Over at Free Exchange , as at many other Econ blogs, many Econ bloggers are taking seriously University of Chicago Econonomist Alwyn Young's research that Growth in Africa is on par with growth in any other part of the world. Young sees per capita consumption growth of 3.2 to 3.8 percent in the past 20 years, which, combined with a population growth rate of around 3 percent, means GDP growth of about 6.2 to 6.8%. Colour me suspicious.
Let me just point out that Alwyn Young is a snake-oil salesman, not a scholar, and that rule number one in reading anything with Alwyn Young's name on it is not to believe a word of it. This is the guy who argued that productivity growth in the People's Republic of China from 1978 to 1998, a period of economic growth unsurpassed in the whole of human history, was likely negative, and that the Chinese were merely making up their numbers. The creation of the data Young uses, by his own accounts, happened "over the years, by different individuals using diverse methodologies". According to Young "This produces senseless variation across surveys as, to cite two examples, individuals with the same educational attainment are coded as having dramatically different years of education or
individuals who were not asked education attendance questions are coded, in some surveys only, as not attending."
If that's the case, then Young likely could have used this data to find anything he wants. To his credit, Young recognizes that counter-intuitive results are easier to sell. Had he found that African growth was .8%, he'd have had no paper to sell. The paper is in some ways hilarious. Although all he is doing is measuring increases in consumption, and hence, there's no reason whatsoever for any math to be in this paper, complicated-looking math is a big part of this paper. What the paper does not have is a simple Table showing, for example, how much food people in Sub-Saharan African consumed in 1985 vs. today. That's probably because Alwyn Young doesn't have any idea of how much food these people are eating. And, although the paper includes a table with "children's weight", he does not include their ages. Why didn't he just include a simple table of the average height and weight of 7 year old boys in Uganda over time? I suspect it's either b/c he hasn't got that data, he's just got a smattering of data from different countries over different time periods, w/ no simple comparisons...