How the IMF does (or doesn’t) check the quality of statistics from low income countries

Do you want to know how the IMF collects statistics from Low Income Countries? Do you wonder what kind of quality checks there are, cure and what rules determine what data gets published and what does not?

Well, so did the IMF Board. They requested the IMF Independent Evaluation Office to conduct an evaluation. Because they did not know the answers to those questions. The Evaluation Office asked me to write a background paper. The short answer is that the system they have in place is not working. Read my full paper here – and the whole evaluation here: Behind the Scenes with Data at the IMF.  Pleased to see that Lagarde supported the recommendations that the papers put forward. A bit puzzled to read the statement from the same director that seems to indicate that the evaluation emphasized the excellence of the IMF, when she in the same letter recognizes that the incentives of IMF staff in the system of data management is currently misaligned.  IMF director recommendations


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Public Talk: Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong @GrinnellCollege March 2, 4 pm ARH 302


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Want a fully funded PhD and work with me @Noragric & @UniNMBU on the politics of numbers?

International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences is calling for applications for PhD positions. The positions are fully funded, and are enumerated as full time job according to Norwegian regulations. Full details of all the positions here.

One of the positions calls for proposals on the politics of numbers. Candidates can have masters degree in any background. The full description of this position (and instructions on how to apply) is found here. Here’s an excerpt:

The use of numbers, performance indicators and benchmarks have grown exponentially over the last two decades, particularly in the field of international politics and development. Indicators are now firmly established as a distinct mode of global governance. The process of numbering involves translating complex phenomena into numerical values. The procedure converts what might otherwise be highly contentious normative agendas into numbers that appear technocratic and objective. The politics of numbers has implications for global governance, and particularly so for making norms, rules and regulations in the fields of International Environment and Development Studies. We are seeking a PhD proposal with a foundation in an International Relations and/or International Political Economy perspective that studies topics of importance in International Environment and Development Studies.

When starting to work on your proposal you might want to take some inspiration from some of the recent literature. I have made some short summaries here and here. If you are considering to apply and you have questions, you are of course very welcome to contact me.

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Book talk in Cambridge, Wednesday, 27 Jan. 3pm

In Cambridge? You are in luck. I will be giving a talk at the Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism. I am really looking forward to it. Free to attend.


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Podcast: how economists have misunderstood economic growth in African countries

On Sunday 13 December I was speaking about my book at the CBC Sunday Edition. Listen to the recording here.

A few weeks back I was on the Economic Rockstar Podcast – listen to the episode here.



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African Studies Meetings in San Diego 19-22 Nov 2015

I am really looking forward to the annual African Studies meetings in San Diego.

(The preliminary program is here: The State and the Study of Africa, troche November 19-22, hospital 2015. San Diego, pill California).

I will be giving two papers. I give one paper on Friday morning in “State Building, States, and State Transformation in Africa: Legacies, Impacts, Consequences and Solutions” (Friday, Nov 20, 8:30-10:15am, V-P-2) and then a second paper at the ASA Roundtable on Methods Saturday November 21 8:30-10:15. I will be speaking on studying Africa by numbers.

I will also be giving an informal presentation of my book. Join me at the University of Chicago Press booth (#305) on Saturday, 4 PM for some wine and a chat about “Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong“.

ASA jerven book talk

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Power of indicators: an emerging literature

There is a rise of indicators. The so called data revolution is finding its feet, so I  do not expect it to let up anytime soon.  The Economist provided one overview in their report on ‘How to lie with indices‘.


As one would expect there is now a ballooning literature to match the rise of indicators. The early and leading contributions in this literature emerged from  Law and Anthropology (sometimes cross-disciplinary work), but now International Relations and Political Science is following. Economics is as far as I can tell still on the sidelines.  Anthropology and ‘Constructivism’ within International Relations has a natural comparative advantage in approaching data as social products. On the other hand, economists, statisticians and political scientists of the positivist mold, have a mountain to climb.

I hope there will be a gradual shift in all disciplines towards approaching indicators critically as ‘products’ rather than the mainstream approach of being uncritical consumers of indicators. All these indicators are entering the realm of ‘as if’ governance.

We all know, I hope, that the Freedom House actually does not measure ‘democracy’;  that the Consumer Price Index does not actually measure ‘inflation’; nor does Transparency International actually measure ‘corruption’. We just pretend ‘as if’ they do. We are in deep trouble if we forget that we are making decisions or doing analytic research ‘as if’ these things could actually be counted.

Despite the many publications I think there are still many holes in our knowledge. There is a further need for empirical research on the lines of ‘political ethnography of indicators’. Particularly is there a gap in theory and empirical studies on the line of causality from ‘data’ to ‘decisions’. There is also a surprising gap on knowledge of what makes a good indicator, and what does not.  Here’s a sample of books coming in 2015 and 2016.

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Book Talk: Africa – Why Economists Get it Wrong @SAISAfrica OCT 7, 5PM

SAIS Jerven


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Book Talk: Africa – Why Economists Get it Wrong @TheNewSchool OCT 9 2:30 PM

New School Jerven

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Book talk: Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong #LSE Friday 18 Sep, 6 PM


The event is free to attend, and there will be refreshments. There will also be copies of the books for sale.

I will also discuss isues covered in my book on Wednesday 23 September at 1pm at the Overseas Development Institute.  The event is called: Understanding economic transformation in Africa. There is an impressive line up of commentators and speakers: Blandina Kilama - Senior Researcher, REPOA, Tanzania, Nick Crafts – Professor of Economics and Economic History at the University of Warwick and Louise Fox – Visiting Professor, University of California, Berkeley. The event is chaired by Dirk Willem te Velde - Director, Supporting Economic Transformation, ODI.

Want to prepare yourself with some clever comments from recent book reviews? Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong was reviewed the Africa at LSE blog, in the Financial Times and in the Washington Post’s Monkeycage blog last week. The International Development blog at LSE also wrote about the book here.  Quoting from Laura Seay and Kim Yi Dionne‘s review here:

Jerven’s book is controversial and has already provoked debate. His points are elegantly argued and although he delves into extremely technical economic concepts and methods, “Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong” is readable and easy for a nonspecialist to understand. But specialists in particular must read Jerven, and take seriously his claims.

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