July 31, 2014
The poverty of statistics
At the start of this year INDEC statistics bureau began coming clean on inflation, thus ending seven years of controversy, and then in late March the 2013 growth rate was abruptly reduced by a couple of points to three percent (with the convenient dividend of removing the need to pay over three billion dollars in growth-linked bonds) but poverty figures continue to be the great orphan of this new sincerity. The reasons for the failure to update publish poverty data in midweek — regardless of whether the government was afraid to undermine any credibility gains by coming out with a figure under five percent of the population on the previous basis or whether post-devaluation calculations would not swell the old percentages for poverty and destitution several times — is less important than the continuing failure to produce serious official figures. Lacking any objective basis, the poverty figures can be fudged to suit the tastes of whoever is lying — from INDEC’s 4.7 percent of this time last year on the basis of seven years of inflation denial up to 36.5 percent of some estimates which lend far more ammunition to the opposition. Indeed the latter percentage could be almost doubled to two-thirds of the population by applying the primitively populist criterion of everybody being poor who say they are — or at least two households out of every three complain about their incomes not reaching the end of the month.
The government seeks to justify the lack of poverty data by arguing that they are in a process of transformation (as indeed they are) but such figures tend to be arbitrary at the best of times according to the basis of comparison. Thus last year poverty in the United States trebled Argentina according to the official figures in the two countries but whereas 255 pesos a month (or 23.72 dollars at the current street exchange) was given as the level needed to avert destitution here, the poverty line in the US was set at almost 1,000 times that figure on an annual basis or 23,000 dollars (nearly 2,000 dollars a month). Such comparisons are thus more odious than most.
Much has been said about how INDEC’s 2007-13 statistical manipulations have cheated the holders of index-linked bonds (and more recently growth-linked bonds) but perhaps the biggest debt of a government calling itself “national and popular” is to its humblest citizens. While the government continues to claim a best which is too good to be true, all too many people are going to believe an equally exaggerated worst — cannot we have the truth for a change?