Beware of the BEA!

In our previous post, we mentioned a structural break in the Okun’s law around 1978. We explained this break by an artificial change in the definition of the GDP deflator (as defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis) in the very same time, as also was described in this blog. Here we test quantitatively the change in the estimated Okun’s law coefficients as related to the introduction some new definition of GDP.

Figure 1 displays two time series – the consumer price index, CPI, and the gross domestic purchases price index, dGDP. These time series diverge since 1978 and thus the estimates of real GDP, which is nominal GDP reduced by the GDP deflator, are biased relative to the period before 1978. One should not use the real GDP time series as it is published by the BEA when modelling longer time series including years before and after 1978.

The CPI and dGDP curves coincide when the latter one is corrected by a factor of 1.2, as is also shown in Figure 1. Therefore, one must use the corrected GDP deflator when modelling a time series covering periods before and after 1978.

Figure 1. CPI, dGDP, and 1.2*dGDP.

We made a silly mistake in our study of Okun’s law when tried to use the estimates of real GDP published by the BEA and had to introduce an artificial structural break in order to fit both periods. The best-fit model (Okun’s law) minimizing the RMS error was as follows:

du = -0.406dlnG + 1.113, t<1979
du = -0.465dlnG + 0.866, t>1978

where du is the change in the rate of unemployment and dlnG in the change rate of real GDP per capita. All coefficients we estimated by a LSQ technique minimizing the overall model error. Figure 2 shows the predicted and observed rate of unemployment between 1950 and 2010.
Thus, the structural break expresses itself in a change of slope and intercept around 1978, this year was also estimated in the same LSQ procedure. The ratio of slopes is 1.15, i.e. very close to 1.2 obtained from the CPI and dGDP. Considering the uncertainty in both slopes in the above relationship, which is approximately 0.05, one can conclude that the break in 1978 is entirely artificial and our version of Okun’s law has no structural breaks whatsoever. Essentially, the predicted curve in Figure 2 could be obtained in one piece with a correct dGDP. One has to use the same definition of GDP before and after 1978.

Beware of the BEA! It is not a surprise that economists can not find any clear relationships between macroeconomic variables - they are wrongly measured and misrepresented.

Figure 2. Observed and predicted rate of unemployment in the US.

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