Tyranny of numbers

Inflation trend in Iran: much confusion about nothing

Posted in General by Djavad on September 5, 2022

Surprisingly, despite the fact that timely information about the speed with which prices rise is published regularly at the end of each month, there is a debate (link in Persian) whether inflation is rising or falling. The facts are not in dispute, but their interpretation is. The monthly rate of inflation has slowed down considerably in the last three months but that is not the only way to measure inflation.

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New data show Iran’s economy is improving as nuclear negotiations reach a critical stage

Posted in General by Djavad on August 24, 2022

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are not surprised by the inflation data for Mordad (the Iranian month ending August 21). As in previous cost-push price increases, inflation spiked three months ago following the removal of food subsidies, but in the last two months it has moderated. Last month prices rose by under 2 percent (annual rate=26.3%), much lower than in June and July. Prices will moderate further if a nuclear deal is reached and sanctions ease.

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The reform of food subsidies under the Raisi administration

Posted in General by Djavad on May 19, 2022

There is no shortage of grievances in Iran, so explaining the recent protests that have engulfed the country is not hard. The economy has stagnated for over a decade and Inflation has been very high. But the timing of the protests suggests a connection between the protests and President Ebrahim Raisi’s program to cut food subsidies. Some media reports speak of “bread protests”, but the price of the staple bread has not changed.

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Did sanctions or Covid cost women jobs in Iran?

Posted in General by Djavad on March 16, 2022

In an IIEA panel held (virtually) on March 9, 2022, Nadereh Chamlou asked how sanctions have impacted women’s employment (about min 1:22 in the video). My answer was that identifying the impact of sanctions on women’s employment is difficult but that I thought that Covid hit women harder than sanctions. The loss of female employment has been observed around the world, where women had to quit their jobs to care for their children whose schools were closed, or had other Covid-related extra household work. Later on, Hashem Pesaran questioned my conjecture on the importance of Covid for women’s employment, which is why after the panel I looked more carefully at the labor force survey data, which confirm my statement.

The data from LFS for the past ten years show that the number of women employed reached its maximum during 2018-2019 at 4.3 million, when sanctions were toughest. This number fell to 3.7 million in 2020, most likely because of Covid since sanctions did not intensify in 2020. Furthermore, this decline was not matched by decline in men’s employment as the ratio of female to male employment also fell in 2020 for all age groups (see Table below). For prime age workers (25-54 years old), this ratio fell from 24.4% in 2019 to 21.3% in 2020. Roughly twice as many women lost their jobs in 2020 compared to men (665,000 vs. 357,000).

Year15-2425-5455-6565-7575+
20100.2160.2290.2250.1360.062
20110.1840.2110.1990.1280.051
20120.1820.2200.1960.1450.050
20130.1780.1940.1670.1190.045
20140.1620.1930.1630.1190.058
20150.1770.2140.1850.1370.057
20160.1960.2330.2010.1530.058
20170.2160.2450.2170.1630.066
20180.2270.2450.2120.1840.057
20190.2260.2440.2110.1950.071
20200.1810.2130.1820.1740.068
The ratio of female to male workers by age group. Source LFS.

Is Iran’s inflation heading back up?

Posted in General by Djavad on January 21, 2022

The latest data from the Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) for inflation show that prices rose faster last month (the Iranian month of Dey ending on January 20) compared to the month before. At that time, inflation was on its way down from its peak of 59% annual rate in September to 22% in November. Last month it was back up to 32% last month. This is potentially bad news for the Raisi government, which is keen to show that his government can control inflation and dispel endless rumors that Iran’s economy is on the brink.

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Rising poverty and falling living standards in Iran in 2020

Posted in General, Inequality, Living standards, Poverty by Djavad on August 28, 2021

The Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) has released the micro data from its most recent annual Household Expenditure and Income Survey (HEIS) for the Iranian year 1399 (21 March 2020 to 20 March 2021). The results do not surprise — the downward slide in living standards and the rise in poverty that started a decade ago continues. Along with the more positive news on the GDP and employment front that have become available in the last few weeks, the survey offers a relatively accurate if mixed picture of a country and a people struggling under the Trump-Biden maximum pressure campaign. Relative to household welfare, the economy is doing better. GDP grew by 3.6% last year and last quarter (spring 2021) 200,000 more people were working compared to a year ago. This makes perfect sense since falling real wages that are hurting welfare are good for employment and production.

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The role of external shocks in Iran’s inflation

Posted in General by Djavad on June 17, 2021

Last month, the consumer price index (CPI) rose at annual rate of 9.4%, down from 37.4% the months before and far lower than its peak increase of 85% last October. By itself, this is no indication that inflation is slowing. Based on past experience, inflation is likely to go back up, but it may well be a sign that inflation is on its way down, the same way it happened after the previous two bouts of high inflation in the past decade. Inflation is the most important grievance of Iranian voters as they go to the polls this week, so it is worth taking the monthly drop seriously.

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Five figures show the losers and winners of economic growth under different presidents of the Islamic Republic

Posted in General by Djavad on May 2, 2021

Iran has been under four different presidents since the end of the war with Iraq in 1988, each with its own style and philosophy. As the June presidential election nears, it is interesting to look back to the past and ask how each administration did in terms of inequality, and how the poor, the middle class and the rich fared under them.

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More dire predictions of economic collapse in Iran from the Wall Street Journal

Posted in General, Macroeconomy by Djavad on March 4, 2020

An angry and dystopian op-ed about Iran, published in the Wall Street Journal on March 1, committed several errors in judging Iran’s economic performance that would fail my undergraduates economic students.  They are taught to never fall prey to the vagaries of exchange rate fluctuations in developing countries when making international comparisons of living standards.  For example, if the value of a country’s currency drops suddenly, its GDP measured in US dollars doesn’t collapse immediately — it may even go up.  Since the 1960s, millions of dollars has gone into research to make data available for international comparisons.  These are widely available on the World Bank data bank site and from the Penn World Tables, where the International Comparison Project originated.  I have previously written about international comparisons of living standards here and here in this blog and elsewhere.  There is therefore no more excuse for picking bad data from the internet to write bad op-eds. (more…)

Rising employment since Trump’s sanctions may not last

Posted in Employment, General, Macroeconomy by Djavad on January 20, 2020

Earlier this month the Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) released the results of the latest quarterly labor force survey, which show employment continued to expand during fall 2019 (the third quarter of the Iranian year 1398). The data question the dire accounts of Iran’s economy that have appeared in western media, a point that I raised in a recent post in Project Syndicate and again this week in ResponsibleStatecraft.org (which has replaced Lobelog.com).  However, there are reasons to believe that this positive trend is short-lived, that as excess capacity is used up and new investments fail to materialize, the economy takes a turn for the worse.  Below, after presenting the new data, I discuss several challenges to employment if sanctions continue.  Some of these challenges can be overcome by domestic reform, such as banking reform to enable the flow of credit to producers, but others are not under the control of the government, such as moving money internationally. (more…)