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Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org. Para a maior parte de meus textos, ver minha página na plataforma Academia.edu, link: https://itamaraty.academia.edu/PauloRobertodeAlmeida;

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segunda-feira, 27 de fevereiro de 2012

A Economist deixa cair a Argentina... (maneira de dizer...)

Na verdade, a revista Economist recusa-se, doravante, a usar estatísticas de inflação do governo argentino, já que elas são não apenas subavaliadas, ficando abaixo da cifra real, como são deformadas por uma série de subterfúgios de que só um governo mentiroso é capaz.
A revista explica sua posição num editorial, e faz uma matéria sobre a tragédia estatística argentina...
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

Official statistics

Don’t lie to me, Argentina

Why we are removing a figure from our indicators page

IMAGINE a world without statistics. Governments would fumble in the dark, investors would waste money and electorates would struggle to hold their political leaders to account. This is why The Economist publishes more than 1,000 figures each week, on matters such as output, prices and jobs, from a host of countries. We cannot be sure that all these figures are trustworthy. Statistical offices vary in their technical sophistication and ability to resist political pressure. China’s numbers, for example, can be dodgy; Greece underreported its deficit, with disastrous consequences. But on the whole government statisticians arrive at their figures in good faith.
What’s in a number
There is one glaring exception. Since 2007 Argentina’s government has published inflation figures that almost nobody believes. These show prices as having risen by between 5% and 11% a year. Independent economists, provincial statistical offices and surveys of inflation expectations have all put the rate at more than double the official number (see article). The government has often granted unions pay rises of that order.
What seems to have started as a desire to avoid bad headlines in a country with a history of hyperinflation has led to the debasement of INDEC, once one of Latin America’s best statistical offices. Its premises are now plastered with posters supporting the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Independent-minded staff were replaced by self-described “Cristinistas”. In an extraordinary abuse of power by a democratic government, independent economists have been forced to stop publishing their own estimates of inflation by fines and threats of prosecution. Misreported prices have cheated holders of inflation-linked bonds out of billions of dollars.
We see no prospect of a speedy return to credible numbers. The trade secretary, Guillermo Moreno, who led the assault on INDEC, is still one of the president’s closest advisers. The IMF has “noted” that Argentina is failing in its obligation to provide it with reliable figures, and made recommendations and set deadlines for it to improve. However, when Argentina ignores it, the fund merely wrings its hands, laments the “absence of progress”—and feebly sets a new deadline.
In 2010 we added a precautionary footnote to our statistical tables. From this week, we have decided to drop INDEC’s figures entirely. We are tired of being an unwilling party to what appears to be a deliberate attempt to deceive voters and swindle investors. For Argentine consumer-price data we will look instead to PriceStats, an inflation specialist, which produces figures for 19 countries that are published by State Street, a financial services firm. Had we switched to one of the provincial statistical offices still generating reliable figures, we fear it would have come under government pressure. One of the country’s best independent analysts made us a generous—and brave—offer of its data against legal advice and on condition that we conceal the source and lightly disguise the numbers. That might have generated confusion.
PriceStats is based in the United States, beyond the Argentine government’s reach. The oodles of online prices on which its index is based are tamper-proof. Argentina will no doubt say that it measures consumption by the rich rather than the poor, who may not shop online. But PriceStats’ methods are based on solid, peer-reviewed research and have proved an impressive match for (dependable) official figures in countries such as Brazil and Venezuela.
We hope that we can soon revert to an official consumer-price index for Argentina. That would require INDEC to be run by independent statisticians working unhindered. Until then, readers are better served by a credible unofficial figure than a bogus official one.
CORRECTION: This article originally described State Street as an "investment bank". A "financial services firm" is a more accurate description of what it does. This was changed on February 24th.

