'China's statistics are still incomplete and have yet to be improved.' Li Deshui National Bureau of Statistics YOU KNOW THAT old line about how there are two kinds of lies: common and statistical. We shall have to amend it for the mainland. A lie cannot really be a lie if the purported liar as much as tells you it is likely to be a lie. Mr Li was making his annual fulmination about the inaccuracy of provincial statistics on gross domestic product. Added together, the provinces posted 2.66 trillion yuan more in GDP last year than the earlier calculated 13.65 trillion yuan national figure, he said. You may have noticed that two days ago I pointed out a related anomaly in this column. The figures so far released by the provinces indicate a weighted average GDP growth rate of 13.3 per cent for last year as opposed to the earlier announced and official 9.5 per cent. It is a record margin of difference. Strange to say, however, the provincial figures may yet prove to have been the right ones. Let us remember that, if Mr Li is to cast general aspersions on mainland statistics, he cannot absolutely claim that his are correct and the provincial ones a pack of lies. Let us go about this a different way. Totting up GDP is not like counting beans. It is actually a process fraught with scope for errors, relying heavily on surveys rather than full tallies and dependent on other derivative figures that may prove wildly wrong. But there is a proxy for all this work, a simple way of coming to a relatively close estimate of GDP growth. It is to look at the growth of electricity consumption. Think about this and you will see that it makes sense. We use electricity for everything. The more economically active we are, the more electricity we consume and we tend to do it in roughly equal measure. As an example of this, look at the first chart of a comparison between GDP growth and electricity consumption growth in Asia outside of China and Japan. I do not swear absolutely by the pre-1990 figures, although I think they are pretty close, and I have excluded Japan because I think its figures are not. Japanese statistics are often wretched - plenty of numbers but few that tally or mean much. Why Japan? Don't ask me, but here is an old homily to give Mr Li comfort - 'I complained I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet'. In any case, it is obvious that there is a close correspondence here. Electricity consumption growth in Asia is usually higher than GDP growth, but the two go up and down at the same time, even for short periods. Now, look at the second chart for the results of the same exercise in the mainland. The electricity figures pre-1996 appear as smooth as they do because they are based on annual statistics only, but no matter. It is the post-1996 trend that is interesting. First, we get a dip in electricity growth in 1998 to far below the GDP growth figures. This ties in exactly with the experience in the rest of Asia and suggests that the mainland was not really quite as immune from the 1997 Asian financial crisis as the official figures indicate. Then electricity consumption rocketed back up with the 12 months to December last year registering a growth rate of 15.2 per cent (17 per cent by January, but that was the result of a Lunar New Year anomaly). Now take that 15.2 per cent, assume that electricity consumption growth is normally 2 per cent greater than GDP growth (about the average for the rest of Asia) and what you get is a mainland GDP growth rate last year of 13.2 per cent, almost bang in line with the supposedly suspect provincial numbers. Who is right now? Perhaps there are other explanations for this high electricity consumption growth rate. Perhaps, perhaps, but I cannot think of any that would not also translate into GDP growth. What we may actually have here is an economy still moving into a red-heat phase of growth despite recent efforts to cool it down. Perhaps it is the National Bureau of Statistics that is engaged in wishful thinking.