Robert Shiller Says a Data Revolution is Coming

Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller says we are facing a revolution rooted in a “huge acceleration in the amount of data available to researchers,” which he discusses in his new book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events. This according to an article in Barron’s.

Shiller, who reportedly predicted both the dot-com bust and the events that led to the 2008 financial crisis, argues that the last time there was a data revolution of this magnitude was after the Great Depression when, the article explains, “economists following John Maynard Keynes began focusing on metrics such as gross domestic product and, crucially, unemployment data.”

Now, says Shiller, we have tools like Google Ngrams, which allow researchers to instantly search entire libraries-worth of books and periodicals for the “prevalence of specific terms like ‘depression’ or ‘lay-off.'” Shiller says, “There’s so much that can be done with the however many terabytes of data that we have, about human communication.” His latest book offers observations regarding what makes human narratives go viral.

The article notes that other economists have endorsed the ideas in Shiller’s book, citing comments from UCLA economics professor Brad DeLong: “I think Shiller is right in believing that if we are ever going to have reasonable models of expectations, they will have to incorporate ‘narrative.’ We are, very much, story-telling animals: it is how we reason, and how we remember.”

Shiller explains, “What I’m doing in this book is drawing together many more streams of evidence. It’s partly my learning more from others and overcoming the fear of generalizing those ideas further.”