What Counts: the Politics of Economic Accounting
Chair: Prof. Nick Vaughan-Williams (University of Warwick)
When: Thursday, 9th March 2017, 4:30-6pm (followed by a drinks reception)
Venue: MS.05, Zeeman Building, University of Warwick
For 2017 the Warwick IPE debate took up the topic of economic accounting. Specifically speakers were asked to discuss the politics of current, widespread practices of measuring and quantifying what matters in the world, but from three differing IPE perspectives: economic, feminist, and environmental.
The degree to which we tend to quantify our economic, political and social lives is now quite staggering. Quantification and measurement are highly important tools used to inform decision making within inter-governmental organisations (IGOs), national and sub-national governance bodies, and parts of civil society. The most common example is gross domestic product (GDP), which is used as the primary indicator of national politico-economic success. Although numbers may seem, on the surface, to be objective simplifications, measuring life in this way is deeply political and has a dark underbelly.
This was a lively debate, attended by students and scholars from the University of Warwick, as well as some scholars visiting from other universities. All three speakers pointed to the inability of statistics, assembled as they currently are, to ‘see’ a wide variety of aspects of life thereby rendering these aspects ‘invisible’ in governance terms. This, in turn, has various political implications not least in terms of: the de facto downgrading of that which is not visible, distributive effects, and the obfuscation and reification of the power relations that sit behind decisions about what to measure and how. Another observation made was that a great many attempts to quantify are inaccurate, or change depending upon ‘who’ is doing the counting. Despite these critical observations, there was some suggestion of using numbers to challenge the status quo, as well as some questions about how to move towards different mechanisms of measuring what does and does not work.
For those unable to attend please see the video below: