The Ahmadinejad-Karrubi debate: and the loser is …
Statistics. Between the two of them it was hard to tell who won that debate on June 6, 2009. But statistics was a certain loser. Mr. Ahmadinejad provided a series of charts to defend his economic record (which, by the way, was not under attack that night) but Mr. Karrubi dismissed them by simply saying that his numbers were wrong. Most of the numbers I was able to see on the television screen seemed right to me. But, unfortunately, numbers were not the point of the debate.
It is a good thing that at election times politicians should defend their record. It provides the incentive to implement policies that can be defended. Overall, there is more of this in this election than in past elections. But, on this particular night there was little serous accounting as far as the economy is concerned. There was instead attack on the producers of the numbers, who need to be defended if the performance of elected officials (as distinct from their personalities) is to become the point of election debates.
I can’t vouch for the veracity of all the numbers that Mr. Ahmadinejad presented that night, but a couple were easy to verify. His claim that the economy had grown by over 6 percent per year during his administration is based on the Central Bank data, which I see no reason to dispute. Past data from CBIRI has held up to scrutiny and I doubt they would risk their reputation by bending the numbers to suit Mr. Ahmadinejad. After all, there was an oil boom for which the President cannot take any credit, and it is natural for some sectors in the economy to grow when outside resources increase. Services and import-dependent industries always gain with cheap foreign exchange. Mr. Karrubi could have easily hit back by pointing why the economy grew, as well as how it grew: some tradable sectors, such as textiles and sugar, lost big time. Further, he could have blamed the current recession for over-spending in earlier years by Mr. Ahmadinejad. But Mr. Karrubi chose to say that numbers are not trustworthy, which is to throw the baby with the bath water.
The other statistic I can believe is that inflation is down to 15 percent. Of course, Mr. Ahmadinejad was talking about the annualized inflation rate of the most recent month, not for 1387 (2008-09) for which inflation was 25 percent. Besides this, Mr. Karrubi could have pointed out to the fact that inflation is down despite, not because of, Mr. Ahmadinejad; that the Central Bank governor, Mr. Tahmasb Mazaheri, lost his job trying to bring inflation down, for which Mr. Ahmadijead not wants to take credit.
Finally, I suspect that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s claim about increasing equality in recent years is true. As I showed in my last post, available data (from the Expenditure Survey for 2007-08) indicate that during 2006-07 per capita expenditures in poor households increased at a faster rate than in rich households. What has happened in 2008-09 is difficult to verify because the numbers have not been released to independent researchers.
Mr. Karrubi is reputed to have a strong team on the economy. If true, the team’s power was not on display on this particular night.