Blog Post

Welcome to the dark side: GDP revision and the non-observed economy

Back in 2009, the United Nations Statistical Commission endorsed a revision to the System of National Accounts (SNA), which sets the international standards for the compilation of national accounts. As a consequence, Eurostat amended the European equivalent of the SNA, i.e. the European System of Accounts (ESA) leading to a revision of GDP figures.

By: and Date: March 2, 2015 European Macroeconomics & Governance Tags & Topics

Back in 2009, the United Nations Statistical Commission endorsed a revision to the System of National Accounts (SNA), which sets the international standards for the compilation of national accounts. As a consequence, Eurostat has amended the European equivalent of the SNA, the European System of Accounts (ESA) leading to a revision of GDP figures.

The changes come from the accounting treatment of some items. Research & Development (R&D) purchases and military weapon systems have been reclassified from intermediate consumption to investments, which increases value added (the difference between output and intermediate consumption), and thus GDP. Additional changes have been introduced in the accounting of pension entitlements, directly affecting the computation of compensation of employees and households’ savings rate. Other measures, such as changes in measurement of financial services, and the classification of head offices, holding companies and Special Purpose Entities, have little or no impact on the GDP numbers.

Source: OECD

The reclassification has had a positive effect on GDP, increasing it on average by 3.5 percentage points for the EU and the Euro area as whole.

Figure 1 shows the average difference between GDP computed with the new and the old standard, retrospectively over the period 2000-2013. The reclassification has had a positive effect on GDP, increasing it on average by 3.5 percentage points for the EU and the Euro area as whole. Country variation is however significant; the impact of the reclassification ranges from 0.3 percentage points in Luxembourg to 9.3 percentage points in Cyprus. Although the revision may have had a visible impact on GDP levels, growth rates are generally less affected.

Unfortunately, Eurostat does not provide a breakdown of how the different accounting changes contribute to the final number. However, the OECD published this month a report disentangling the effect of the different factors for all OECD countries in year 2010 (Figure 2).

Source: OECD

Having a breakdown is important because most countries have used the opportunity of the changeover in standards to also introduce a new statistical benchmark estimate, introducing new sources and methods. The OECD report shows that in some countries this has an important impact, most notably in the Netherlands and the UK (see the light red bar in Figure 2).

Other than that, R&D reclassifications tend to be the item with the largest impact on GDP recalculation, whereas reclassification of military weapon systems has very limited impact, with the exception of Greece. In Europe, the impact of R&D reclassification on 2010 GDP ranges between 0.5 percentage points and 4 percentage points, compared to an OECD average of 2.2.  The effect of the change is highest in Finland and Sweden – which have among the highest gross spending levels on R&D in EU – and lowest in Poland, the Slovak Republic, Luxembourg and Greece (Figure 3).

Source: OECD

The impact of including illegal activities varies across countries. Both the new and the old standards for the compilation of national accounts stated that illegal activities should be included in GDP, but many countries did not explicitly include estimates for these activities, also because the definition of illegal activities was only streamlined by the decision in September 2014. In contrast with the previous system, EU States are now required to comply with common methodological guidelines how to account for prostitution, the production and trafficking of drugs and alcohol and tobacco

This decision was expected to have a differentiated impact across countries, and the OECD breakdown of GDP change between the old and new system make clear the extent of this divergence.

The inclusion of estimated illegal activities results in an increase in 2010 GDP by 1 percentage point in Italy and 0.9 percentage points in Spain.

In Figure 3, Italy and Spain stand out as two special cases. The inclusion of estimated illegal activities results in an increase in 2010 GDP by 1 percentage point in Italy and 0.9 percentage points in Spain. This is about five times the average for the OECD as a whole, which was 0.2 in 2010. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that in these two countries the impact of including illegal activities is only slightly smaller than the impact of reclassifying R&D (which increased 2010 GDP by 1.3 pp in Italy and 1.2 pp in Spain).

Apart from illegal activities, GDP numbers can also be influenced by the share of countries’ ‘legal’ shadow economies, defined as all market-based legal production of goods and services which are deliberately concealed from public authorities.

A report on the shadow economy in Europe shows that its size reached a 10-year low in 2013. Several reasons might explain this development: improving economic conditions, the dramatic contraction of the construction-sector in several crisis-hit countries (which is historically a sector with a large shadow economy), a crack-down on tax evasion in recent years and generally stricter law enforcement.

Source: Schneider Friedrich (2013), ‘The Shadow Economy in Europe, 2013’, ATKearney

Interesting to note is the comparatively small size of the shadow economy in Western Europe, with Southern and Eastern Europe exhibiting substantially higher shadow economy activities in % of GDP. The euro area is characterized by a great heterogeneity, with the size of the shadow economy in % of GDP in 2013 varying from just 7.5% in Austria to 27.6% in Estonia. In absolute numbers, the shadow economies in Italy and Germany were as large as Austrian GDP in 2013. Statistical offices make adjustments to account for shadow economy in order to arrive at exhaustive estimates of GDP and national accounts (see OECD)

A report on the shadow economy in Europe shows that its size reached a 10-year low in 2013.

