Opening remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the OECD Statistics Day
Paris, France, 05 April 2013
(As prepared for delivery)
Ladies and Gentlemen good morning:
It is a great pleasure to be with you to celebrate Statistics Day. Our slogan for this year's meeting is "Making statistics and everyone count". This is quite an important statement! Statistics are about people. This is why statistics are the raw material of this Organisation's work: they are essential to design better policies for better lives.
The growing importance of statistics is recognised in 2013, “The International Year of Statistics”, with an impressive participation by the international community. Close to 2,000 organisations from virtually every country in the world are involved in events such as the one we are hosting today. This includes most international organisations and national statistics offices, as well as many universities, statistical institutes and societies.
A vital tool for governments.
The production and dissemination of reliable statistics have become essential for public administration and public policy. Statistics is not an aim in itself, but a very important tool to improve our understanding of an increasingly complex, interdependent and fast-evolving world. Statistics helps us define, observe and better understand our economies and our societies.
The use of quantitative and qualitative data is essential to better weigh policy options, but also to evaluate the impact of policy decisions. It is also crucial to identify and measure important global trends like growing inequalities or climate change. And they are essential to guide policy decisions by allowing policymakers to look into the future through projections and forecasts.
For instance, targeting welfare policies requires to identify the most vulnerable members of society. Statistical information is needed to find out who is simultaneously poor in income, consumption and wealth, where they live and how they are affected by policy. Another example is green growth, where indicators are needed to track productivity and resource utilisation in production. But we also want to know if emissions decline because production has become greener, because technology has changed or simply because pollution now happens in other countries through the delocalisation of production. Without statistical tools, such as input-output tables, it is not possible to answer this question.
A third example is inclusive growth and well-being: unless we have the statistics that provide understandable and timely information about health, education or security, policymakers will continue to focus too much on one single indicator, GDP. This was highlighted just this week here during the Workshop on Inclusive Growth, which we organised with the Ford Foundation.
In other words, Statistics reveals the quality of our lives, of our progress. They have become one of the most important tools for effective policymaking. Without statistics, there is no such thing as evidence-based policymaking!
And an increasingly important tool for societies
Statistics have also become essential in helping societies stay informed and make smart decisions, as voters, as consumers, as tax-payers, as parents. They increase transparency; they can hold governments accountable; and they allow citizens to better understand just how they, their families and their countries are doing in an increasingly complex world. This information is crucial for them to be active participants in democratic processes.
This is why this is such a powerful tool. And this is why the reliability and the credibility of official data are absolutely strategic. Because statistics can also become a source of misinformation, or even manipulation, if they are not produced, analysed and compared with the necessary scientific rigour.
In a world that is constantly flooded with information, where governments and societies are increasing their access to global sources of analysis and data at an unprecedented speed, the production of objective, reliable and internationally comparable statistics becomes fundamental to make policy and personal decisions, to inform high-quality political debates, to promote competitiveness and integrity in corporate affairs.
This is why the contribution of the OECD is so important.
2013, “The International Year of Statistics”, provides us with an excellent opportunity to further showcase and value the OECD’s contribution to the world of statistics. The OECD, with its strong pool of expert statisticians, has always been ahead of the curve in defining statistical trends. And we keep pushing the horizon even further.
Our Data Lab visualisations, such as “Your Better Life Index”, allow us to see how life compares for men and women, and for those at the top and the bottom of the social and economic ladder among OECD countries and beyond.
The Trade in Value Added (TiVA) maps provide us with information on Global Value Chains by depicting trade flows on a gross and a value-added basis in OECD countries and other major economies. Our “Metropolitan Explorer” focuses on the performance of 268 metropolitan regions in OECD countries on a number of key indicators, such as population, economic performance and the environment.
And increasingly, we are using household and firm-level data to analyse the behaviour and living conditions of specific population groups, such as women, immigrants, the elderly; or the varied performance of small and large firms in terms of innovation, productivity, growth and employment.
For example, recent analysis based on cross-country microdata for 12 OECD countries shows how firms of less than 5 years old accounted for only 17% of employment between 2001 and 2011, but for almost half of all of the new jobs created over this period.
These are just a few examples of much broader contributions by the OECD to statistical analysis. We also have very solid and innovative contributions in fields like education, employment, pensions, taxes, to mention but a few. But we should also keep an eye on those things that our stats and their analysis do not yet capture and reflect on time, like the building-up of risk and imbalances in many segments of financial markets that led to the eruption of the crisis. In this sense, our New Approaches to Economic Challenges initiative (the NAEC) can help us improve in better reflecting these dangerous trends in our statistics.
And one final word of caution. Beware of the use of stats. The very same indicator can be used for very different conclusions. Or underlying one aspect of our data analysis may influence the conclusions, sometimes reflecting our conscious or unconscious biases or prejudices. The production and use of statistics can change the world. Let’s not forget this great responsibility.
I hope you have a most interesting and productive Statistics Day at the OECD!
Thank you very much.