Stephen Redding, David Weinstein, 03 October 2016

Big data stands to transform economic measurement in substantial ways. The volume and precision of data available allows economists to revisit the foundational assumptions underpinning common indexes. This column presents a new empirical methodology that leverages big data to translate nominal numbers into real output or welfare. ‘The unified approach’ nests major price indexes and addresses implicit biases in these measures. An examination with barcode data suggests that standard methods of measuring welfare overstate cost of living increases by ignoring new products and demand shifts.

John Gibson, 01 September 2016

Different survey methodologies are typically employed to produce estimates of global hunger. This column considers some of the methodological issues that arise. Short reference periods for each household lead to overstated variances and the confounding of chronic and transient welfare components. The column goes on to present a new approach to measuring chronic hunger which tackles this sampling problem by employing an intra-year panel. 

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The global financial crisis has had a profound impact on output and productivity in advanced and emerging economies. In response, policymakers around the world have acted boldly with monetary policy, macro-prudential policy and regulation.

Is productivity being held back by financial factors - such as the lack of long term finance for long term investment - or is productivity being held back by real economy factors, such as globalisation and demographics? The recent crisis has also spurred a reassessment of the relationship between the level (and type) of finance and growth. Could weak productivity growth owe in part to wasteful investment spending or an undersupply of financial services? How does the mix of early and late stage financing drive investment and productivity? This conference aims to bring together perspectives on these big questions, as they will provide important guidance for future policy actions.

Maxim Pinkovskiy, Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 26 June 2016

When it comes to measuring GDP, researchers tend to use the latest vintage of the Penn World Tables. However, competing series like the World Development Indicators (WDI) and changing methodologies between vintages mean this is not necessarily the best approach. This column assesses the relative performance of different GDP estimators using night-time lights as an unbiased predictor of the growth rates of unobserved true income. Newer versions of the Penn Tables are not necessarily improvements on their direct predecessors.  Newer versions of the WDI index, especially the 2011 vintage, appear generally better at measuring cross-country income differences.

Margherita Comola, Marcel Fafchamps, 08 December 2015

Dyadic social network data – describing relations between two actors – are frequently derived from self-reporting surveys. This column explores how the misreporting problems that are typical of such data can bias estimations. Data on transfers between households in a Tanzanian village are shown to display a high rate of discrepancies within dyads. Failure to account for such misreporting results in a sizeable underestimation of inter-household transfers. 

Tarun Ramadorai, 24 October 2013

The 2013 Nobel laureates’ work has greatly improved our understanding of asset markets. Their blend of rigorous statistical analysis, economic theory, and respect for ‘market wisdom’ has provided a huge impetus to the field of empirical asset pricing – one of the most important and active areas of economics research. The insights gained in this field have important real-world implications, helping individuals to make better investment decisions and policymakers to design more appropriate financial regulations.

Steven Medema, 18 September 2013

Ronald Coase’s contributions to economics were much broader than most economists recognise. His work was characterised by a rejection of ‘blackboard economics’ in favour of detailed case studies and a comparative analysis of real-world institutions. This column argues that the ‘Coase theorem’ as commonly understood is in fact antithetical to Coase’s approach to economics.

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