Some of the most valuable work an economist does in business has little to do with the future, just the current and the past. And these insights don’t require a professional economist, just a dashboard that senior management reviews regularly.

A company was emerging from the recession quite well, but one division was lagging. The division head was under suspicion. The CEO was clearly displeased. Nobody wanted to sit next to that division head at the executive committee meeting for fear of collateral damage. Then the economist spoke up. Division A serves a sector that tends to turn up as soon as the overall economy improves. Division B serves customers who spend more starting a few months before the recession ends. But Division C, the economist explained, serves a sector that is sluggish for as much as a year after the recession ends, then takes…

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