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Measuring economic progress? How Statistics New Zealand has measured the economy since 1945

Authors

Jeff Cope, Rosemary Goodyear and Anne McAllister

Abstract

The New Zealand Government came out of World War Two facing the task of shaping a different society and building New Zealand’s place in the world. Six years of war had destabilised and impoverished Europe and governments there were forced to continue post-war rationing, an imposition of austerity that also occurred in New Zealand. The world that developed in the fifties became vastly different with a whole new celebration of consumerism, partly fuelled by increased numbers of women in the workforce. The census began to ask if households had a refrigerator or washing machine; while moral panics about the new monied world of the teenager began. New times called for new measures and in the late forties and early 1950s the range of statistics collected by the Department of Statistics began to change.

The 1955 Statistics Act consolidated and strengthened the role of the Department of Statistics and allowed for the range of statistics collected to be expanded, with the result that a number of other statistical collections became as important as the population census. Direct reporting to parliament now became a mandatory function. National Accounting developed after the publishing of a first series of accounts in 1949 and brought New Zealand into line with international developments in the measurement of economies. But there were many limitations in the statistics produced, a situation highlighted by a series of reviews.

As New Zealand’s economy and regulatory environment has changed and become more complex, the demand for a greater range of statistics required to adequately measure the progress of the economy has expanded. Massive shifts in government policy have also necessitated changing responses: for example, the deregulation of foreign exchanges and the floating of the New Zealand dollar changed the monetary environment; and the Employment Contracts Act in 1991 effectively diluted collective bargaining and made new data collection systems a necessity for calculating change in wage rates.

This paper will examine how the Department of Statistics (now Statistics New Zealand) has met these needs and responded to changing circumstances by expanding the range of statistics available to the New Zealand government and people. The question remains: how well do we measure progress and what limitations does Statistics New Zealand face in measuring the economy of a small population that is still highly dependent on exports of primary production?

pdf icon. Measuring economic progress? How Statistics New Zealand has measured the economy since 1945 (PDF, 180kb)

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