As with bark­ing dogs, statis­ti­cians must watch their in­di­ca­tors

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION&ANALYSIS - PALI LE­HOHLA

When I was a young child in ru­ral Le­sotho, my el­ders of­ten warned me to be care­ful of bark­ing dogs. This was not, as you might ex­pect, be­cause bark­ing dogs could be­come dan­ger­ous, could at­tack or even sav­age chil­dren in the fields and vil­lages. It was be­cause of the im­por­tance of in­ter­pret­ing what the bark­ing of dogs sig­ni­fied.

This ex­pla­na­tion was usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by a story. Dogs in the fields of­ten slept among the haystacks to keep warm. When they barked, some vil­lagers im­me­di­ately as­sumed that there were thieves in their midst, at­tempt­ing to steal cat­tle. Oth­ers as­sumed the dogs were bark­ing at cat­tle mov­ing be­tween the haystacks. A third group sus­pected that the dogs were bark­ing be­cause their warm en­vi­ron­ment was threat­ened by some in­tru­sion – cat­tle or peo­ple or even other dogs. mil­len­nium de­vel­op­ment goals and South Africa’s pro­gramme of ac­tion to set mea­sur­able and at­tain­able tar­gets in re­duc­ing poverty. How­ever, the very mea­sure­ment of poverty is con­tro­ver­sial. It is of­ten quan­ti­fied in re­la­tion to the in­come and ex­pen­di­ture of an in­di­vid­ual, house­hold or group of peo­ple.

Other ap­proaches to poverty mea­sure­ment take into ac­count the “so­cial wage”, which can in­clude state pro­vi­sion of sub­si­dies and ser­vices at re­duced or no cost. The ap­proach to poverty mea­sure­ment in­evitably in­flu­ences the way poverty in­di­ca­tors are con­structed.

The de­vel­op­ment of sta­tis­ti­cal in­di­ca­tors is not con­fined to sep­a­rate coun­tries. The “in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion” of sta­tis­ti­cal prac­tice in­creas­ingly al­lows for com­par­isons be­tween coun­tries. This is a cen­tral el­e­ment in the mon­i­tor­ing of so­cial and eco­nomic progress across the globe.

The UN re­port … shows sen­si­tiv­ity to the les­son of the bark­ing dogs

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