Although they are now considered essential measures of economic performance, such vital yardsticks as the gross national product and the consumer price index have come into widespread use only in recent decades. During the 1940s economists made rapid strides in their ability to sift through the billions of transactions that make up economic behavior and distill them into key statistics that indicate the state of the economy. Few experts have been more crucial in turning the numerical potpourri into some kind of order than Sir Richard Stone, 71, who last week won the...

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