Why Economists Get It Wrong

Morten Jerven


An accessible, eye-opening account that fundamentally challenges mainstream accounts of economic growth in Africa

‘A valuable corrective to the fraying narrative of [African] failure.’
Foreign Affairs

Not so long ago, Africa was being described as the hopeless continent. Recently, though, talk has turned to Africa rising, with enthusiastic voices exclaiming the potential for economic growth across many of its countries. 

What, then, is the truth behind Africa’s growth, or lack of it? In this provocative book, Morten Jerven fundamentally reframes the debate, challenging mainstream accounts of African economic history. Whilst for the past two decades experts have focused on explaining why there has been a ‘chronic failure of growth’ in Africa, Jerven shows that most African economies have been growing at a rapid pace since the mid nineties. In addition, African economies grew rapidly in the fifties, the sixties, and even into the seventies. Thus, African states were dismissed as incapable of development based largely on observations made during the 1980s and early 1990s. The result has been misguided analysis, and few practical lessons learned.

This is an essential account of the real impact economic growth has had on Africa, and what it means for the continent’s future.

Author Bio

Morten Jerven teaches at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What To Do About It.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. Misunderstanding economic growth in Africa
  • 2. Trapped in history?
  • 3. African growth recurring
  • 4. Africa's statistical tragedy?
  • Conclusion


'Morten Jerven provides a valuable reminder of the need not just to cite statistics but to question them.'
Financial Times

'A valuable corrective to the fraying narrative of [African] failure.’
Foreign Affairs

‘In this stimulating book, Morten Jerven questions the historical focus of development economics as applied to Africa and calls for greater emphasis on the individual experiences of African countries.'
African Affairs

'In his incisive book Morten Jerven provides a critical analysis of the economic development literature on Africa.'
African Studies Quarterly

'[T]his is indeed an exhilarating and devastating critique of much of what passes as ‘scientific study’ of African economies ... This thought-provoking work has put down a marker for mainstream economists not only to think about, but also to respond to'.
Review of African Political Economy

'By deconstructing the common assumptions guiding most of the econometric exercises leading to all sorts of prognoses, [Jerven] has challenged the mystification practised by mainstream economists.'
Strategic Review for Southern Africa

'A refreshing contribution to the debate about development scholarship on Africa and it deserves to be read by all.'
Africa is a Country

'[A] compelling critique.'
Development Policy Review

'Jerven provides a very useful explanation and argument as to why Western policies or technologies cannot simply be grafted onto the current reality of Africa.'
International Socialism Journal

'Students and researchers in a wide range of fields like international development, statistics, economics and sociology will find this book helpful ... it will help scholars conduct better research and change the conversation about African economic development.'
Science and Public Policy

'Everyone interested in Africa or in the great mysteries of how to understand economic growth can benefit from this excellent book.'

'[R]eading this book is important ... setting out how statistics and economic analysis have been central to inform policies.'
Policy and Practice, Oxfam

'A highly readable and absolutely devastating critique of an increasingly extensive and influential body of work by economists seeking to explain "what's wrong with Africa". Jerven argues convincingly that a better understanding can be obtained by setting aside the "African failure" frame, and paying careful empirical attention to the continent's complex historical trajectories of episodic and recurring growth.'
James Ferguson, Stanford University

'Jerven brings a healthy scepticism to economists' pronouncements about Africa. He argues that these sweeping generalizations are too often based on shaky econometrics, bad data and superficial concepts. This book should be required reading for anyone who cares about African development.'
William Easterly, author of The Tyranny of Experts

'An excellent and timely scholarly contribution that challenges both the pessimistic view of Africa as a growth failure as well as the exuberant view of Africa's recent growth resurgence. It forces all of us to rethink where the "character flaw" lies - on the African side or on the analyst's side.'
Léonce Ndikumana, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

'This analysis reshapes some of the central questions in the literature on African economic development.'
Catherine Boone, London School of Economics and Political Science

'Jerven's lucid and straightforward writing gravely undermines long-established policy positions concerning trade liberalization and state intervention.'
Gustav Peebles, The New School

'In a short space of time, Morten Jerven's work has influenced debates about economic growth and the nature of the underlying data, especially in the case of sub-Saharan Africa. Jerven is essential reading for anyone working in this area.'
Jonathan Temple, University of Bristol


Publication Date: 11 June 2015
176 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781783601325
Hardback: 9781783601332
eBook ePub: 9781783601356
eBook PDF: 9781783601349
eBook Kindle: 9781783601363

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