The Economist has finally decided to stop using “official” economic statistics from Argentina:
Imagine a world without statistics. Governments would fumble in the dark, investors would waste money and electorates would struggle to hold their political leaders to account. This is why The Economist publishes more than 1,000 figures each week, on matters such as output, prices and jobs, from a host of countries. We cannot be sure that all these figures are trustworthy. Statistical offices vary in their technical sophistication and ability to resist political pressure. China’s numbers, for example, can be dodgy; Greece underreported its deficit, with disastrous consequences. But on the whole government statisticians arrive at their figures in good faith.
There is one glaring exception. Since 2007 Argentina’s government has published inflation figures that almost nobody believes. These show prices as having risen by between 5% and 11% a year. Independent economists, provincial statistical offices and surveys of inflation expectations have all put the rate at more than double the official number. The government has often granted unions pay rises of that order.
What seems to have started as a desire to avoid bad headlines in a country with a history of hyperinflation has led to the debasement of INDEC, once one of Latin America’s best statistical offices. Its premises are now plastered with posters supporting the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Independent-minded staff were replaced by self-described “Cristinistas”. In an extraordinary abuse of power by a democratic government, independent economists have been forced to stop publishing their own estimates of inflation by fines and threats of prosecution. Misreported prices have cheated holders of inflation-linked bonds out of billions of dollars.