April 30, 2018 / 12:38 PM / a month ago

Want a window on the economy? Try Spotify, says BoE's Haldane

LONDON, April 30 (Reuters) - Music apps such as Spotify and multiplayer online games might give central bankers just as a good a sense of what’s going on in the economy as traditional surveys, the chief economist at the Bank of England says.

Andy Haldane said the rise of digital leisure might help policymakers crack the problem of understanding the mood of consumers, whose spending drives the economy.

Haldane, in the text of a speech published on Monday, said data on music downloads from Spotify was already being used by researchers, along with techniques applied to the words of songs, to provide an indicator of people’s sentiment.

“Intriguingly, the resulting index of sentiment does at least as well in tracking consumer spending as the Michigan survey of consumer confidence,” he said, referring to a closely watched monthly survey in the United States.

“And why stop at music? People’s tastes in books, TV and radio may also offer a window on their soul. So too might their taste in games,” Haldane, who has carved out a reputation as an unconventional thinker, said.

Not all attempts to harness online searches have proven successful. Google tried to predict flu outbreaks based on online searches with little success after a promising start, Haldane said.

But some games offered the opportunity to assess the economic mood and to test theories on how people responded to actions similar to that taken by central banks in an environment that was easier to observe than the real world.

“And it could include player reactions to policy intervention — for example, their responses to monetary and regulatory policies,” he said. “Indeed, in the latter role, the game could serve as a test-bed for policy action — a large-scale, dynamic, digital focus group.”

Multiplayer online games such as space combat and trading and EVE Online and popular fantasy World of Warcraft already had “primitive” economies that economists were studying, Haldane said. (Reporting by William Schomberg Editing by Catherine Evans)

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