Juggling the numbers does not tell the story
SOME people simply love to watch jugglers. Whether they are watching a show of apples or eggs being juggled, the audience enjoys the show with awe. However, if you have to watch the one who is juggling with numbers, you may be left disappointed or at least uncomfortable.
Juggling numbers is more and more prevalent nowadays. The juggler may be the one who is working with the World Bank or the United Nations or who is just an accountant or an economist, but the awesomeness is still there and the disappointment will be there as well.
Let us take a closer look at the numbers that are played with. The Gross National Product (GDP) is one set of numbers that could be interpreted in a number of ways. Myanmar’s GDP in 2016 was US$67.40 billion. It essentially means that all goods and services produced within the country in that particular year added up to that amount of dollars. It looks fine until you find another piece of nomenclature which says that there is another term called per capita GDP, which indicated that the previous number is divided by Myanmar’s population in that year. That produces another number: $1420.50. There is still another number, $5351.60, which is simply called GDP per capita PPP. This means the per capita GDP adjusted to the purchasing power parity of an ordinary citizen who resides in Myanmar.
This may be complex enough for the ordinary man in the street, but it is just the beginning of a long introductory chapter in any economics textbook. Then there are the complicated numbers called the GDP growth rates. These are expressed in percentage points. To explain it in the simplest way possible – the GDP growth rate for the same year mentioned above, that is for 2016, was 6.3 percent.
What do all those numbers mean for a man in a remote Myanmar village or for a female member of parliament in the capital Nay Pyi Taw? Does each number or the whole set of those numbers reflect the genuine lives and livelihoods of the people anywhere in the nation in a comprehensive way? The numbers themselves do not tell anything about the poverty or the wealth of any citizen. The numbers do not reveal that we are happy or sad or confused.
There are number jugglers out there but they never tell the whole story or the truth.