Understanding Economic Statistics: An OECD Perspective

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08 Oct 2008
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9789264046986 (PDF) ; 9789264033122 (print)

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Drawing on OECD statistics in particular, ‘Understanding Economic Statistics: an OECD perspective' shows readers how to use statistics to understand the world economy. It gives an overview of the history, key concepts and the main providers of economic statistics. A detailed chapter provides a comprehensive picture of the main statistical activities of the OECD.  Finally, the book explores the crucial issue of quality assurance and the implications for public trust.

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  • The Demand for Economic Statistics
    The media publish economic data on a daily basis. But who decides which statistics are useful and which are not? Why is housework not included in the national income, and why are financial data available in real time, while to know the number of people in employment analysts have to wait for weeks? Contrary to popular belief, both the availability and the nature of economic statistics are closely linked to developments in economic theory, the requirements of political decision-makers, and each country’s way of looking at itself. In practice, statistics are based on theoretical and interpretative reference models, and if these change, so does the picture the statistics paint of the economic system. Thus, the data we have today represent the supply and demand sides of statistical information constantly attempting to catch up with each other, with both sides being strongly influenced by the changes taking place in society and political life. This chapter offers a descriptive summary of how the demand for economic statistics has evolved from the end of the Second World War to the present, characterised by the new challenges brought about by globalisation and the rise of the services sector.
  • Basic Concepts, Definitions and Classifications
    How is an economic system defined? Who are the economic agents, and how is a household distinguished from an enterprise? How is the growth of an economy measured? How is a time series defined, and what is the difference between a trend, a cycle and a seasonal variation? This chapter provides an overview of the main concepts and methodological tools necessary to read and analyse the main economic statistics described in Chapter 4. After introducing the main definitions concerning the economic system, we shall analyse the characteristics of the principal economic agents (households, enterprises and public and private institutions) using examples drawn from OECD countries, and then we shall review the main economic aggregates as defined in national accounts, from gross domestic product to national income. The second part of the chapter will be devoted to a brief presentation of index numbers and time series analysis, which are indispensable tools for "reading" economic statistics.
  • The Main Producers of Economic Statistics
    Who produces economic statistics? How is the international statistical system organised? Which are the main databases available on the Internet? This chapter outlines the institutional and organisational features of the main producers of economic statistics, starting with international organisations and moving on to review the European and the OECD statistical systems. The division of work between the international organisations and the bodies responsible at the national level for producing statistics (national statistical institutes, other government bodies and central banks) has a significant influence on the availability, and most of all, the quality of the data in existence. Of particular importance during the past 20 years has been the role played by Eurostat and other European institutions, both in setting objectives for the national production of economic statistics, and in making these increasingly comparable internationally. This chapter also contains references to the databases available from international and supranational organisations other than OECD. 
  • An Overview of OECD Economic Statistics
    How can we compare the economic structure of OECD countries? Are small and medium enterprises more efficient than the large ones? How can we measure innovation or globalisation? Are the official measures of inflation reliable? This chapter shows how economic statistics published by the OECD can help in answering these and other questions relevant both for analytical and policy purposes. In particular, for each topic (statistics on agriculture, energy, industry and services, national accounts, etc.) the key definitions used to compile internationally comparable statistics are presented, together with the sources. The chapter also describes some of the activities already underway or planned to improve the quality of OECD statistics. Finally, charts and tables are used to highlight just a subset of data available in OECD databases and publications.
  • Assessing the Quality of Economic Statistics
    How can we distinguish between high-quality statistics and data whose quality is poor? And what exactly do we mean by the "quality" of statistical data? Do quality standards exist for statistics? If so, who established them? At present, when users have practically unlimited access to statistical information but often feel bombarded by the media with sometimes conflicting data, the ability to identify high-quality statistics is of paramount importance. This chapter illustrates the basic concepts developed to ascertain the quality of statistical data, and the initiatives launched at the international level to assess the quality of statistics produced by national statistical offices and other producers of official statistics. Given that the international comparability of statistics plays a key role in the decision-making process of major international organisations, the IMF, the OECD and European authorities have worked particularly hard to develop models for assessing statistical quality. 
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