Look at GDP growth over the last five years, and the United States comes out smelling like roses, relative to other high-income countries, at nearly 3% growth per year. But statistics can be deceiving.
An article from the Economist titled “Grossly Distorted Picture,” questions whether GDP is an accurate measure of a nation’s economic health. The article suggests that, though GDP growth for the United States is higher than other countries, other factors, like population, also play an important role. As the article points out, growth of GDP per person is perhaps a more meaningful measure of economic progress than simply growth of GDP.
For example, over the same four-year period (2003-2007) Japan’s GDP growth was just over 2%, far below the nearly 3% growth the United States experienced. But during that time, Japan’s population was shrinking while the population of the United States was growing at nearly 1% per year.
If you calculate GDP per person Japan’s economy actually grew faster (2.1%) than that of the United States (1.9%).
1. Which countries have the biggest discrepancies between GDP growth and GDP per person over the last five years? Does that change your perceptions of the health of these nations?
2. As the article points out, annual U.S. population growth is roughly 1%. The annualized growth of U.S. real GDP (real GDP is an inflation-adjusted measure of output) was 0.6% during the last three months of 2007. Assuming U.S. real GDP growth in the first three months of 2008 was about the same—what does this imply for U.S. GDP per person?
3. Economists typically define a recession as six months or more of declining real GDP How would the use of real GDP per person rather than real GDP change our perspective on recent U.S. economic performance? According to this method, is the U.S. economy in recession?
4. As gauges of economic output, both GDP and GDP per person have their flaws. For starters, each measure misses the value of things that are not traded in a legitimate marketplace but may nonetheless impact our economic well-being. Underground activity, whether illicit drug dealing or benign babysitting, does not register in national income accounts. Environmental damage associated with our production and consumption is also not a factor. Can you think of other statistics we should consider when measuring a nation’s economic health? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks to those methods?