Watch out for Wikipedia

Michael Mandel

So I was researching the 'misery index'--the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate--and of course looked at the wikipedia entry. The very first sentence says:

The Misery Index is an economic indicator created by Chicago economist Robert Barro in the 1970s

Okay. I didn't remember that. So I looked further. Under the Wikipedia entry for Barro, it said:

During the 1970s Barro also developed the concept of the Misery Index, which Jimmy Carter publicized during his 1976 presidential campaign, and Ronald Reagan in his 1980 presidential campaign

Boy, that's pretty specific. So I shot off an email to Barro asking him if that was true (it was 5AM in the morning, and I was pretty sleepy). In the meantime, I looked at the site, which says

The misery index was initiated by Chicago Economist Robert Barro in the 1970's

and the Investopedia describes the misery index this way:

The index was initiated in the 1970s by a U.S. economist named Robert Barro

Safety in numbers? Hardly. By then my brain was functioning, despite the early hour, and I was pretty sure all these entries were wrong. Finally I tracked down the truth. In fact, the original misery index was invented by economist Arthur Okun. Barro was responsible for the much more recent "Barro misery index," which he described in a 1999 BusinessWeek column . The Barro misery index includes GDP and interest rates, as well as unemployment and inflation.

The moral of this story: Be very suspicious of Wikipedia information, even if it seems confirmed by other sites.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.