Any economy throbs with life every minute of the day, month and year, as people buy, sell and produce 24x7. But the net result of all this activity is revealed to us only much later, when the government releases economic data for the month, quarter and year.
Internet firm Google is about to challenge this arrangement. Its chief economist, Hal Varian, is using online shopping data to construct a daily measure of inflation. He says that other stuff is possible: A look at the number of searches for unemployment insurance could give us some idea of the state of the labour market. This is somewhat akin to using trending data on Twitter to track social behaviour.
Real-time economic data is not an unalloyed benefit. The financial markets already face a blizzard of daily data, much of it useless noise. Daily GDP and inflation data will add to that. Yet, such a challenge to governments will be interesting and overdue.