From Richard Dowden on African Arguments

Remember Ghana in 2010?  That year the Ghana Statistical Service “improved their national accounts series by incorporating new data sources and better estimation methods, classifications and standards” said the World Bank. That led it to “re-base” the estimates and revise the level of GDP for 2006 upwards by a modest 60 percent. Yes, SIXTY PERCENT richer than we had been told. Overnight it became a middle income country. And Ghana has one of the best bureaucracies in Africa. God knows how they add up the figures elsewhere, but one thing is certain – Africa is a lot richer than the development lobby and aid agencies would have us believe.

I am horrified by the idea that the “development lobby” might benefit from an underestimation of GDP figures, though I see the point. But in the case of Ghana, it was a public statistical agency –one of the best in Africa– which was doing the miscalculation. How can that happen?

It is well known that macroeconomic statistics in the continent are not always reliable, but I expected the problem to be the exact opposite -I thought that governments had an incentive to make things look better than they are. Maybe the problem is just technical. Or maybe (but I hope I am wrong) the incentive structure is upside down and looking attractive to the “development lobby” is more important than looking attractive to the investment community.

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