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How Numbers Rule the World

How Numbers Rule the World

Doctor Lorenzo Fioramonti


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Numbers dominate global politics and, as a result, our everyday lives. Credit ratings steer financial markets and can make or break the future of entire nations. GDP drives our economies. Stock market indices flood our media and national debates. Statistical calculations define how we deal with climate change, poverty and sustainability. But what is behind these numbers? In How Numbers Rule the World, Lorenzo Fioramonti reveals the hidden agendas underpinning the use of statistics and those who control them. Most worryingly, he shows how numbers have been used as a means to reinforce the grip of markets on our social and political life, curtailing public participation and rational debate. An innovative and timely exposé of the politics, power and contestation of numbers.
'Lorenzo Fioramonti has written an urgent and highly accessible book, showing just how over-reliant our governance systems are on misleading numbers, which support market power and blur our understanding of the world. And it is also a better and more compelling read than exactly 95.4% of all other important books!' David Boyle, author of The Tyranny of Numbers 'This book is a thoughtful political economic analysis of how our fates have come to be determined by a few numbers, and how these numbers have been shaped by a few people. If we want a vibrant and responsive politics, we’ll need to know where it has been enclosed by the world's powerful accountants. Fioramonti’s book provides an excellent map.' Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy 'Timely and original, scholarly without ostentation, often scathing, Lorenzo Fioramonti's field guide to the prejudices, assumptions, financial interests and ideology that lurk behind the most innocent-seeming numbers equips us to challenge their spurious authority. Faith in numbers has helped to wreck the financial system, masked fraud and criminal activity, allowed the world's richest people to meddle in the "development" of societies they know nothing about and could lead us to damage our earthly habitat beyond recall. If you want to learn what numbers reveal and conceal; what can and, above all, can't be measured, don't trust the "experts" - read How Numbers Rule the World and become an expert yourself.' Susan George, author of Whose Crisis, Whose Future? and President of the Board, Transnational Institute
Lorenzo Fioramonti (@globalreboot) is associate professor and Jean Monnet chair in regional integration and governance studies at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where he directs the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation. He is also senior fellow at the Centre for Social Investment of the University of Heidelberg and at the Hertie School of Governance, Germany, as well as associate fellow at the United Nations University. He is the author of several books about development policies, global and regional governance, alternative economies and social progress indicators, including Gross Domestic Problem: The Politics Behind the World's Most Powerful Number (Zed Books, 2013). He blogs at

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Front cover Front cover
Economic Controversies i
About the author ii
Title iii
Copyright iv
Contents v
Acknowledgements vi
INTRODUCTION The politics of statistics 1
1 The power of numbers 10
Numbers and politics 14
Trust in numbers 19
Numbers, markets and democracy 27
2 New global rulers: the untameable power of credit rating 39
Credit rating agencies: from market analysts to oligopolists 43
Behind the numbers: a shady business 47
The politics of ratings and the global financial crisis 52
Ratings and irrationality 61
3 Fiddling while the planet burns: the marketization of climate change 68
Environmental scepticism and the rise of cost–benefit analysis 70
Climategate: twisting numbers for the climate 76
Markets for climate 86
Conclusion: when numbers become dangerous distractions 98
4 Measuring the unmeasurable: the financialization of nature 104
Measuring the value of nature: statistical evolutions in global governance 108
figure 4.1 Conceptualizing nature’s contribution to the economy 112
Putting a price on ecosystems 115
The financialization of nature 127
Conclusion: Nature Inc. 136
5 Numbers for good? The quest for aid effectiveness and social impact 144
The politics of aid effectiveness: a brief historical overview 148
The quest for evidence 156
The rise of philanthrocapitalism 166
Numbers strike back home: the politics of impact assessment in the social field 174
The marketization of ‘doing good’ 184
CONCLUSION Rethinking numbers, rethinking governance 192
In defence of numbers 195
Beyond good and bad numbers 198
Governance, numbers and the public sphere 203
What now? Governance of complexity 210
Notes 214
Bibliography 246
Index 261
Back cover Back cover