Futuribles Journal n° 418

Économie, emploi

Measurement of the Digital Economy at the National Level: Do we Need to Redesign our Accounting Tools?


In its last issue (no. 417, March-April 2017), Futuribles initiated discussion on the question of the slowdown in productivity gains and the consequences for the countries concerned. After that first instalment, which assessed long-term productivity trends in the developed countries, the role of technical progress and intangible factors, we are continuing our reflection on this question with an examination of economic indicators — is the decline in productivity gains real or is it the product of statistical indicators that are not well-suited to their accurate measurement?

In this article, Didier Blanchet shows how the national accounts evaluate the French economy by measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and how that particular measure copes with the spread of digital technology. Are the many innovations produced by the ICT revolution adequately measured in terms of their effective contributions to the economy and to the well-being of consumers? To tackle the question of a possible mismeasurement, Blanchet examines three points in the debate that seem essential to him. The first concerns the scope of GDP: what does it aim to measure and why? The second relates to issues around the volume-price split: how can price changes at constant quality be measured in a context where some economic activities are undergoing a marked transformation as a result of the digital revolution? Lastly, he raises the question of factoring well-being into economic indicators, stressing its importance but reminding us that the national accounts make no claim to measure it. The debate on this last issue extends well beyond that around GDP and how GDP takes in the effects of the digital revolution: it is a far more complex area of controversy and the national accounts are just one (admittedly, essential) element in it.

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