes these misconceptions.

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