20 maio 2016

Estatísticas econômicas estão desatualizadas

Reliable economic statistics are a vital public good. They are essential to effective policymaking, business planning, and the electorate’s ability to hold decision-makers to account.

And yet the methods we use to measure our economies are becoming increasingly out of date. The statistical conventions on which we base our estimates were adopted a half-century ago, at a time when the economy was producing relatively similar physical goods. Today’s economy is radically different and changing rapidly – the result of technological innovation, the rising value of intangible, knowledge-based assets, and the internationalization of economic activity.

In light of these challenges, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne asked me ten months ago to assess the United Kingdom’s current and future statistical needs. While my research focused on the UK, the challenges of producing relevant, high-quality economic statistics are the same in many countries.

Recent technological advances have radically altered the way people conduct their lives, both at work and at play. The advances in computing power underpinning the digital revolution have led not only to rapid quality improvements and product innovation, but also to new, connectivity-driven ways of exchanging and providing services.

One particular challenge for economic measurement stems from the fact that an increasing share of consumption comprises digital products delivered at a zero price or funded through alternative means, such as advertising. While free virtual goods clearly have value to consumers, they are entirely excluded from GDP, in accordance with internationally accepted statistical standards. As a result, our measurements may not be capturing a growing share of economic activity.


Measuring GDP, it turns out, is like trying to hit a moving target. The digital revolution is likely to be followed by yet another wave of disruptive technology, including advances in materials science, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering. As the economy evolves, so must the frame of reference for the statistics we use to measure it.

Consequently, internationally agreed statistical standards will almost always be somewhat out of date or incomplete, as they are bound to lag behind changes in the economy. National statistical offices should explore measurement issues that go beyond the prevailing standards, rather than use compliance as an excuse for their failure to innovate.

One solution would be to establish a continuing program of research into the measurement implications of emerging economic trends, conducting one-off studies at first to gauge their potential quantitative importance. This could then guide the development of experimental statistics capturing the new phenomena.


Ensuring that data accurately reflect a changing economy is one of the hardest tasks faced by national statistical institutes worldwide. Success requires not only understanding the limitations of traditional measurements, but also developing a curious and self-critical workforce that can collaborate with partners in academia, industry, the public sector, and other national statistical institutes to develop more appropriate methods.

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