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Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African…

Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What…

by Morten Jerven

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One of the most urgent challenges in African economic development is to devise a strategy for improving statistical capacity. Reliable statistics, including estimates of economic growth rates and per-capita income, are basic to the operation of governments in developing countries and vital to nongovernmental organizations and other entities that provide financial aid to them. Rich countries and international financial institutions such as the World Bank allocate their development resources on the basis of such data. The paucity of accurate statistics is not merely a technical problem; it has a massive impact on the welfare of citizens in developing countries.Where do these statistics originate? How accurate are they? Poor Numbers is the first analysis of the production and use of African economic development statistics. Morten Jerven's research shows how the statistical capacities of sub-Saharan African economies have fallen into disarray. The numbers substantially misstate the actual state of affairs. As a result, scarce resources are misapplied. Development policy does not deliver the benefits expected. Policymakers' attempts to improve the lot of the citizenry are frustrated. Donors have no accurate sense of the impact of the aid they supply. Jerven's findings from sub-Saharan Africa have far-reaching implications for aid and development policy. As Jerven notes, the current catchphrase in the development community is "evidence-based policy," and scholars are applying increasingly sophisticated econometric methods--but no statistical techniques can substitute for partial and unreliable data.… (more)
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    The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier (pbirch01)
    pbirch01: Jerven reviews Collier's methodology multiple times throughout this book.

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Jerven's opening question "What do we know about income and growth in Sub-Saharan Africa?" is both simultaneously rhetorical and legitimate as this still remains an issue nearly three years after the publication of this book. The book opens with an overview of GDP of 45 African countries as determined by three different development agencies. The differences in these values is striking and sets a stage for an overview of the amount of variation present both within countries and year to year reporting. Jerven combines both on the ground research with a deep dive into the literature and presents a balanced and nuanced view of the realities of statistics departments of African countries. I am not an economist but I found this book was very accessible to the layperson and kept the interest level high by limiting the book to only 176 pages. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in African economics or just another view of Africa in general. ( )
  pbirch01 | Jun 13, 2016 |
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