FRED imports EU inflation data; stats nerds jump for joy, start charting things

French healthcare inflation vs US healthcare inflation! Beer inflation! Spanish inflation!

A secret weapon in the armoury of economics bloggers is the St Louis Federal Reserve's FRED, a tool which the institution offers to let people explore, manipulate and chart a wide variety of public data. On Wednesday, they added a further 6,000 data series on price levels liberated from Eurostat, the EU's impossible-to-use statistics database. Which means, naturally, that stats junkies have been charting inflation across Europe.

Slate's Matt Yglesias chooses to compare inflation in Germany against inflation in Spain, making the point that, while the two countries' changes in price levels have been very different, the ECB has to make monetary policy which fits them both:

Both series are index to 100 at 2005, but you can see clearly that Spain (red) has been experiencing higher inflation that Germany (blue) for some time now.

Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal goes with a comparison between French and US healthcare inflation, which handily demonstrates the ludicrous explosion in prices experienced by the latter. I decided to throw the UK into the comparison as well, which places us in the middle, but bear in mind that, with a single-payer system, consumer prices don't reflect the true cost of healthcare in the country.

For reasons known only to themselves, FRED also choose to break beer prices out into their own seperate category. Which allows me to present the good news of the day: the price of beer in Britain has remained largely unchanged over the last decade, even while everything else has risen by 30 per cent.

FRED: fun for all the (nerdy, stats-obsessed) family!

A cup of beer. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.