Unenlightening statistics

Updated: 2011-12-23 08:35

(China Daily)

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Ambitious as it is, the National Bureau of Statistics' (NBS) latest effort to gauge the country's progress in its attempt to build a well-off society in an all-round way, will meet little enthusiasm from either the public or policymakers.

In a report issued on Monday, the NBS declared that China was well on its way to building an all-round well-off society, as its fulfillment was 80.1 percent in 2010, up about 2 percentage points annually since 2000.

Ostensibly, this report is meant to provide some useful information for the people and the government to understand the country's pace of social and economic development.

However, in spite of the great lengths the statistical authorities have gone to explain this accomplishment, few people understand what the fulfillment figure is and what the report is really about. Certainly it provides no clear picture of the country's progress toward building a well-off society.

The progress fulfillment figure compiled by the NBS covers economic growth, social harmony, living standards, democracy and legislation, culture and education, resources and environmental protection, and these undoubtedly merit thorough and quantitative analysis. Clearly to translate the idea of an all-round well-off society into reality by 2020, the country must make sure that progress is made in all these areas.

Nevertheless, it is counterproductive to squeeze all these different development areas into a one-size-fits-all assessment.

Possibly the NBS sought to provide a simple answer to growing concerns about the country's ability to pursue inclusive and sustainable development.

But because of the statistical authorities' long-standing failure to fix methodology problems that have time and time again divorced key statistics like the consumer inflation index from economic reality, people have ample reason to be skeptical of the bureau's conclusion.

Traditional numbers such as median income and consumer prices speak a lot more to people than the bewildering fulfillment figure the NBS has come up with.

The statistical authorities should focus their energy and resources on meeting the real and urgent demand for reliable and informative statistics that will enable Chinese policymakers to address the challenges that make the country's development unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable.