Tuesday archive: What really counts

From 28th January 2006:

My second-favourite character from Sesame Street was always The Count. Avid viewers will recall that The Count loves to count, punctuating his counting with a throaty Transylvanian chuckle. Laughing aside, I’ve noticed a similar tendency in economists. We spent decades perfecting the theoretical tools and the software to gather and analyse noisy data in a messy world. Most of the data were produced by laborious counting of the most obvious things: goods sold, prices, people out of work. Now the tools are so good and so simple to use, and data so easy to gather and disseminate, it’s hard to resist the temptation not to count, well, something different.

A nice exponent of this is Chicago-based economist David Galenson, who recently demonstrated that Picasso was by far the greatest artist of the 20th century. Galenson’s method is simplicity itself: round up every art history textbook of the past 15 years, and see whose art is reproduced most frequently. Picasso, with 395 illustrations in 33 textbooks, scores nearly as many as his three closest rivals (Matisse, Duchamp and Mondrian) put together.

Continued at timharford.com.

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.