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On Functions, Quality, and Timeliness of Economic Information

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  • Victor Zarnowitz

Abstract

The flow of production and use of economic information consists of the collection and processing of primary data, the reporting of the resulting measures, and the transformation of the latter into signals or messages that presumably aid knowledge or decision-making. Each stage contributes to the return and costs, quality and errors of the information. The processes involved on the micro and macro levels show important similarities and interact ions. The uncertainty about economic information increases with the probability of error in the underlying data and their processing and interpretation. Many errors cannot be promptly detected and eliminated but can be gradually reduced over time, as attested by the revisions in economic statistics. This paper presents substantial evidence on the accuracy of provisional estimates of quarterly and monthly changes in eighteen important variables. Measures of several aspects of data quality and of average lags of data release and signal detection are provided for a collection of 110 widely used economic indicators. These materials help identify the location of the more serious measurement errors by variable and period, and they show that informational lags of five and more months are frequent. The errors and lags of information may lead to apparently "systematic" but not readily detectable and removable errors in expectations. This is likely to happen, in particular, in times of great surprises and shocks when measurement of short-term changes in the economy is most difficult and current signals are often misread. Some illustrations are drawn from the events of 1970-75.

Suggested Citation

  • Victor Zarnowitz, 1980. "On Functions, Quality, and Timeliness of Economic Information," NBER Working Papers 0608, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0608
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gordon, Robert Aaron, 1976. "Rigor and Relevance in a Changing Institutional Setting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(1), pages 1-14, March.
    2. Rendigs Fels & C. Elton Hinshaw, 1968. "Forecasting and Recognizing Business Cycle Turning Points," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number fels68-1, June.
    3. Laidler, David E W & Parkin, J Michael, 1975. "Inflation: A Survey," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 85(340), pages 741-809, December.
    4. Hall, Robert E., 1980. "Labor supply and aggregate fluctuations," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 7-33, January.
    5. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1972. "Expectations and the neutrality of money," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 103-124, April.
    6. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1973. "Where Are We in the Theory of Information?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(2), pages 31-39, May.
    7. Thomas J. Sargent & Christopher A. Sims, 1977. "Business cycle modeling without pretending to have too much a priori economic theory," Working Papers 55, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    8. Rosanne Cole, 1969. "Errors in Provisional Estimates of Gross National Product," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number cole69-1, June.
    9. George J. Stigler, 1961. "The Economics of Information," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 69, pages 213-213.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Victor Zarnowitz & Louis A. Lambros, 1983. "Consensus and Uncertainty in Economic Prediction," NBER Working Papers 1171, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Jeffrey A. Frankel., 1987. "Obstacles to International Macroeconomic Policy Coordination," Economics Working Papers 8737, University of California at Berkeley.
    3. Sinclair, Tara M. & Stekler, H.O., 2013. "Examining the quality of early GDP component estimates," International Journal of Forecasting, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 736-750.
    4. Verónica Cañal-Fernández, 2012. "Accuracy and reliability of Spanish regional accounts (CRE-95)," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 43(3), pages 1299-1320, December.
    5. Robert H. McGuckin & Ataman Ozyildirim & Victor Zarnowitz, 2000. "The Composite Index of Leading Economic Indicators: How to Make it More Timely," Economics Program Working Papers 00-04, The Conference Board, Economics Program.
    6. Dean Croushore, 2011. "Frontiers of Real-Time Data Analysis," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 72-100, March.
    7. Robert E. Keleher, 1990. "Monetarism And The Use Of Market Prices As Monetary Policy Indicators," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 8(2), pages 36-49, April.
    8. Victor Zarnowitz & Geoffrey H. Moore, 1986. "Forecasting Recessions Under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Law," NBER Working Papers 2066, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Victor Zarnowitz, 1982. "Expectations and Forecasts from Business Outlook Surveys," NBER Working Papers 0845, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Victor Zarnowitz, 1983. "Rational Expectations and Macroeconomic Forecasts," NBER Working Papers 1070, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Tara M. Sinclair & H.O. Stekler, 2011. "Differences in Early GDP Component Estimates Between Recession and Expansion," Working Papers 2011-05, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.

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