pssssst! want some inside information on the economy? want to get a leg up on the competition in anticipating how you should be spending and saving your money? i know where to get a copy of the beige book.
never heard of it? me neither.
in the middle of the all the information coming out about nsa accessing private individual’s private records and the argument for intelligence and data gathering as a necessity of analytics, comes a story on npr yesterday about the beige book.
as one economist quoted in the story describes it, the beige book is an “ask your uncle” way of finding out what’s going on in the economy. a bunch of economists at the federal reserve get on the phone and call different types of businesses around the country and ask, “how’s business?” then they take the narrative and compile it into a series of anecdotes that paint a picture of business around the country.
i don’t know about you, but i always thought of steven levitt the economist who teamed up with writer stephen j. dubner to create the franchise of freakonomics as super smart guys. these guys boiled down number crunching to anecdotal tales that made the information interesting and palatable. if you’ve ever read the books, you’ll know that some of the conclusions are also a little bizarre.
turns out we taxpayers fund the same thing over at the federal reserve and it’s ours free to download 8 times a year. there’s some analysis at the beginning of the beige book, but the interesting stuff is in the district reports. as the npr story points out, “…much of the value in the beige book lies in all the weird, anecdotal details. richard fisher, president of the dallas fed, told us that beer sales at convenience stores, combined with reports from beer distributors, were one early sign of a slowdown in the homebuilding market before the crash.” because construction workers buy cold beer to enjoy at the end of a hard day. less building = fewer workers = less beer buying.
reading the beige book is kind of like reading the old farmer’s almanac that we still get every year. maybe it’s not as accurate as all the sophisticated computer models, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun to read.