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In "The Leading Indicators," Zachary Karabell tells the fascinating history of these indicators. They were invented in the mid-twentieth century to address the urgent challenges of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. They were rough measures-- designed to give clarity in a data-parched world that was made up of centralized, industrial nations--yet we still rely on them today.
We live in a world shaped by information technology and the borderless flow of capital and goods. When we follow a 1950s road map for a twenty-first-century world, we shouldn't be surprised if we get lost.
What is urgently needed, Karabell makes clear, is not that we invent a new set of numbers but that we tap into the thriving data revolution, which offers unparalleled access to the information we need. Companies should not base their business plans on GDP projections; individuals should not decide whether to buy a home or get a degree based on the national unemployment rate. If you want to buy a home, look for a job, start a company, or run a business, you should find your own indicators. National housing figures don't matter; local ones do. You can find them at the click of a button. Personal, made-to-order indicators will meet our needs today, and the revolution is well underway. We need only to join it.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-03-10
- Reviewer: Staff
How did we get to the era of Big Data? Karabell, president of River Twice Research, a political and economic analysis firm, mines little known tidbits in the history of economics to explain how individuals, companies, and countries came to rely on statistics like unemployment, inflation, and gross domestic product to describe the wealth of nations—and why these traditional concepts may no longer be up to the task. Statistics about working people during Industrial Revolution fueled the labor movement, while Great Depression put terms like "unemployment" into the everyday lexicon of Americans. Yet these one-size-fits-all indicators can't really handle the intricacies the 21st century global economy. A low national unemployment rate means little to jobless people in states where higher rates prevail, nor can it predict events like the reelection of a president. Karabell proposes crafting "bespoke indicators" that harness unique data sets that users can deploy to answer questions about economic life. This slim, entertaining volume also unpacks the contributions of a host of colorful, if obscure, individuals who contributed to the field. In Karabell's hands economics is no longer "the dismal science." More storyteller than analyst here, he succeeds in livening up how "the economy" came to be for the general reader, minus the complex jargon and blizzards of numbers that can mar such books. (Feb.)