The One Dimensionality of Econometric Data

Econometric data is used to produce authoritative facts about the world. Appearing unassailable the influence of this kind of quantification is so great that developing countries the Global South—where statistical capacities are strained—are compelled to divert scarce resources to survey the impact of foreign aid. In these circumstances, good data is considered vital for stakeholders to implement evidence based public policy or benchmarking that can help address urgent needs. Yet, as numbers enjoy a central place in modern reasoning, particularly in government as presumed objective neutrality assist impartial decision, it is important that they receive scrutiny. Using methodological techniques from the radical political economy tradition—with special attention to Lukacs, Adorno and Horkheimer, and Marcuse—I argue that the emergence of econometrics as a mode of mediated knowledge is a reified practice within the boarder technical administration of social life, a practice that not a transparent representation of social phenomena. This is because when econometrics transforms the thing being measured into a statistical indicator it eclipses political disputes with technical disputes which sidesteps good faith democratic deliberation about what goods are worth pursuing. Moreover, there are parallels between the use of econometric models and Marx’s analysis of the secret of the commodity: One-dimensional thought cannot perceive the origins of items put into circulation and so ideology is produced—what seems value-free is value laden.

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Author: Scott Timcke

I’m a Lecturer in the Department of Literary, Cultural and Communication Studies at the University of the West Indies. I use Marxist methods to study social inequality, the digital mode of production, the causes and consequences of imperial violence in the early 21st Century.

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