Is the government weaponising economic data?
After debunking faith in numbers, assertions by powerful and charismatic leaders can be projected as the truth
The comment on the weaponisation of economics by the former chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, is a telling indictment of the way political interests trump such other considerations as veracity and transparency. The latest round of revisions in the rate of growth of gross domestic product is a perfect example of the use of alternative statistics to score political brownie points. Since the National Democratic Alliance government came to power, a number of revisions have been made in the way macroeconomic data are computed and presented. In each case, however, the revisions were such that economic growth appeared to be better during the NDA regime and worse during the rule by the United Progressive Alliance. The average citizen has no idea why and how growth rates are re-calculated. The methodological changes are not very transparent even to economists who are technically well versed in these computations. Hence the advantage claimed by the government could be in doubt because estimation methods can vary and errors could be significant.
The latest round of revisions is a little more blatant than before. The National Statistical Commission, a neutral body of reputed experts, came up with a set of revised ‘back-data’ of growth rates where a new base year was used. The growth rates turned out to be very healthy during the UPA regime and the more recent figures under NDA rule looked relatively weak. Immediately there were comments that this set of computations was incorrect and depicted a false picture of the economy during the UPA government’s rule.
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