The rationale for streamlining guidelines for both the inclusion of legal and illegal activities in the national accounting – which has been extensively debated in the media – is that GDP is supposed to be comparable across countries, independently of differences in national law. As recently pointed out by the OECD, international comparability has become even more important, as contributions to international organisations (including e.g. the European Union) are based on levels of Gross National Income, which is linked to GDP.

 


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Silvia Merler

Should we worry about Greek banks?

Earlier this month, the IMF and the European institutions clashed over conditions for sustainability of the Greek debt. One of the main disagreements seems to be the evaluation of the Greek banks’ health. Whose assessment should be trusted and are there reasons to worry?

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 23, 2017
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Mar
9
12:00

The Belarusian economy: are real changes on the way?

At this event we will discuss where the economy of Belarus is heading, and what this implies for the EU.

Speakers: Kateryna Bornukova, Rumen Dobrinsky, Robert Kirchner, Dzmitry Kruk, Alexander Zaborovski and Georg Zachmann Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article Download PDF

Policy Brief

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 16.42.38

Europe in a new world order

In this paper the authors explore what the EU’s strategic reaction should be to US diminishing giant policies, and the EU’s role in a world of declining hegemony and shifting balances

By: Maria Demertzis, André Sapir and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance Date: February 17, 2017
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Zsolt Darvas
DSC_0798
dsc_1000

The Brexit bill: uncertainties in the estimate of EU pension and sickness insurance liabilities

Pension and sickness insurance liabilities for EU staff could be an especially contentious part of negotiations on an EU-UK financial settlement: the “Brexit bill”. This post looks behind the calculation of the alleged cost of pension benefits and concludes that it may be less than half of what it seems.

By: Zsolt Darvas, Konstantinos Efstathiou and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 17, 2017
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Mar
22
11:30

Conversations on the future of Europe

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, we will hold an event of four conversations between Bruegel scholars and European thinkers.

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol, Johanna Nyman, André Sapir, Catherine Schenk, Guntram B. Wolff, Andre Wilkens and Ivan Krastev Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Zsolt Darvas
DSC_0798
dsc_1000

The UK’s Brexit bill: could EU assets partially offset liabilities?

The ‘Brexit bill’ is likely to be one of the most contentious aspects of the upcoming negotiations. But estimates so far focus largely on the EU costs and liabilities that the UK will have to buy its way out of. What about the EU’s assets? The UK will surely get a share of those, and they could total €153.7bn.

By: Zsolt Darvas, Konstantinos Efstathiou and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 14, 2017
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

MariaDemertzis1 bw
unnamed

The impact of Brexit on UK tertiary education and R&D

In this blog post, we look at the impact of Brexit on UK’s education and research and development sectors in terms of students and staff, as well as funding.

By: Maria Demertzis and Enrico Nano Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 14, 2017
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

External Publication

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 12.31.18

Improving the Responses to the Migration and Refugee Crisis in Europe

What must be done to over- come the intra-European conflict and achieve a bal- ance that produces common ground allowing for a po- litical and social consensus on migration?

By: Massimo Bordignon, Yves Pascouau, Matthias M. Mayer, Mehrdad Mehregani, Demetrios G. Papademetriou, Meghan Benton, Pedro Góis and Simone Moriconi Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 13, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Zsolt Darvas

Questionable immigration claims in the Brexit white paper

The UK government's white paper on Brexit suggested that the EU's "free movement of people" has made it impossible to control immigration. This seems to rest on an assumption that EU citizens can "move and reside freely" in any member state. Zsolt Darvas finds these arguments problematic, and points out that it is difficult to infer public opinion about immigration from the referendum result.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 8, 2017
Read about event

Past Event

Past Event

Brexit and trade: what EU and WTO rules imply

Bruegel in collaboration with Leuven Centre For Global Governance Studies organizes an event at which we will discuss the options for redesigning trade relations in the post-Brexit era.

Speakers: Viktoria Dendrinou, Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, Petros C. Mavroidis, André Sapir and Prof. Jan Wouters Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: February 6, 2017
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

ECB Board Members - Benoît Cœuré, Mario Draghi, Peter Praet, Sabine Lautenschlaeger, Vitor Constancio, Yves Mersch

Resolving Europe’s NPL burden: challenges and benefits

Keynote speech by Vítor Constâncio, Vice-President of the ECB, at Bruegel event: "Tackling Europe's non-performing loans crisis: restructuring debt, reviving growth", Brussels, 3 February 2017

By: Vítor Constâncio Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation Date: February 3, 2017
Read about event

Past Event

Past Event

Tackling Europe’s non-performing loans crisis: restructuring debt, reviving growth

How can we connect the different initiatives for NPL resolution and identify an agenda that is shared between EU, national authorities and the private sector.

Speakers: Corso Bavagnoli, Iker Beraza, Arne Berggren, John Berrigan, Marco Buti, Vítor Constâncio, John Davison, Maria Demertzis, Sharon Donnery, Inês Drumond, Giorgio Gobbi, Piers Haben, Boštjan Jazbec, Gert-Jan Koopman, Alexander Lehmann, TJ Lim, Brendan McDonagh, Reza Moghadam, Ajay Rawal, Emanuele Rosetti Zannoni, Dirk Schoenmaker, Carola Schuler, Julien Wallen, Thomas Wieser and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: February 3, 2017
Load more posts