Replicating Krugman (Pt. 1)

I'm a regular reader of Paul Krugman's NYT blog. A couple of months ago I decided to replicate some of the plots Paul published. At the time I was evaluating the quantmod package which seemed to made things easy.

An easy start

In the first part I'll reproduce two plots from Real Government Spending Per Capita. It's straightforward to get the data using quantmod:


# First we get the time series from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (FRED) 
getSymbols('GEXPND', src = 'FRED')
getSymbols('GDPDEF', src = 'FRED')
getSymbols('SLEXPND', src = 'FRED')
getSymbols('POP', src = 'FRED')
getSymbols('USREC', src = 'FRED')

# Paul Krugman doesn't use the raw series but real per capita values.
# These are the necessary calculations.
log_gov_overall <- log(GEXPND/(GDPDEF*POP), exp(1))
log_gov_state_local <- log(SLEXPND/(GDPDEF*POP), exp(1))
It's just as easy to create the standard plots:
  , main = "Real Government Spending Per Capita\nOverall (Log Values)"
plot of chunk unnamed-chunk-2
  , main = "Real Government Spending Per Capita\nState & Local (Log Values)"
plot of chunk unnamed-chunk-2
A closer look, however, reveals that something is clearly missing. Paul took his plots straight from FRED itself. One of the features is that recessions are shown by graying the background.

FRED style plots

After struggling with the parameters and different quantmod plots for a while I decided to write a function that takes the series to be plotted as a parameter and creates a FRED style plot.

This makes some use of the internal workings of plot.xts:
FREDplot <-  function (x
  , main = deparse(substitute(x))
  , las = 1
    , ...) {
# function to create FRED style plots with shaded regions for U.S. recessions
  # this function needs the time series to be xts
  if  (!(class(x)[1] == "xts") &&
      (class(x)[2] == "zoo")){
        stop("Only xts objects can be properly handled by this function!")
  # get the recession dates from FRED only once
  if  (!("USREC" %in% ls(name = globalenv()) &&
      attributes(USREC)$src == "FRED")){
        getSymbols('USREC', src = 'FRED')

  # transform FRED recession dates to xy.coordinates
  usrec <- xy.coords(.index(USREC), USREC[, 1])

  # prepare plot
  xycoords <- xy.coords(.index(x), x[, 1])
  ep <- axTicksByTime(x, TRUE, format.labels = TRUE)
  plot.zoo(xycoords$x, xycoords$y
    , type = 'n', axes = FALSE, ann = FALSE

  # plot axis & box
  axis(1, at = xycoords$x, labels = FALSE
    , col = "#BBBBBB"

  axis(1, at = xycoords$x[ep], labels = names(ep)
    , las = 1,lwd = 1, mgp = c(3, 2, 0)

  axis(2, las = las)

  # create shaded areas
  xblocks(usrec$x,ifelse(usrec$y == 1, "gray", "white"))

  # add grid
  abline(v = xycoords$x[ep], col = "grey", lty = 4)
  abline(h = seq(min(xycoords$y), max(xycoords$y)
    , length.out = 9), col = "grey", lty = 4

  # plot curve
  lines(xycoords$x, xycoords$y,...)

  # add title
  title(main = main)
  title(sub = "Shaded regions are US recession periods 
              (data from research.stlouisfed.org)"


Using this function the plots look much better:
# the first plot
  main = "Real Government Spending Per Capita\nOverall (Log Values)")
plot of chunk unnamed-chunk-4

# and the second
  main = "Real Government Spending Per Capita\nState and Local Level (Log Values)")
plot of chunk unnamed-chunk-4
Actually I like these plots better than the originals here and there.
There are, however, a couple of things that could - and should - be improved. More of this in future installments.
I'll call it a day for now.

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