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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Book Reviews: Africa. Why Economists Get It Wrong

The response to my book has been an overwhelmingly positive. I always knew it would divide opinion. Alex De Waal did perhaps provide the most encouraging and ringing support with a review titled “Liberating African Economic History from the Tyranny of Econometrics

Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong is a slender but important book. It is a charter for liberating African economic policymaking from the tyranny of econometricians.

Ian Scoones, Jeff Bloem, and Ken Opalo all wrote very nice reviews, and Opalo summarized it neatly in a tweet:

I was thrilled to see that the Economist reviewed it and followed up by a nice set of tweets.

I wrote something about the book for New African Magazine. If you want a taste of the introduction – go here – if you need to read an excerpt of the conclusion – click this – and if you want to hear me talk about the book you can pick between Owen Barder at Development Drums or Russ Roberts at Econtalk.  

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Why did economists spend two decades explaining something that never happened ?

For the past two decades, mainstream economists who study African economic growth have been trying to explain something that never happened. Economists have focused almost exclusively on one question: Why has economic growth failed in Africa?

You can read the motivation for my book in a post I wrote for African Arguments here. I have discussed the book on two podcasts – with Russel Roberts on Econtalk here, and with Owen Barder on Development drums here.

In the podcast and the book I say that the bottom line is that there is no bottom billion. The graph below should make that case quite clear. Mainstream economists ignored growth in the 1960s and 1970s, and disregarded recent growth, and have sought to explain a phenomena that only partly holds true in the 1980s.  That’s the motivation for chapter 1 in the book. In chapter two I show how the stylized fact of ‘chronic failure’ made the basis for a literature that simply focused on explaining ‘why nations fail‘. In chapter three I show that it is better to approach economic growth in Africa as recurring rather than failed, and in chapter four I show how scholars and institutions continue to get their analysis of ‘Africa Rising’ wrong, because they are not doing their homework when it comes to questioning the data and the data sources.Capture


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Book Launch: Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong

On June 4 at 6 pm I will present my latest book at SOAS in London, salve UK. The title is Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong. Jerven_AfricaWEGIW_Visuals_1#10

In four chapters I deliver a critique of how mainstream macroeconomic literature has sought to explain economic growth in Africa.


You can read more editorial blurbs here, rx but let me quote two from William Easterly and James Ferguson.

‘A highly readable and absolutely devastating critique…Jerven argues convincingly that a better understanding can be obtained by setting aside the “African failure” frame.’ – James Ferguson, buy Stanford University

‘Jerven brings a healthy scepticism to economists’ pronouncements about Africa. This book should be required reading for anyone who cares about African development.’ – William Easterly, author of The Tyranny of Experts

If you are in London, remember to register for the launch here. The book is already available on and I expect the book to be in stock elsewhere very soon.


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