Expert Voices Vol 26, No. 01 - January 2022

Behind the numbers: predicting the state of our global economy

Every year, UN DESA’s economists crunch the numbers to project the latest global economy trends. On 13 January, the new estimates for 2022 and beyond will be released. What goes into this work and why is it important for people and our planet? To find out, we spoke with Helena Afonso and Sebastian Vergara, who are part of the World Economic Situation and Prospects report team.

You are part of the team that crunches the numbers and analyses global economic trends for the World Economic Situation and Prospects report; what is the secret behind doing this job successfully?

Sebastian Vergara: “There is no secret. As in any other job, strong efforts! We are a diverse team that is passionate about macroeconomics, development, and the world we all live in. There are different skills and functions in our team but for most of us the job requires a deep understanding of development issues. It also requires pondering and integrating different analyses from across the world into meaningful narratives and messages. But, while it is crucial to build global perspectives, it is also important to emphasize regional particularities. The challenges for countries in Latin America are different than for countries in Europe.”

Looking back at previous projections, does the team usually get it right?

Helena Afonso: “’It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future’ as the saying goes. Accuracy varies from year to year as we had to learn painfully when the pandemic erupted and rendered our projections meaningless. But overall, the WESP is historically on par with other major publications. Most important to us is that the report is not only, or even mainly, about its numerical forecasts. It is about the messages and priorities on how countries can move towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, for years we have been advocating for a more proactive role of fiscal policies in shaping development prospects, something that has been evident in the current crisis.”

In your view, what impact does your analysis have for countries and people around the world? Can governments use it to make their economic decisions?

Helena Afonso: “Our reports, briefings and notes are mostly designed to inform the decision-making process of Member States as they negotiate and cooperate on global economic and social matters at the UN. But, where our outputs are publicly available, we are also keen to contribute to the research and debate of global and regional macroeconomic and development issues, which naturally interests academics, students, public policy analysts and practitioners across the globe, and often journalists and the public at large.”

Can you tell us about this upcoming projection, can we expect any surprises?

Sebastian Vergara: “In this report, we highlight how the global economy is hanging in a delicate balance, with enormous challenges and risks ahead. New COVID-19 variants and the tightening of global financial conditions are risks that may provide surprises. We also call attention to the importance of supporting employment to promote an inclusive recovery. But I won’t say more, hope you read the WESP 2022!”

The World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) 2022 report will be available here on 13 January 2022.

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