Television has gotten much better over the last few decades, but—for many reasons—total advertising has not grown.
Without more advertising revenue, the contribution of better TV to GDP is zero. A few remarks:
For me personally, the value of television is close to zero. I never turn on the TV. Still, if I did have to watch, I would find prefer new shows to the type of shows that were available when I was a kid.
But Greenstein’s larger point is that free services, like Google Maps, do not get valued properly in GDP.
I would like to make the point larger still. The economy is much less legible today than it was in 1950. The most legible components of the economy are agriculture and manufacturing. In 1950, the majority of people worked in those sectors. Today, if you add up farm labor and manufacturing production workers (not including white collar workers in manufacturing), you get maybe 7 percent of the labor force. Pretty much everyone else works in sectors like finance, government, health care, and education, where we do not know how to measure or value output.
The Department of Commerce hums along, producing a number for GDP. And many economists read a lot into the behavior of this number. In the process, they treat an increasingly illegible economy as if it were still legible.