The Political Economy of Data Production

Contributors:
  1. Andrew Kerner

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Description: Abstract: Cross-national macroeconomic statistics are nearly ubiquitous in international relations and comparative politics research. While we know that these data can only be measured with error, our reliance on them implies a belief that those errors are random, or, at a minimum, unrelated to the political phenomena we use them to understand. But that is implausible. Measuring the economy is largely a state function, and the political-economic backdrop against which it occurs inherently shapes it. The implicit belief that the politics of data production are inconsequential to political science research should be scrutinized. We examine this belief using a newly available dataset of ex post revisions to World Development Indicators data, with a particular focus on GDP growth statistics. We find that revisions to these data reveal a form of measurement error that is both consequential—simple political economy relationships vary substantially depending on which version of the data is used—and systematic. We focus particularly on the IMF’s role in the political economy of data production, but our analysis reveals other political factors that inform the scale and direction of ex post revisions.

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