Economy and the numbers game



By Zahid Asghar

A person suffering from some serious disease when starts recovery will tell you that he is getting better but this does not mean all is well and the person has no issue at all.  Is it useful to choose between bad and improving? Definitely not. It is both improving and bad.

Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017-18 depicts that the government has achieved the targets it has set for the fiscal year 2017-18 based on provisional data. Different analysts are taking these numbers differently. Can they all be right in their analysis? Answer is yes.

The government is claiming its reforms over the past 5 years has led to continuously positive economic growth rate for 7 years first time in the history of Pakistan. This implies things have improved and government is leading the country in the right direction.

One cannot explain the world without numbers, but the world cannot be explained by numbers alone. So, numbers supported by real facts will be better able to explain.

Opponents might argue that this impact is not reflected in the lives of common masses, economy is bad. Export is stagnant and trade deficit is the highest in history, there are not enough jobs and income inequality has increased over time.

Can both points of views be correct? Yes, both can be right as both “better” and “bad” can exist simultaneously.

Economy is improving or not, cannot simply be explained with numbers. I love data but having data is not enough for explaining a phenomenon.

The government is claiming that it has achieved a growth rate of 6% which is highest during the past 13 years. It has maintained inflation rate less than 4% which is one of the lowest during the last two decades.

These numbers are supported by our observation that consumerism is on rise,  markets are full of shoppers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday till late nights, resorts are running short of space, eating places are full for whole day, many new marriage halls are opening every month in different parts of the cities, construction sector has lot of activity etc. People on Eid and their other ceremonies are spending lot of money and buying new pair of shoes and new clothes. Umrah, Hajj and other religious pilgrimages are continuously increasing. This all implies that one can’t simply reject the numbers provided by the government. All this reflects that economy is improving.

The numbers alone cannot tell whether economy is improving or not. We have to look into some other factors to support or oppose these numbers.

Does this mean one should relax and assume all is good? Answer is emphatically “no”. Our cities are not providing opportunities for doing business, many businessmen are facing short of spaces for doing business, poor are not getting good health and education facilities, theft and street crime is on the rise, pollution of many types is on rise. Our streets and markets are full of beggars, there is unskilled youth etc. So, things are “bad”.

Both points of views are valid. Lack of understanding that both “better” and “bad” exist, we are often confused when listening to different media experts. If data journalists help the society and policy makers to better understand the numbers through data literacy, it will lead to more constructive and focused dialogue.


Dr. Zahid Asghar is a faculty member at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan.


Disclaimer: This is a guest post. The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the Data Stories.