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I’m no expert in the construction of national-income accounts [2], but I know enough to be aware that these accounts are imperfect. They have their legitimate uses, I acknowledge. But special care is called for when extracting meaning from these statistics.

How accurately do national-income accounts capture changes in living standards? How many changes — improvements as well as reductions — in our standard of living escape notice on the national-income-accountant’s ledger? In the mid-1990s, the Boskin Commission [3] struggled admirably with a part of this problem.

I inaugurate here a list of changes in our material world that, while they change the living standards of ordinary Americans, cannot practically be registered in national-income accounts.

For example, here’s my first entry:

– The greater attractiveness and consumer-attentiveness of airports.

Airports today generally are architecturally more interesting than were airports in years past. More importantly, the number and quality of shops in airports has skyrocketed. High-end retailers such as Brooks Brothers and Brookstone are not uncommon in airports today. Likewise for quality restaurants such as Legal Seafood. Gourmet coffee is now a fixture. (On the downside, of course, are the added security hassles.)

My life and that of nearly everyone else who flies commercially has been improved by the influx of quality merchants and restauranteurs into airports. But I doubt that this improvement shows up in the per-capita GDP figure.

This change is real, palpable, and positive. But it’s unaccounted for.

………

In compiling my list I will err on the side of over-inclusiveness. If someone convinces me that an entry on my list doesn’t belong there, I’ll remove it. Likewise, I invite others to suggest entries for my list of changes in everyday economic life that are likely not to be registered in national-income statistics.

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