Dueling unemployment reports in Iran


Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq, July 19, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • The arbitrariness of government statistics in Iran should raise questions about other gov't statistics, such as election participation rates.

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  • That such basic economic indicators as unemployment can be the subject of such discrepancy places question marks over nearly all Iranian statistics.

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  • Iran tolerates little media dissent, yet subtle criticism exists.

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The Islamic Republic of Iran tolerates little media dissent, leading Reporters Without Borders to rank Iran 174th out of 179 countries in press freedom. Yet, subtle criticism exists, especially among Iran’s financial reporters, who often highlight statistic anomalies in order to question the legitimacy of the government’s management. In the selection excerpted, the privately owned but semi-official Mehr News Agency highlights how two separate government agencies have compiled radically different unemployment statistics, which, together, show a margin of error of at least 20 percent. Mehr’s reporting appears specifically directed at mismanagement by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who often played skittles with statistics in order to claim economic progress; this could portend a re-examination of his management, presaging criminal investigation.

That such basic economic indicators as unemployment can be the subject of such discrepancy places question marks over nearly all Iranian statistics, whether because the government does not have the ability to gather and compile such statistics with precision, or because the regime fakes data for political reasons. While ordinary Iranians do not need government statistics to understand trends in inflation and foreign exchange rates, the arbitrariness of government statistics should raise questions about government statistics in other fields, such as election participation rates, which regime officials often cite in order to prove popular legitimacy to the outside world.

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About the Author



  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

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