THE story of the first U.S. national income and product statistics illustrates how scholarly debates about the definitions of ideal measures gave way to the compromises required to produce real-world economic statistics when the need for such statistics had become critical. Then, as the workings of the economy became better understood—in part, through the use of statistics—economic theory advanced. And, as improved sources of data on incomes, production, and sales were provided, the statistics were improved in turn. The gross domestic product (GDP) statistics of today continue to exemplify the balance between theory, real-world data, and the economic questions of the day. The story of the creation of the first U.S. national income and product statistics shows how that process got started. In 1934, the first in the series of continuing Department of Commerce U.S. national income statistics was issued to meet the need to describe consistently and in detail the economic toll taken by the depression that had begun more than 4 years earlier. 1 In keeping with the “income equals production ” identity, national income would serve as an indicator of both U.S. income and output during the 1930s. 2 In 1942, the first in the series of U.S. gross national product (GNP) statistics was issued to meet the need to assess the economic feasibility of President Franklin Roosevelt’s original war production program, which required national mobilization of an unprecedented scale. 3 In 1947, the first U.S. double-entry national income and product a
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