Poor Numbers : How We Are Misled By African Development Statistics

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Review of ‘Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it’ by Morten Jerven Poor Numbers’ overarching message to data users is to take care when using statistics. Morten Jerven, former Economic History PhD student and current Assistant Professor of International Studies, has written many articles about African growth, particularly on the reliability of growth accounting and evidence. He uses a multidisciplinary approach, combining statistical, historical and ethnographic methods to analyse the production and dissemination of national income statistics in Africa, and to demonstrate not only why these numbers are ‘wrong’, but why it matters for policy-making and development, and offering policy…show more content…
In the first of four subsequent chapters, Jerven introduces the problem of the poor quality of African GDP statistics, subject to problems of reliability, accuracy and validity. By introducing GDP, the main methods used to construct it, and exposing some shocking disparities between the data produced by the three main sources for national income data, readers can understand the complexities involved with measuring GDP. Data gathering in African countries is difficult due to poor data availability and sources, which, combined with using outdated baseline numbers, results in underestimated income statistics. When Ghana recently revised its baseline year, they moved from a low-income country to a low-middle-income country almost overnight – exposing the dilemma associated with taking GDP country rankings at face value. Jerven’s dynamic comparison of the data tables allows us to see how much (or little) we really know about African growth from the statistics. Chapter 2 is an historical analysis of how African incomes have been measured over time. With pressure upon statisticians to produce cross-country comparative data for economists, African nations began national income
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