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GDP : A Brief but Affectionate History

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Why did the size of the U.S. economy increase by 3 percent on one day in mid-2013-or Ghana's balloon by 60 percent overnight in 2010? Why did the U.K. financial industry show its fastest expansion ever at the end of 2008-just as the world's financial system went into meltdown? And why was Greece's chief statistician charged with treason in 2013 for apparently doing nothing more than trying to accurately report the size of his country's economy? The answers to all these questions lie in the way we define and measure national economies around the world: Gross Domestic Product. This entertaining and informative book tells the story of GDP, making sense of a statistic that appears constantly in the news, business, and politics, and that seems to rule our lives-but that hardly anyone actually understands.Diane Coyle traces the history of this artificial, abstract, complex, but exceedingly important statistic from its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century precursors through its invention in the 1940s and its postwar golden age, and then through the Great Crash up to today. The reader learns why this standard measure of the size of a country's economy was invented, how it has changed over the decades, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. The book explains why even small changes in GDP can decide elections, influence major political decisions, and determine whether countries can keep borrowing or be thrown into recession. The book ends by making the case that GDP was a good measure for the twentieth century but is increasingly inappropriate for a twenty-first-century economy driven by innovation, services, and intangible goods.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 168 pages
  • 146 x 218 x 18mm | 359.99g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 2 halftones. 2 line illus. 2 tables.
  • 0691156794
  • 9780691156798
  • 139,155

Review quote

"A useful introduction to the meaning and limitations of GDP."--Pierre Lemieux, Regulation "A lively account."--Gillian Tett, Financial Times "Diane Coyle's eloquently written and accessible book provides a rich account of the history of GDP."--Johannes Hirata, International Review of Economics "Coyle's greatest achievement is to succinctly describe the history of the concept as it emerged in the 1940s as a result of wartime politics obsessed with measuring productive capacity in an economy."--Atiyab Sultan, Cambridge Humanities Review "Coyle takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the development workhorse of economic modeling and analysis. . . . The book developed out of a talk by the author in 2011 and it retains the liveliness of a performance."--Central Banking Journal "Coyle's account of the emergence and hegemony of GDP is a timely one, capturing in lucid historical detail the major conceptual weaknesses in the construction and use of GDP and the menu of alternative measures one might turn to."--Atiyab Sultan, Cambridge Humanities Review "Coyle is surely right when she says that GDP is not outmoded, despite all the problems. The people who use GDP need to understand what it is and what it isn't, and to know what are its strengths and weaknesses. They should read this invaluable and accessible guide."--Bill Allen, Business Economists "GDP is a thought-provoking account of how the gross domestic product statistic came to be so important. . . . The book is a useful and timely contribution."--Louise Rawlings, Economic Record "[A] little charmer of a book."--Wall Street Journal (A Best Non-Fiction Book of 2014) "Coyle has written an engaging, introductory to mid-level book on the GDP that makes sense of a statistic that hardly anyone actually understands. . . . It does not require any training in economics, but it covers many topics that even professional economists would find beneficial, including an argument that GDP is an increasingly inappropriate measure for the 21st century."--Choice "The strongest part of the book charts the development of national accounting from the 17th century through to the creation of GDP itself and its literal and metaphorical rises and falls in the 20th and 21st centuries. . . . This is lively and surprisingly readable stuff."--Eilis Lawlor, LSE Review of Books "As a potted history of approaches to quantifying national output from the 18th century onward, GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History deserves high marks. It is particularly edifying to learn about the military motivation behind the initial attempts."--Martin S. Fridson, Financial Analysts Journal "[T]his is as engaging a book about GDP as you could ever hope to read. It falls into that genre of books that are 'biographies of things'--be they histories of longitude, the number zero or the potato--and is both enlightening and entertaining."--Andrew Sawers, FS Focus "Diane Coyle has bravely attempted in a recent book to make the subject once more accessible, and even interesting."--John Kay, Financial Times "[I]t is interesting and important, particularly when it comes to the emphasis now given to GDP, and the inadequacies of this now time-honoured measurement of how our economies are doing. . . . With clarity and precision, she explains its strengths and weaknesses."--Peter Day, BBC News Business "In a charming and accessible new book, Diane Coyle untangles the history, assumptions, challenges and shortcomings of this popular rhetorical device, which has become so central to policy debates around the world. . . . Coyle's book is a good primer for the average citizen as well as the seasoned economist."--Adam Gurri, UEmlaut "[G]reat (and well-timed) new book."--Uri Friedman, The Atlantic "[S]mart and lucid. . . . [S]hort but masterful."--Todd G. Buchholz, Finance & Development "Coyle does good work explicating a topic that few understand, even if it affects each of us daily. A pleasure for facts-and-numbers geeks, though accessibly written and full of meaningful real-world examples."--Kirkus Reviews "Diane Coyle's book is as good a simple guide as we are likely to see."--Samuel Brittan, Financial Times "[E]xcellent."--Adam Creighton, The Australian "Diane Coyle's new book, GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History, is a timely contribution to discussions of modern economic performance."--Arnold Kling, American "Anyone who wants to know how GDP and the SNA have come to play such important roles in economic policy-making will gain from reading Coyle's book. As will anyone who wants to gain more understanding of the concept's strengths and weaknesses."--Nicholas Oulton, Science "[A] little charmer of a book . . . GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History is just what the title promises. . . . Cowperthwaite himself would nod in agreement over Ms. Coyle's informed discussion of what the GDP misses and how it misfires. . . . Ms. Coyle--a graceful and witty writer, by the way--recounts familiar problems and adds some new ones. . . . [E]xcellent."--James Grant, Wall Street Journal "GDP is, as Diane Coyle points out in her entertaining and informative GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History, a bodge, an ongoing argument."--John Lanchester, London Review of Books "Coyle's book GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History . . . provide[s] comprehensive and readable accounts of the history of national income and of the role of GDP in contemporary political and economic life."--David Throsby, Times Literary Supplement Winner of the 2015 Bronze Medal in Economics, Axiom Business Book AwardsOne of The Wall Street Journal's Best Books of 2014One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014One of FA-mag.com's Books of the Year 2014One of "The Books Quartz Read" in 2014One of Minnpost.com's `Three (plus) books for the econ buff on your list' 2014Longlisted for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2014show more

