OECD Observer
Calculate this country’s GDP

How much of a country can you count? The newly updated Understanding National Accounts from the OECD answers this question and gives a summary of how to calculate the accounts as well as the principles and data sources behind them.

Last week, the media reported on the questions Oxford University asked candidates as part of their entrance interview. The questions aren’t designed to test knowledge of facts, but to give students a chance to show how they think about solving problems, whether they can see links between one subject taught at school and another, and so on. One of the questions in history was “How much of the past can you count?”. The idea, as interviewer Stephen Tuck told the Daily Mail, is to provoke a discussion about “all sorts of issues relating to historical evidence. For which periods and places and aspects of the past is data readily available?”. It’s a question you could ask in economics too: how much of a country can you count? And one that the newly updatedUnderstanding National Accounts from the OECD answers.

Governments have always wanted to have data on who and what they govern – a population census is part of the Christmas story for instance – and, as we mentioned inthis post, the origins of the modern system of counting a country can be traced back to the 17th century and William Petty’s Political Arithmetick. Petty developed and applied his techniques in England’s first colony, surveying land in Ireland that was to be given to Oliver Cromwell’s troops. His statistical methods were rudimentary, often involving estimation based on exports, deaths and the number 30: a 30% increase in exports means the population increased by 30%; multiply the number of deaths by 30 to find out the size of the population. His components of national accounts though contain much that is still familiar – land, real estate and other personal property, ships…

How though do you count all this? 

Read more at oecdinsights.org

Originally published on OECD Insights on 20 October 2014.  

Useful links

OECD Statistics Directorate

OECD data portal

Is GDP a satisfactory measure of growth? François Lequiller, co-author of Understanding National Accounts talks to the OECD Observer

©OECD Observer October 2014