Lies, Damned Lies And Economic Statistics

Posted by admin on February 9, 2010 in borrowing, credit crunch, depression, public borrowing, recession | Short Link

This morning I spotted a story on the BBC website about jobless statistics in the United States. You might recall that unemployment in the US hit 10% a few months ago.

Well the story explains a little of the real numbers. As we must all have – at a minimum – suspected by now, governments have a habit of reporting nmumbers in the best possible light. With inflation we have RPI, RPIX, ‘Core’ rates and more. Over time, the subtle changes in methods of calculations make these numbers meaningless to most of us. This post by Greg Hunter suggests that US inflation – if calculated using the same method as in 1980, it wouldn’t be 2.7% but 9.7%.

Well it is the same with US jobless numbers. As you will see from the story, and from Greg Hunter’s post, the real number is likely to be much higher. The BBC thinks more like 17%, while Hunter (via shadowstats.com) thinks 21.9%.

(It is worth pointing out that while some statistics may change in the level of their importance, when they were first invented, it was with a reason. That reason was to measure something. It seems reasonable to presume that they were invented to measure that thing as accurately as possible. Therefore, most changes probably reduce the ability of the numbers to measure accurately. So when something is compared to the (for example) 1980 method, that method is probably a much purer reflection of the underlying number. End of rant.)

It is numbers like this that will ensure that public sector debt is stubbornly difficult to reduce and that this will be a very long recession.

There are two factors that make such statistics really meaningful. Firstly, we all know just how important the US economy is to the global economy. The longer and deeper this recession lasts for America, the longer and deeper it will be for all of us. This will not be easy to shift.

Secondly, there are many developed nations that ‘massage’ their economic statistics like this. If I happened to speak several languages and read several different nations major newspapers each day, I could probably quote similar situations in many European nations. But I don’t so I can’t. But there have certainly been changes to the way numbers are calculated in the UK.

How we – and I include government – are meant to deal with the debts of the world and this economic crisis if we don’t really understand how bad the problem is, I have no idea. Confronting the problem is the first step in dealing with it. But still, around 2 years in, we are unable to see the real numbers. It seems that we are still hiding behind lies and statistics.

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