Back cover copy

"Diane Coyle renders GDP accessible and introduces a much-needed historical perspective to the discourse of what we measure and why. A must-read for those interested in the far-reaching impact of GDP on the global economy, just as we seek ways to go beyond it."--Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development "Countries are judged by their success in producing GDP. But what is it and where do those numbers reported on television come from? Diane Coyle makes GDP come to life--we see its strengths and its fallibilities, and we learn to understand and respect both."--Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, 2003-2013 "This is an engaging and witty but also profoundly important book. Diane Coyle clearly and elegantly explains the fundamental difficulties of GDP--and how this headline figure is liable to radical change by apparently simple changes in method. She also provides a nice treatment of alternative proposals such as happiness surveys."--Harold James, author of Making the European Monetary Union "Well written, interesting, and useful, this book will appeal to many readers. I learned a lot from it."--Robert Hahn, University of Oxfordshow more

About Diane Coyle

Diane Coyle is the author of a number of books, including The Economics of Enough and The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters (both Princeton). She holds a PhD in economics from Harvard and is a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.show more

Table of contents

Introduction 1 ONE From the Eighteenth Century to the 1930s: War and Depression 7TWO 1945 to 1975: The Golden Age 41 THREE The Legacy of the 1970s: A Crisis of Capitalism 59 FOUR 1995 to 2005: The New Paradigm 77 FIVE Our Times: The Great Crash 93 SIX The Future: Twenty-first-Century GDP 119Acknowledgments 141Notes 143Index 153show more

Review Text

"Countries are judged by their success in producing GDP. But what is it and where do those numbers reported on television come from? Diane Coyle makes GDP come to life--we see its strengths and its fallibilities, and we learn to understand and respect both."--Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, 2003-2013show more

Rating details

264 ratings
3.62 out of 5 stars
5 15% (39)
4 43% (114)
3 32% (85)
2 9% (25)
1 0% (1)
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