Carnegie Mellon University

On International Human Rights Day, Statisticians in the Line of Fire

December 08, 2017

On International Human Rights Day, Statisticians in the Line of Fire

By Robin Mejia

With International Human Rights Day coming up on Sunday, I’ve been thinking a lot about a Greek economist named Andreas Georgiou. In 2010, Georgiou was living in Maryland and working for the International Monetary Fund when he saw a call for applications for a job in Greece heading a new statistical agency. At that point, Greek financial and debt statistics were a joke in Europe. The European Union has a system where countries compile statistical information and submit it to EU-level bodies for review. These bodies had frequently expressed concerns about the figures Greece submitted, refusing to validate or certify the numbers. So, under pressure, Greece launched a new independent national statistical agency, and undertook revisions. Georgiou was hired to lead the effort. He took the mandate seriously, recalculating debt figures according to European and national guidelines, and showed that the numbers Greece had been reporting were far rosier than reality. This was news the country didn’t want to hear. The reality Georgiou helped bring to light led to the austerity measures than many Greeks feel have wrecked the country.

Soon, Georgiou became a scapegoat. Politicians argued that it was Georgiou himself who caused the crisis. He’s now fighting criminal charges in Greece for doing the job he was hired to do. Some of the crimes he’s being prosecuted for make no sense from an American perspective. For example, apparently simple slander involves saying something that’s true but unpleasant. More serious charges include trials for complicity against the state.  As Greece appears to have no concerns about double jeopardy; prosecutors have opened second and third trials when their initial efforts led to not guilty verdicts.

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Please note "This piece first appeared in The Last Word on Nothing" on December 8, 2017.