The Leading Indicators

joblessOne of my department’s grads recently posted this story from National Public Radio, on a book that discusses the early 20th century invention of the idea of the modern economy — one that we take for granted now but which is just as imagined as any other so-called social fact.

So is it really all that radical to talk about the invention of any identifier (race, religion, gender, nation, etc.) if we can imagine that “Gross Domestic Product” does not name an actual empirical thing but, instead, a series of judgments (what to include and what to exclude from this so-called measure) on the part of the one doing the measuring? After all, we all know — right? — that there are many ways of creating such things as the “unemployment rate,” each betraying different choices on whether to include this group or not. For it is not difficult to see the rate going down just because we stopped counting among the ranks of the unemployed people who have, for whatever reason, stopped looking for work all together. In this case, a declining rate is not necessarily good news for everyone.

Give it a listen:

 

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