The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World
The Leading Indicators was widely and well received as a much needed corrective to the outdated, outmoded economic figures we are accustomed. Every day, we are bombarded with numbers that tell us how we are doing, whether the economy is growing or shrinking, whether the future looks bright or dim. Gross national product, balance of trade, unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence guide our actions, yet few of us know where they come from, what they mean, or why they rule our world. Zachary Karabell tells the fascinating history of these indicators, which 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. Today's world is shaped by information technology and the borderless flow of capital and goods. If we follow a 1950s road map for a twenty-first-century world, we will get lost. What is urgently needed is not to invent a new set of numbers but to tap into the data revolution that 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 can readily find your own indicators. National housing figures don't matter; local ones do. You can find those at the click of button. Personal, made-to-order indicators will meet our needs today, and the revolution is well underway. We need only to join it.
We live in a world of Big Data, and we are led to believe that it contains the truth of our lives. But the numbers that we use to tally our wealth, our productivity, and our very worth as human beings are based not on any absolute truth, but on the shifting sands of politics, culture, and the personal quirks of our leaders. Zachary Karabell is a thinker who understands why economics isn't a hard science. The Leading Indicators is a much needed book about economic numbers that tells us how much and how little they ultimately mean. --Rana Foroohar, Assistant Managing Editor, Time Magazine; Global Economic Analyst, CNN"
"Our understanding of the economy is shaped by the numbers we use to measure it. In this engaging and subversive history, Zachary Karabell tells the story of how the indicators came to rule us, who invented them, what they actually tell us, and why we need to rethink all of them if we are to make sense of the world today."--Justin Fox, Executive Editor, Harvard Business Review
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