Trends in Natural Resource Commodities: Statistics of Prices, Output, Consumption, Foreign Trade, and Employment in the United States, 1870-1957

By Neal Potter; Resources for the Future | Go to book overview

Notes on Data and Procedure
In the table of contents which follows these notes each vertical column represents a type of measure (price, output, imports, etc.) and each line a commodity or group of commodities. At each intersection of a column and a line, a page number is given, indicating where this measure of this commodity is to be found. Where no page number appears, no measure is provided, either because no data were available or because in a work of these dimensions this particular measure was not felt important enough to include. The grouping of tables is by major industries, then by type of measure, and finally by groups of commodities.At the back of the book are a number of series commonly used as standards for comparison — population, Gross National Product in constant prices, total manufacturing output, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' general wholesale price index, employment/output ratio (productivity of labor) in manufacturing and for the total national product, and total national and total manufacturing employment. With the aid of these tables, the movement of the series for resource commodities can be compared with, or "deflated" by, any of the comparison series. Thus any price series may be analyzed for relative rise or decline by dividing it by the general wholesale price index series; any consumption series checked for per capita growth or decline by comparing it with the population series; any labor cost series checked for relative rise or fall by comparing its movement with that for manufacturing or GNP. A number of the more interesting comparisons are made in the text charts, above.A number of alternative series are provided in many of the tables, a few series extending for the entire period 1870-1957 but most for only part of it. The series are presented in parallel columns so that the user may judge for himself the probable degrees of accuracy and consistency within and between the different series. The final column in each of these tables is our choice, or construction, of a single long-term series for the measure in question.1
Reasons for Differences in Series
Statistics are rarely precise to a point where error is less than one percent. This is true not only of public opinion polls but of censuses of population, industries, and other such relatively simple and tangible categories. Some reasons are:
1. The questions asked, the definitions used, and the respondents questioned all affect the figures obtained. Two agencies which obtain the "same" information on the "same" area of interest are almost certain to have some differences on some of these points.
2. The respondents questioned may give somewhat different answers at different times even to identical questions, owing to changes which occur, even in a short time, in the information at their disposal or in their judgments on the facts, or owing to errors.
3. Errors may occur in the tabulation of data.

Complete coverage and perfect understanding between questioner and respondent are generally impossible to obtain. To complicate matters further, the user of statistics frequently has less understanding of the subjects dealt with than had the questioner and respondent.

These factors play a particularly large role in a study such as this one, which involves a broad and complex area of study and utilizes data from the more distant past, when statistical sophistication was low and many words had other meanings than they have today. Francis Walker, the director of the 1870 census, complained that his statistics on mining and fishing were "distressingly inadequate to the known facts of the case." At the nearer

____________________
1
As an example, see the table on the price of beef cattle (Table AP-29). Column A of this table represents beef cattle farm price as presented by Strauss and Bean for the years 1870 through 1937. Column B is the series given by the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is a weighted average price series, for the years 1910-57. Column C is derived by dividing the AMS price by the Strauss and Bean price. Charting it shows that the former series is about 4% greater than the latter during most of the period of overlap ( 1910-37). We do not know the reasons for the difference but suspect that it might be due to different methods of computation. In any case, there is clearly no difference in trend. We feel fully justified in obtaining a long-term consistent series by raising the Strauss and Bean data by 4% for the period prior to 1910 and showing the complete series in the final column.

-55-

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Trends in Natural Resource Commodities: Statistics of Prices, Output, Consumption, Foreign Trade, and Employment in the United States, 1870-1957
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Summary of the Trends *
  • Introduction 1
  • Highlights of the Data 3
  • Summaries for Principal Commodities 18
  • Statistical Tables 53
  • Notes on Data and Procedure 55
  • A List of Abbreviated References 63
  • Tabular Contents *
  • Serial List of Tables 68
  • Summary: Indexes for Sectors 73
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