THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

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Issue 18, Spring 2000

William A. McEachern, Editor

A Free Lunch!

The Dismal Scientist®, which calls itself "the best free lunch on the Web," may be just that. With a team of more than two-dozen economists, this site covers the U.S. and world economies like a blanket. The site is an example of the economies of scope achieved by the research group in Chester, Pennsylvania, that developed the site. That group had already been selling proprietary data on regional economies throughout the United States. But this site is free.

The site offers full coverage of the U.S. economy and its regions as well as GDP updates on Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and the United Kingdom. In the U.S. consumer sector alone, they cover chain store sales, consumer confidence, consumer credit, personal income, retail sales, and vehicle sales.

A handy calendar page summarizes forthcoming economic data releases, along with the consensus estimates and figures from the previous reporting period. After official data are released, the calendar compares the actual with the consensus figures. Other tools include a dictionary of about sixty economic terms, a message board, and an array of online calculators. CPI and PPI calculators allow for price comparisons across time. For example, the PPI calculator for crude materials shows that while the price of wastepaper increased by about 60% since 1971, the price of natural gas rocketed 900%. There are also calculators for stock prices, mortgage payments, and installment loans.

In addition to the full-court coverage of economic indicators both here and abroad, each weekday the site publishes a feature article written by a staff economist or an invited economist. Of the 27 staff economists I counted, eight have PhDs., eight have Master's degrees as their highest degree, and the rest have Bachelor's degrees. Nearly all these degrees are in economics. In fact, this Web site is a good answer to students who ask "What can I do with an Economics degree?" Well, for one thing you might work on the Dismal Scientist Web site.

But wait, there's more! The Dismal Scientist also offers nearly a thousand Internet links sorted into 13 different categories and over 50 subcategories. This site is a must stop if you want your students to use the Web as a learning tool. It contains some advertising (no free lunch) but less than most newspaper sites. My guess is that the developers are planning to build up traffic then take the site public through an I.P.O.

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