Universiteit Leiden

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FGGA Research Seminar: The Political Underbelly of Economic Statistics

  • Daniel Mügge
Date
Thursday 21 September 2017
Time
Address
Wijnhaven
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague
Room
Room 2.58

Information about the seminar:

We are surrounded by economic numbers – inflation gauges, debt levels, growth expectations, trade balances, unemployment figures, etc. They are the fundament on which we build policies, in The Hague as much as in Brussels. Citizens and journalists use such macroeconomic figures to assess how our economies perform.

Yet macroeconomic statistics are not as objective as they seem. The figures we find in official databases, for example by the IMF or the World Bank, depend crucially on complicated and often artibrary operationaliztions of highly abstract concepts such as government debt or services trade. In consequence, reported figures for one and the same concept can diverge substantially.

These differences matter as they often have distributive consequences, for example when we index wages or pension to inflation figures. They also matter when faulty figures steer economic policy in undesirable directions or when academics use statistics that in fact don’t capture what interests them.

The vagaries of statistics make it imperative that we understand better both the sources and the consequences of our measurement choices. The talk will address these issues with a focus on international economic statistics. It reveals a widening gap between public perceptions of statistics – which are seen as getting better – and economic statistics that increasingly lose purchase on economic reality.

Biography of Daniel Mügge

Daniel Mügge is Professor of Political Arithmetic at the political science department of the University of Amsterdam. (If you're wondering what political arithmetic is, see the explanation here.) In his research, Daniel Mügge analyses the political economy of macroeconomic indicators and the political origins of the formulas through which we calculate them. Daniel currently leads the FickleFormulas project, which is supported by an NWO Vidi Grant and an ERC Starting Grant. In the past, he has published widely on the politics of financial regulation and accounting standards.

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