Political Economy of Government Statistics

An exploration of the mutually constitutive relation between data, development and democracy.

Statistics have had an intimate relation with the formation of modern states and indeed with the very ways in which modern states are popularly imagined. At present, in most countries, the principle of one person one vote, which necessitates collection of demographic statistics, forms the bedrock of the relation between the state and statistics. But, even otherwise, the planning and evaluation of a variety of state interventions related to economy, federal redistribution, affirmative action, employment, migration, health, education, and law and order demand recourse to statistics. Government statistics of developing countries are, however, not free of errors. Errors result from definitional and measurement problems, bureaucratic incompetence and corruption, and political interference. Competition for international institutional development assistance and foreign direct and institutional investments might also encourage manipulation of (macroeconomic) statistics. Developed countries also face similar problems though to a lesser extent because of the greater availability of skilled personnel and financial resources to build reliable databases, a longer history of engagement with modern statistics, and a greater non-state capacity to critically assess government statistics and build alternative databases. Problems notwithstanding, policy-makers and researchers in social sciences increasingly rely on statistics collected by governments and, more recently, also on statistics collected by large non/inter-governmental organizations.