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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Data: A Tool in Politicians' Hands

Economist Brigitte Granville just could not figure it. All the weekly numbers for the April 1993 inflation rate pointed to a final monthly figure of 19 percent. But Goskomstat, the State Statistics Committee, reported 23 percent -- a higher deviation than Granville, who works in Moscow as a senior research fellow of the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, had ever encountered. Six months later, while flipping through another Goskomstat report, Granville noticed that the figure had been changed to 19 percent, without so much as a footnote. She called a Goskomstat official to find out why. Recounting her conversation with the official, Granville wrote in an economics paper: "The speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Ruslan Khasbulatov, denounced the statistics and ordered the publication of figures closer to what he termed 'real life.' " Goskomstat was then under authority of the Supreme Soviet, which had been embarrassed by a referendum supporting President Boris Yeltsin's reforms and it suited Khasbulatov for inflation figures to appear worse than they really were. The agency complied, said Granville. ?Yury Yurkov, the director of Goskomstat, acknowledges that the agency's trade figures are wrong. While Russia reported a 1993 trade surplus of $20 billion, trade data from other countries suggested the surplus was more like $5 billion. "I'm not sure there are any really meaningful figures," said World Bank Chief Economist Charles Blitzer. While economists have learned to expect bad numbers from countries in transition from communism to capitalism, the figures remain important and often lead to bad decisions. "It's very hard to navigate without a map," said economist Jeffrey Sachs. The government uses the figures because there is no other choice, said a spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin who asked not to be named. Bad data is a tradition extending far into the Russian past.Since 1986, the beginning of perestroika, production data "has been seriously corrupted," Yurkov said, "under pressure of the politburo and the government."