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The danger in making pronouncements from numbers taken out of context

CHINA'S National People's Congress was told by premier Li Keqiang last week that the country's gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate this year would be "around" seven per cent, down from 7.4 per cent last year.

Predictably, this provoked media reports of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.

But the question that journalists (and their editors) should ask themselves more often is: "Seven per cent of what?"

Likewise, when commenting on the growth rate of any economy, or on any data stated only in absolute terms, the question should be: "Compared to what?"

This is more than just word play. If an economy is "worth" $100 in terms of total output, all that is required in order to expand...

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