The Corner

Making Things Up

The Economist reports on Argentina’s continuing, uh, war against inflation (statistics):

Since 2007, when Guillermo Moreno, the secretary of internal trade, was sent into the statistics institute, INDEC, to tell its staff that their figures had better not show inflation shooting up, prices and the official record have parted ways. Private-sector economists and statistical offices of provincial governments show inflation two to three times higher than INDEC’s number (which only covers greater Buenos Aires). Unions, including those from the public sector, use these independent estimates when negotiating pay rises. Surveys by Torcuato di Tella University show inflation expectations running at 25-30%…

INDEC seems to arrive at its figures by a pick-and-mix process of tweaking, sophistry and sheer invention. Graciela Bevacqua, the professional statistician responsible for the consumer-price index (CPI) until Mr Moreno forced her out, says that he tried to get her to omit decimal points, not round them. That sounds minor—until you calculate that a 1% monthly inflation rate works out at an annual 12.7%, whereas 1.9% monthly compounds to 25.3%…

Some Argentine government bodies seem well aware of the true inflation rate. Foreign investors report presentations by the Central Bank mentioning a real (ie, inflation-adjusted) exchange rate that implies annual inflation of around 20%. Economists who have picked through the somewhat suspect figures for economic growth say they can discern a similar rate in the “deflator” used to correct some prices. Perhaps most intriguingly, INDEC’s and PriceStats’ inflation rates accelerate and decelerate in tandem.

 The government has gone to extraordinary lengths, involving fines and threats of prosecution, to try to stop independent economists from publishing accurate inflation numbers. The American Statistical Association has protested at the political persecution faced by its Argentine colleagues, and is urging the United Nations to act, on the ground that the harassment is a violation of the right to freedom of expression…

The Economist doesn’t think this will end well. It’s hard to disagree.

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