Playing Games With GDP: China’s Growth Has Not Slowed To A Crawl – OpEd


GDP growth in the United States is always reported as an annual rate. This means that if the economy grew 0.5 percent from the first quarter to the second quarter, it would be universally reported as 2.0 percent growth, with reporters always giving the annual rate. This is basically four times the quarterly rate. (It’s actually the first quarter’s growth rate taken to the fourth power, but this will be the same for small numbers.)

This is a simple and obvious point. It is not something that is debated among reporters or economists, it is just a standard that has become universally accepted.

Many other countries do not report their growth numbers as annual rates. They report a quarter’s growth number at a quarterly rate. That is fine, there is nothing that makes the use of an annual rate better, the point is that everyone should know that the number is being reported as a quarterly rate, if that is the case.

I have often railed at news stories that have reported another country’s growth number, without telling readers that it is a quarterly rate. That obviously gives a very distorted picture.

Fareed Zakaria committed this sin today in a Washington Post column that told people that China’s economy is stuck in a rut. Zakaria told readers:

“China’s economy is in bad shape. Economic growth last quarter came in at 0.8 percent, putting China at risk of missing the government’s target for the year.”

Since Zakaria did give a link for his growth figure it was easy to click through and see that the 0.8 percent figure was in fact a quarterly growth rate. This translates into a 3.2 percent annual rate. Zakaria is right that this growth rate is a disappointment for China, but a 3.2 percent rate is very different from a 0.8 percent rate.

I’m sure Zakaria is well aware of the distinction between a quarterly growth rate and an annual rate. I’m also sure he would not have made this sort of mistake on purpose. He could have made his point just fine using the actual number.

But it does reflect extraordinary sloppiness on Zakaria’s part, as well as the Post’s proofreading system, that this mistake was not caught before it found its way into print. I would hope that the Post would correct it, but I know that the Post’s opinion editors do not care about correcting mistakes.

This piece first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

Dean Baker

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy.

2 thoughts on “Playing Games With GDP: China’s Growth Has Not Slowed To A Crawl – OpEd

  • August 9, 2023 at 12:22 pm

    Fareed clearly indicated the figure was a quarterly growth rate and not an annual one in his statement you quote in the article.. “Economic growth last QUARTER came in at 0.8 percent”

    The linked Reuters article he cited also clearly indicates they are quarterly growth rates they are covering.

    Should Fareed have done the math and converted Reuters’ reported quarterly rate into an annualized rate? Would that be enough to appease you and uphold this supposed “always annual” standard?

    A quick Google search for ‘GDP quarterly data’ shows countless recent articles of US News outlets reporting quarterly US and Global GDP data. Obviously, saying they are “always” reported as an annual rate in the US isn’t accurate.

    The only sin committed here was your attempt to smear the character of Fareed or the credibility of Post….

  • August 12, 2023 at 12:55 am

    @Jordan What an asinine comment. If you have been paying attention at all, Fareed Zakaria is a sycophant to the U.S. foreign policy establishment, which is essentially a gang of criminal thugs. China’s growth rate may be slowing, but this does not necessarily mean that the United States will remain the world’s sole superpower indefinitely. All previous empires throughout world history have risen and fallen. Get used to it.


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