Since it’s Valentine’s Day I might as well spend some time expressing thanks for my one true love – good data.
I spend an exorbitant amount time compiling data. And I often feel very grateful to live in a country where data is transparent and abundant. And oh boy is it abundant. While there are numerous private data sources some of the very best data sources come from the US government. Consider just a few of the resources here that compile regularly updated data:
- FRED – arguably the best data source in any industry in any country.
- Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) – National Income and Produce Accounts.
- Federal Reserve – The Z1 is among the most comprehensive accounting documents in the global economy.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) – 250,000+ data series on unemployment and price series.
I use most of these public resources every day. They are incredible resources that I am very grateful for.
I bring this up because it’s becoming increasingly common to question the validity of the data and the sources. And while I think a healthy dose of government skepticism is healthy I often find myself analyzing these datasets and wondering “as imperfect as this might be, who does it better?” For instance, we’ve seen private alternative CPI websites crop up over time, but the MIT Billion Prices Project almost exactly confirmed the BLS CPI data and the conspiracy theory style sites like Chapwood Index and Shadow Stats contain flaws that are so basic that you know they’re wrong. Inflation is always the primary target of conspiracy talks, but inflation is an incredibly difficult thing to measure. I’ve spent countless hours critiquing BLS data on prices and while it’s easy to poke holes in the CPI it’s also the most comprehensive, transparent and thorough inflation indicator in the world. Again, who does it better?
But here’s another thing – have you ever tried sourcing data in other countries? For example, the ECB’s website is disorganized and difficult to navigate. The data is nowhere near as comprehensive as something like FRED. Or go search for valid Chinese economic data for a few hours. Good luck finding anything recent or valid.
Anyhow, I am not here to claim that US economic data is perfect. But I for one am very grateful for the fact that we have incredibly transparent and broad sources from which to analyze economic data. So all you good people at the BLS, FRED and other agencies who work hard to put this all together – thank you and keep up the good work.