Key Concepts and Summary

5.1 Measuring the Size of the Economy: Gross Domestic Product

The size of a nation’s economy is commonly expressed as its gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of the output of all goods and services produced within the country in a year. GDP is measured by taking the quantities of all goods and services produced, multiplying them by their prices, and calculating the total. Since GDP measures what is bought and sold in the economy, it can be measured by the sum of either what is purchased in the economy or what is produced.

Demand can be divided into consumption, investment, government, exports, and imports. What is produced in the economy can be divided into durable goods, nondurable goods, services, structures, and inventories. To avoid double counting, GDP counts only the final output of goods and services; not the production of intermediate goods or the value of labor in the chain of production.

5.2 Adjusting Nominal Values to Real Values

The nominal value of an economic statistic is the commonly announced value. The real value is the value after adjusting for changes in inflation. To convert nominal economic data from several different years into real, inflation-adjusted data, the starting point is to choose a base year arbitrarily and then use a price index to convert the measurements so that they are measured in the money prevailing in the base year.

5.3 Tracking Real GDP Over Time

Over the long term, U.S. real GDP has increased dramatically. At the same time, GDP has not increased the same amount each year. The speeding up and slowing down of GDP growth represents the business cycle. When GDP declines significantly, a recession occurs. A longer and deeper decline is a depression. Recessions begin at the peak of the business cycle and end at the trough.

5.4 Comparing GDP Among Countries

Since GDP is measured in a country’s currency, in order to compare different countries’ GDPs, we need to convert them to a common currency. One way to do that is with the exchange rate, which is the price of one country’s currency in terms of another. Once GDPs are expressed in a common currency, we can compare each country’s GDP per capita by dividing GDP by population. Countries with large populations often have large GDPs, but GDP alone can be a misleading indicator of the wealth of a nation. A better measure is GDP per capita.

5.5 How Well GDP Measures the Well-Being of Society

GDP is an indicator of a society’s standard of living, but it is only a rough indicator. GDP does not directly take account of leisure, environmental quality, levels of health and education, activities conducted outside the market, changes in inequality of income, increases in variety, increases in technology, or the positive or negative value that society may place on certain types of output.