September 18, 2014
The war of figures between the INDEC statistics bureau’s official inflation data and the average of the estimates from independent consultants divulged every month by opposition deputies continues into the second half of the year with INDEC announcing June inflation as 1.3 percent on Tuesday, followed by yesterday’s “Congress” figure of 2.2 percent. The same old song, it would seem, except that one side has done very much more to clean up its act this year than the other — despite retaining the same suspect helm which doctored the data for more than half a decade. A new nationwide index was launched by INDEC in January and the change was so dramatic as to remove any doubts that the reform might be cosmetic — instead of the 0.8-0.9 percent monthly inflation reported almost without fail by the old INDEC index during the previous seven years, January inflation was quantified at 3.7 percent by the new methods. The International Monetary Fund has since praised the improvement in Argentine statistics but the change was not made in response to the IMF or any other external pressure — instead the then brand-new Economy Minister Axel Kicillof badly needed serious figures if there was to be any future for the state planning on which he hoped to base his policies and he pushed so hard in this direction that he had already obtained the reform in his second month of heading the portfolio.
And meanwhile what have the Congress politicians done to improve the credibility of a figure which always relied far more on the zero credibility of the previous official alternative rather than any credibility of its own? Absolutely nothing which is at all visible. For a start the final figure is invariably an average because there is a vast range between the different consultants. Given that this monthly ritual began as a crusade for open government and transparency against the official bid to fiddle the figures and hide the truth, these consultants are surprisingly secretive about their methods and sources — not that the new INDEC methods reveal the bases of their calculations (including the regional data forming the national figure) either. Critics of INDEC now argue that while the new methods began with a fair approximation to reality, the widening gap with the “Congress” figure (as between the 1.3 and 2.2 percent for last month) points to renewed manipulation. But these same critics are constantly harping on recessive tendencies (as recently confirmed by INDEC with two consecutive quarters of negative growth) — they cannot have it both ways with the economy slowing down and overheating at the same time.
Six months after INDEC overhauled its old methods, the ball is now surely in the other court.