National Income Accounting

Lesson Transcript

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

National income accounting is a standard metric used by economists to calculate gross domestic product (GDP), the standard measure of a country's economy. Compare the expenditure and income approaches, noting the types of income each focuses on in calculations. Updated: 02/24/2022

What Is National Income Accounting?

Fund accounting is often used in non-profit organizations, while GAAP accounting is used in publicly-traded companies. Depending on the purpose of the accounting and why it is being tracked, the accounting methodology can vary. National income accounting is no different; it is the accounting methodology used to calculate GDP, an important metric for economists (and the rest of us, whether we know it or not).

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  • 0:03 What Is National…
  • 0:32 Gross Domestic Product
  • 1:27 Expenditure Approach
  • 3:35 Income Approach
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Gross Domestic Product

So what is GDP? Gross domestic product (or GDP) is how economists measure the size of a country's economy. Really, it can be used to calculate the economic size of any geographic region - a city, a state, a continent, etc. But, most of the time, you'll hear it as the metric cited to describe how big a country's economy is, or how much it is (or isn't) growing. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, at the end of 2020, the United States had a GDP of about $21.4 trillion.

There are actually two ways to calculate GDP using national income accounting. They end up producing the same number, and as we discuss the algebra behind them, you should be able to see why. But, sometimes, one makes more sense than the other, so we'll present both the expenditure approach and the income approach.

Expenditure Approach

One way we could calculate GDP is using the expenditure approach. This takes into account four different types of expenditures. First, personal consumption expenditure. This is everything individuals in the economy buy. Remember, we are getting to GDP - the amount of goods and services produced - and if your or I purchase a good or service, that means it was produced, so we include it in our count.

The next is all government purchases. Just like you and I, the government needs to purchase. It may not be the same stuff we purchase - but whether it's new tanks and fighter jets from Boeing or power to keep the lights on in the White House, the government is purchasing goods and services produced in the economy.

The third expenditure is all the stuff produced in the United States but sold to individuals outside the United States. Those exports were produced in our economy but ended up outside of the country, so we need to count them. However, we only want to include net exports, so we take all exports and then subtract imports, meaning the things we all purchased from other countries. Yes, we spent money on it - but it wasn't produced in our country, so it's not part of our GDP. For the expenditure side, we only want to count net exports: all exports minus imports.

Finally, the last expenditure we need to add in is gross private domestic investment. The term 'investment' means we are talking about large purchases - capital items, such as new buildings, machines, and equipment. This category also includes changes in inventory, since a decrease in inventory means a company produced something in a previous period (or year) but sold it this year. Since we are using the expenditure method, it doesn't matter when the good was produced, it matters when the buyer spent money on the purchase.

Adding those four categories together - net exports, gross private domestic investment, government purchases, and personal consumption - we get a very large sum. In 2020, for the United States, it was right about $21.4 trillion.

In 2020 GDP was about 21.4 trillion by the expenditure approach. GDP by the income approach is shown for comparison.

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