GDP and Other Mysteries

The statistics that drive our big-picture economic thinking — GDP, unemployment figures, and inflation rates, among others — have come to be regarded as nearly sacrosanct. Investors, policymakers, and everyday consumers rely on them to make decisions trivial and earthshaking alike, often measured in trillions of dollars. Zachary Karabell, in his book The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World, traces the history of these numbers and questions how useful they actually are.

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FMN: Leading Indicators - A Brief History of Numbers That Rule Our World

Zachary Karabell on Leading Indicators of Success Every day we are bombarded with numbers. Some tell us how we are doing. Others indicate whether the economy is growing or shrinking and whether the future looks bright or dim. Figures showing gross national product, balance of trade, unemployment, inflation and consumer confidence guide our actions, yet few of us know what they mean or why they are so important.

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Storm on the Horizon? The Changing Climate of Financial Markets

In the closing video from our 2014 Miami event, we highlight the testing conditions in financial markets. Robert Westcott, former advisor to President Clinton, examines ‘climate change’, whilst economist Zachary Karabell argues we should be looking at different indicators all together.

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Book TV After Words: Zachary Karabell, "The Leading Indicators."

There are a set of five economic indicators that have been guiding U.S. economic policy for decades, but most are not understood by the average citizen and, Mr. Karabell argues, are not as relevant today as when they were created. Gross national product, balance of trade, unemployment, inflation and consumer confidence should no longer be the primary basis for business plans or monetary policy, he says, as the technology revolution has made considerably more data available. He talks with Wall Street Journal reporter Kimberly Strassel.

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GDP's Early Relevance

Economist Zachary Karabell explains the historical progression of the leading indicators in use today. Starting with World War II and continuing through the '50s and '60s, Karabell describes how the numbers came to be policymaking tools. This Carnegie Council event took place on March 11, 2014. For complete aud

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How Counting the Unemployed Started as a Progressive Reform

In an excerpt from his book, reprinted here by permission of Simon & Schuster, Karabell traces how employment data collection originated as a progressive antidote to economic inequality. But even the reformists who developed those statistics, Karabell notes, were wary of the “mania for statistics.”

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The Leading Indicators

n today's uncertain economy, both the public and the world's leaders rely heavily on certain indicators to tell us how we are doing. Gross national product, balance of trade, unemployment figures, inflation, and the consumer price index determine whether we feel optimistic or pessimistic about our future and dictate whether businesses hire or hunker down, governments spend trillions or try to reduce debt, and individuals buy a car, get a mortgage, or look for a job. Yet few of us know where these numbers come from, what they mean, or why they rule our world.

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25 for 25: Leave the Big Numbers to Janet Yellen

There's a small problem with numbers we use to measure the economy. You know, those numbers you hear on Marketplace every day. "One simple number is never going to capture simple reality," says Zachary Karabell, historian and economist and author of "The Leading Indicators: A short history of the numbers that rule our world."

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