Fifth Statistical Forum

November 16-17, 2017

Call for Papers

The International Monetary Fund will hold the Fifth Statistical Forum at its headquarters in Washington DC on November 16-17, 2017. The Forum is a platform for policymakers, academics, researchers, and compilers of economic and financial data to come together to discuss cutting-edge issues in macroeconomic and financial statistics and to build support for statistical improvements.

The theme of this year’s Statistical Forum is “Measuring the Digital Economy”. Digitalization has transformed the way we work, consume, and engage with one another. Against a backdrop of slow growth of GDP and productivity, concerns that existing macroeconomic statistics may not fully capture the gains from digital and digitally-enabled products and activities have become a topic of much discussion and debate. The Forum Program Committee welcomes proposals for empirical or conceptual papers that foster progress on understanding the implications of digitalization for macroeconomic and financial statistics and developing strategies to fill the measurement gaps. Specific areas of interest are as follows.

Does GDP Still Tell Us What We Need to Know?

Internet platforms and smartphone apps offer a multitude of free or low cost products, facilitate peer-to-peer transactions in the sharing economy, and allow consumers to purchase a vast range of varieties without the time and transportation costs of going to a physical store. Expanded access to information has also improved consumers’ ability to find varieties and to better utilize market goods and services. Using the Internet, consumers can also do for themselves tasks that were formerly done by market producers. With such changes, existing GDP statistics may no longer provide a full picture of changes in consumption, consumer welfare, and production. What is the potential magnitude of the main measurement gaps, and what are the prospects for developing statistics to fill these gaps? Where do time use surveys or “big data” sources fit in in making these estimates?  

Framing the Conceptual Issues

The limitations of GDP as a measure of well-being or total production have been much discussed, for instance, in the context of “beyond GDP”. Recently, discussions of gaps in measuring the digital economy have reignited old debates on topics such as household nonmarket production, quality adjustment in deflators, and free products that are funded by advertising. New debates have also emerged, such as whether to classify data as an asset, and how to define the digital economy. Work on the conceptual framework for GDP could help to address misunderstandings of this framework and to identify issues that can be addressed within that framework. However, measures of welfare gains or production that go beyond GDP may be needed to understand the effects of digitalization. What conceptual innovations would allow better measurement of the digital economy within the existing conceptual framework for GDP? What are the conceptual frameworks needed for the measures that go beyond GDP? Finally, what are the prospects for a consensus on the perimeter of the digital economy and the key issues for macroeconomic and financial statistics?  

How Big is the Digital Economy?

The potential importance of the alleged sources of mismeasurement of the digital economy in GDP and trade statistics depends at least in part on its size. Estimates of the scale of the digital economy are also important for policymaking questions and for understanding the changing structure of the economy. Papers in this area could demonstrate ways to estimate the size and growth of key parts of the digital economy, such as e-commerce, the sharing economy, international trade in digital services, and peer-to-peer lending, as well as mobile money and other digital payment services. They could also consider improvements to classification systems and data collection procedures to support regular reporting of information on the relative size of the digital products, transactions or financial instruments.  

Digital Economy and Labor Statistics

Commentators concerned about job losses from digitally-enabled automation or digitally-enabled trade often predict significant impacts on labor market conditions. Although robots and artificial intelligence software have not yet replaced human beings on a large scale, these concerns are a reminder of the need for labor statistics that allow insight into effects of digitalization on jobs, pay, and working conditions. Employment measures may also be a way of getting evidence on the size of digital economy. For example, is it possible to estimate employment and hours worked in the “gig economy” or other kinds of independent production linked to the digital economy? 

Digital product prices and the measurement of inflation/deflation, growth and productivity

Adjustment for quality change in the deflators for information and communication technology (ICT) products has long been an issue in price and volume statistics. Far from being solved, the price measurement challenges seem to have grown worse, as ICT equipment characteristics have evolved, hard-to-measure software has increased in importance, and new kinds of digitally-intermediated services have appeared in the sharing economy. Do alternative estimates of consumer, producer, or export and import indexes for ICT equipment, software and new kinds of digital products suggest that the measurement errors have gotten larger? What are their implications for the measurement of inflation/deflation, output growth and productivity trends?

State of Play in Capturing of the Digital Economy in Macroeconomic and Financial Statistics

What are statistical agencies around the world doing to measure digital products or activity in national accounts, price statistics, labor statistics, balance of payments statistics and financial statistics? What are the innovations in data collection, compilation or reporting? How are Big Data techniques being used to measure the digital economy in macroeconomic and financial statistics? What do statistical agencies and other data compilers see as the main emerging challenges and opportunities?   

Digitalization and Consumer Welfare

Compiling statistics on welfare growth as a complement to GDP is an attractive option, but the conceptual guidelines and practical techniques have not been worked out. How can compilers go “beyond GDP” to provide estimates of consumer surplus from new and improved digital products? If access to abundant information and expanded variety selections allows welfare to grow faster than output, how can we estimate the welfare growth? Can a procedure be identified for measuring the marginal welfare change from consumption of free media from internet platforms funded by advertising or supported by volunteers?

Authors interested in contributing a paper to the Statistical Forum should submit a draft paper or a detailed abstract by June 25, 2017 (e-mail to [STAForum@imf.org]). Please use the contact author’s name as the name of the file. In evaluating the proposals, the Program Committee will consider relevance to the theme and areas of interest of the Forum, originality, feasibility, and the importance of the contribution. Authors whose papers are selected will be contacted by July 14. Travel and hotel expenses of the presenting author will be covered by the conference organizers. Further information on the conference program will be posted on the IMF website (www.imf.org).