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Moreover, there may be strong incentive for governments to adjust, or even falsify, statistics Improving economic performance can increase the responsible party s chances of staying in power Consider China, where regional of cials performance is measured by provincial GDP growth10 Rampant massaging of local growth gures has resulted Statistical manipulation can also help to gain entry into international organizations, like when Greek government of cials distorted budget de cit numbers in order to gain entrance into the European Monetary Union (EMU)11 Up until 1995, Greece maintained high government de cits, often more than 10 percent of GDP The number dwindled incredibly rapidly, and by 2000, Greece s de cit was below 3 percent making the country eligible for EMU membership After Greece was accepted to the EMU, the Statistical Of ce of the European Communities refused to validate gures prepared by the National Statistical Service of Greece (NSSG) In reaction, the NSSG was forced to revise its debt estimate several times until the surplus became a de cit Even the United States is not immune to such tampering US political commentator Kevin Philips notes: The use of deceptive statistics has played its own vital role in convincing many Americans that the US economy is stronger, fairer, more productive, more dominant, and richer with opportunity than it actually is The corruption has tainted the very measures that most shape public perception of the economy the monthly consumer price index (CPI), which serves as the chief bellwether of in ation; the quarterly gross domestic product, which tracks the US economy s overall growth; and the monthly unemployment gure, which for the general public is perhaps the most vivid indicator of economic health or in rmity Not only do governments, businesses, and individuals use these yardsticks in their decision-making but minor revisions in the data can mean major changes in household circumstances in ation measurements help determine interest rates, federal interest payments on the national debt, and costof-living increases for wages, pensions, and Social Security bene ts And, of course, our statistics have political consequences, too An administration is helped when it can mouth banalities
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about price levels being anchored as food and energy costs begin to soar 12 Philips believes most American presidents from John F Kennedy through George W Bush have made a variety of tweaks to the methodologies of in ation and unemployment that give Americans a distorted view of the economy As a result, the US economy can seem up even when average Americans are feeling pretty down A second statistical concern surrounding GDP is its standardization across the globe Even without manipulation, national income statistics are poor bases for international comparison due to different classi cations, de nitions, price systems, population growth rates, and exchange rates, as well as different measurements of in ation between countries Consider how just one small piece of the puzzle can throw off the whole picture, such as the varying accounting treatments of depreciation across countries Since estimates of depreciation are made by corporations themselves and are guided by tax considerations and local regulations, the results can provide misleading ideas about the value of enterprises For example, the same equipment may be worth more on the books under US accounting rules as opposed to those of, say, Thailand A useful indicator of national economic activity should be internationally comparable given that other countries are the benchmarks by which we measure our own progress For example, in 6 we saw that Americans spend $23 trillion annually on health care Without knowing that this is more than double on a per capita basis what most industrialized countries spend, that information would not tell us much How can we adjust for statistical manipulation and cross-border differences While the best we can do to combat manipulation is to enforce uni ed statistical standards and better monitoring, there are several methodologies currently employed to account for differences, including purchasing power parity comparisons and per capita adjustments
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