HILARY JOFFE: Revised stats measuring methods reveal how economy is changing

29 August 2021 - 05:00 By

Every five years or so SA's official statistics agency conducts a highly technical exercise in which it shakes up the national accounts numbers that give us our GDP estimates and comes up with new and hopefully better estimates. Sometimes the exercise doesn't make much difference to the numbers. Other times it does - and this week's "Benchmarked and rebased estimates of GDP" report is one of those fun times for the stats nerds. On average, the size of the economy has in recent decades been almost 10% larger than we thought, with about R550bn added to SA's R5-trillion GDP in the latest year.

Such revisions by statistics agencies are reasonably regular events internationally, especially in emerging markets (Nigeria did 60% not long ago). They reflect, or certainly should reflect, a continual process of improvement as the statisticians come by new data and upgrade to new methods. But the last time SA had such a large revision was in the new democracy of the late 1990s, when Stats SA not only revised the data to include new sectors such as cellphones, but also modernised its whole approach to GDP to align it with international standards...

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