Argentina’s inflation problem

The price of cooking the books

An extraordinarily elaborate deception may come back to haunt the government as the economy deteriorates

HISTORY has left Argentines with more than their share of economic trauma. Having twice suffered destructive bouts of hyperinflation in the late 1980s, they are sensitive to rising prices. When they spot inflation their instinct is to dump the peso and buy dollars. But after the economy collapsed in 2001-02, horror at mass unemployment temporarily eclipsed the public’s fear of inflation. That has been the successful political calculation of the president, Cristina Fernández, and her late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner. For years they stoked an overheating economy with expansionary policies. Faced with the resulting rise in inflation, their officials resorted to price controls—and to an extraordinarily elaborate deception to conceal the rise.
Since 2007, when Guillermo Moreno, the secretary of internal trade, was sent into the statistics institute, INDEC, to tell its staff that their figures had better not show inflation shooting up, prices and the official record have parted ways. Private-sector economists and statistical offices of provincial governments show inflation two to three times higher than INDEC’s number (which only covers greater Buenos Aires). Unions, including those from the public sector, use these independent estimates when negotiating pay rises. Surveys by Torcuato di Tella University show inflation expectations running at 25-30%.
PriceStats, a specialist provider of inflation rates which produces figures for 19 countries that are published by State Street, a financial services firm, puts the annual rate at 24.4% and cumulative inflation since the beginning of 2007 at 137%. INDEC says that the current rate is only 9.7%, and that prices have gone up a mere 44% over that period (see chart).
INDEC seems to arrive at its figures by a pick-and-mix process of tweaking, sophistry and sheer invention. Graciela Bevacqua, the professional statistician responsible for the consumer-price index (CPI) until Mr Moreno forced her out, says that he tried to get her to omit decimal points, not round them. That sounds minor—until you calculate that a 1% monthly inflation rate works out at an annual 12.7%, whereas 1.9% monthly compounds to 25.3%.
Threatening letters sent by the government to independent economists also shed light on INDEC’s methods. One was told that since the cost of domestic service was “a wage, not a price”, he should not have included it in his CPI calculations. “They have put a lot of effort and lawyers into such arguments,” he says.
Ana María Edwin, INDEC’s current boss, is unrepentant. In Ms Bevacqua’s day, INDEC artificially boosted the inflation rate, perhaps to benefit holders of inflation-linked bonds, she claims. She hints at underhand, possibly criminal, dealings between former INDEC staff, independent Argentine economists and international financiers. The evidence? That agreements between Mr Moreno and retailers to cap prices of basic products were not reflected in INDEC’s calculations before 2007. That suggests INDEC is now using some government-mandated prices rather than those that consumers actually pay.
When a product’s price spikes, INDEC takes it out of the CPI basket. “Poor people don’t just keep buying things if their price goes up a lot,” Ms Edwin explains. “They think: I will leave those tomatoes for the rich.” A proper CPI calculation does indeed involve rules for dealing with changes in buying patterns. But the potential for abuse is clear.
Some Argentine government bodies seem well aware of the true inflation rate. Foreign investors report presentations by the Central Bank mentioning a real (ie, inflation-adjusted) exchange rate that implies annual inflation of around 20%. Economists who have picked through the somewhat suspect figures for economic growth say they can discern a similar rate in the “deflator” used to correct some prices. Perhaps most intriguingly, INDEC’s and PriceStats’ inflation rates accelerate and decelerate in tandem.
The government has gone to extraordinary lengths, involving fines and threats of prosecution, to try to stop independent economists from publishing accurate inflation numbers. The American Statistical Association has protested at the political persecution faced by its Argentine colleagues, and is urging the United Nations to act, on the ground that the harassment is a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
At the government’s request, last year the IMF sent experts to help it plan a new national CPI. Ms Edwin says that the new index will not be ready until early 2014.
The longer this deception goes on, the trickier it is for the government to end. Faced with deteriorating fiscal accounts, Ms Fernández has begun to trim subsidies amounting to 5% of GDP. Their removal will push prices up further—as would a weakening of the peso. So Mr Moreno’s latest wheeze involves responding to a vanishing current-account surplus with strict import controls, which will undermine growth. Argentina has created a statistical labyrinth that might have been dreamed up by Jorge Luis Borges, the country’s greatest writer. This story is unlikely to have a happy ending.
CORRECTION: This article originally described State Street as an "investment bank". A "financial services firm" is a more accurate description of what it does. This was changed on February 24th.

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