Pay No Attention to the GDP Details

A blog about business and economics.
April 26 2013 9:04 AM

Let's Stop Poring Over the Detailed Internals of the GDP Report

Part of the miracle of modern-day existence is that within 20 minutes of the release of the 1st-Quarter GDP numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the data had been sliced every which way. Personal consumption expenditures were strong, but government spending was weak—blame sequestration! But wasn't Q1, which ended in March, too fast for sequestration? Housing was way up, but up by less than in Q4. A bullish sign? A bearish one?

The flip side of this miracle is that we haven't had a miracle in the realm of data collection. These figures are called the "advanced estimate." Mostly likely the headline conclusion that overall growth was meh won't be revised away. But those telling details in the internals? Any one of them could vanish in a flash of re-estimation. One figure that I find particularly intriguing in this report is the private business investment in equipment and software category, which is pretty weak. But I'm not going to make too big a deal out of it. The number might be revised, but what's more, the BEA is going to adopt a whole new method for measuring business investment over the summer, so these figures will have to be recalculated again.

I don't think this GDP report tells you much more than what you can see looking out the window. The economy is growing, not shrinking, but it's also not booming, and lots of people and lots of places are still visibly scarred by the economic calamity of 2008-2009.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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