journalism and expertise

Our journalists need to learn their areas well, and be critical of anything their sources say. Of course they use sources to check for numbers and such, but if the information does not make sense, the journalist needs to ask further questions to find out if the source has been misunderstood, or maybe the source is lacking expertise.
Take a story in the Nation today: 6 percent economic growth from 2013 to 2014. Then comes the question what that means for poverty reduction. That is a good question. Professor Kaluwa says that the growth looks more impressive than it is because it grows from a small base, which means in ordinary English: if the economy is extremely small, like the Malawian one, then a very small absolute growth (in dollars) translates into a large percentage, and 6 percent growth of extremely small is marginal. Also he says “the country may not achieve poverty reduction although it has a fast growing economy because of its high population density.” This does not make sense: many countries with a higher population density have much lower poverty than Malawi (like Netherlands and Belgium) because of large economies and high per capita GDP. It seems what should be said here is: because of high population growth. If the population grows faster than the GDP, then the per capita GDP shrinks, which translates in lower average income, and that translates mostly in more poverty, rather than less. This in spite of economic growth. In Malawi the population grows by 3% which means that half the economic growth has been eaten by population growth even before you look at income distribution (inequality). And the GINI coefficient, which measures in-equality, keeps growing in Malawi.
But the whole story is presented as if these numbers are very meaningful. Now a good economic journalist is supposed to know that in the Malawian situation, the informal sector is very important, and especially for the poor. The informal sector is not figured into the GDP, because there are no reliable numbers about it, only very rough estimates. So translating an official GDP (or better per capita GDP) into conclusions about poverty is not possible.
Also the GINI coefficient for in-equality is based on official numbers, which do not figure illegal activities such as Cashgate. We know that the big rakers in Cashgate are people who already are on top of the income distribution, and they eat up a lot of the National Coffers, on top of their high income, making in-equality even worse than the official GINI coefficient.
The HDI (human development index) is a much better measure, and there Malawi scores a depressing 0.414 where in the sub Sahara region the average is 0.475. Malawi scores 170 out of 187 countries. That means that there are out of ALL the countries in the world only 17 that are worse than Malawi, and 169 that are better. We are not doing well, we need better leaders who will improve the lives of the population.


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