June 22, 2012

Globalization, the financial crisis, the Great Recession, and Europe’s fiscal problems underscore just how important it is for countries to produce timely, accurate, and consistent data. Information on real gross domestic product, inflation, balance sheets, and international trade are essential to assessing cross-country effects and coordinating effective monetary, fiscal, regulatory, and trade policies. That’s why it is so valuable to have these key pieces of data put together in a more consistent manner, making it easier to compare what’s going on in one country to another, or within a given country across industries, or over time.

Wall Street traders and corporate executives—many of whom do business around the globe—rely on transparent and consistent data to make investing, hiring, and other decisions. In recent years, though, as uncertainty and the stakes on getting it right have increased, discrepancies among different economic indicators have become more of a problem to private—and public—decisionmakers. And that’s driven home the critical need for consistency between short-term indicators as well as macroeconomic measures on the state of a country’s economy. This information is especially valuable when a country may be on the verge of a turning point—such as sliding into recession or launching into a recovery.

The United Nation’s new Guidelines on Integrated Economic Statistics is a comprehensive “soup-to-nuts” handbook on making economic statistics not only more consistent but more efficient. The guidelines cover a range of topics including basic standards and methods, questionnaire design, consistent business registers and sample frames, standard classification systems, uses of survey and administrative data, and effective dissemination and communication strategies. Readers also are directed to case studies, more detailed international manuals, and guidelines in each of these areas.

For a link to the U.N. Guidelines, which is the product of an international working group chaired by BEA Director Steve Landefeld, go to unstats.un.org/unsd/nationalaccount/ies/.