Fascinating story of GDP told

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11 Apr 2014

One of the UK’s leading economists, who is to start as Professor at The University of Manchester in September, has put the spotlight on a statistic that appears constantly in the news, business, and politics in a new book.

In GDP: A brief but affectionate history, published by Princeton University Press, Diane Coyle asks why the size of the U.S. economy increased by 3 percent on one day in mid-2013--or Ghana's balloon by 60 percent overnight in 2010.

Why did the U.K. financial industry show its fastest expansion ever at the end of 2008--just as the world's financial system went into meltdown?

And why was Greece's chief statistician charged with treason in 2013 for apparently doing nothing more than trying to accurately report the size of his country's economy?

The answers to these questions, she says, lie in the way we define and measure national economies around the world: Gross Domestic Product.

Professor Coyle will teach undergraduates at Manchester, give a public lecture each year and work with academic colleagues and policy makers.

Her new book traces the history of GDP from its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century precursors through its invention in the 1940s and its postwar golden age, and then through the Great Crash up to today.

Readers will learn why this standard measure of the size of a country's economy was invented, how it has changed over the decades, and what its strengths and weaknesses are.

She explains why even small changes in GDP can decide elections, influence major political decisions, and determine whether countries can keep borrowing or be thrown into recession.

The book ends by making the case that GDP was a good measure for the twentieth century but is increasingly inappropriate for a twenty-first-century economy driven by innovation, services, and intangible goods.

Diane Coyle, Vice Chair of the BBC Trust and a former Economics Editor of The Independent newspaper. The bestselling author was formerly a regular presenter on BBC Radio 4's Analysis.

A Harvard PhD graduate, she runs the consultancy Enlightenment Economics.

She is also currently a member of the ESRC Research Committee, was a member of the Migration Advisory Committee from 2007-2012, the Browne Review of higher education funding, and was on the Competition Commission between 2001-2009.

Awarded an OBE in 2009, her books include ‘The Economics of Enough’ and ‘The Soulful Science’.

Notes for editors

For more details visit


Mike Addelman
Press Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567

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