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Against Opposition, Ulusoy Transparentizes Turkish Inflation Data

Veysel Ulusoy is no stranger to criticism.

As the director of the Inflation Research Group (ENAG) in Turkey, Ulusoy faces persistent challenges ranging from court meetings to investigations into ENAG, but he said none of these get in the way of his mission: to present accurate inflation data to the Turkish people. 

Ulusoy, a Turkish academic and economist who joined the Boston College faculty in January, began releasing Turkish inflation statistics in September 2020 alongside over a dozen academics and economists. Ulusoy said they realized there was a vast difference between the statistics released by TurkStat, the Turkish Statistical Institute, and the statistics his group was collecting.

“Eventually it took us to the point where we thought we should present the figures for the well-being of Turkish society, and we have done that since then,” Ulusoy said. 

By collecting consumer price data on a daily basis and working independently from the government, ENAG’s data portrays a more accurate picture of the Turkish economy, Ulusoy said. The group’s data often far exceeds official figures. Just this past January, TurkStat put the country’s annual inflation rate at 57.68 percent, while ENAG said it was more than double, at a whopping 121.62 percent. 

Ulusoy’s approach to presenting accurate data and disseminating it to the Turkish public has proven successful, as polling data from July 2022 suggests that Turks are growing to believe ENAG’s numbers are correct. According to MetroPOLL, one of Turkey’s top polling firms, 69 percent of Turks believe ENAG’s inflation rate is correct, compared to 23.9 percent who believe TurkStat’s data is correct. 

Ulusoy said he is not sure why people believe ENAG’s numbers more than the government’s, but Turkish citizens are feeling the impact of inflation in their day-to-day lives.

“It’s directly touching kitchen table costs, food, and the daily expenditures of society,” Ulusoy said. “In the big picture, our aim is not to compare our figures to TurkStat, but that is the idea of the people, which is independent from what we are doing.”

ENAG’s data has not just heightened public knowledge about the Turkish economy, but it has also enabled Turkish firms and financial markets to use ENAG’s inflation numbers in economic forecasting, leading to greater wages for Turkish citizens—a feat that Ulusoy is especially proud of. Firms use inflation data when calculating how much to pay people. When they utilize the inflation rate determined by ENAG, wages are higher because ENAG reports a higher inflation rate than the government.  

“It was felt by households, consumers, and by the investors directly,” Ulusoy said. “And maybe these are the main reasons why we are having that kind of support, at least in the eyes of society.”

Mehmet Çağdaş, a financial analyst at ENAG, said many Turkish households have greatly benefited from the increase in wages resulting from Ulusoy’s work. 

“People aren’t aware of the vast efforts made by Ulusoy, but people actually see the effects of his work in their wages,” Çağdaş said. “That’s why his work is so valuable.”

Ulusoy’s distance from Turkey during the semester does not get in the way of his work with ENAG. He utilizes computer programs that calculate the daily price figures and leads ENAG researchers through daily virtual meetings where he corrects averages and deviations in the data. Ulusoy said this allows him and his team to get the quality he and his team desire.

“Generally, we are trimming the top level hikes to try to get the average figures, but it’s the kind of procedure you have to meet on a daily basis to have the high-quality figures that are presented to the Turkish public,” he said. 

Ulusoy has faced some opposition from the Turkish government for his efforts to transparentize inflation data. In February 2021, Turkey’s Treasury and Finance Minister Lütfi Elvan filed a complaint against ENAG, claiming the group “aims to damage and discredit” TurkStat by spreading its own data. Ulusoy said he then showed up to court to defend himself and his group against the accusations, while Elvan never came to court. 

“He accused us directly, saying that it is forbidden for anybody other than TurkStat to present the figures and statistics to the public,” he said. “I demanded that Lütfi Elvan come to the court and that we discuss the whole issue with him and the accusations implied by him to us. Nobody came to the court, but we went all the time and we were right in the end.” 

According to Çağdaş, Ulusoy’s stance at the court proceedings was especially impactful in defending the group’s mission.  

“He always took the lead on it,” Çağdaş said. “He took his guard, went up there, and effectively defended ENAG. His stance there impressed me greatly.” 

Since then, Ulusoy has faced a tax audit ordered by the Turkish Ministry of Finance for failing to declare an income of six Turkish liras—this amount was equivalent to 33 U.S. cents at the time. But the Turkish courts have rejected all these accusations, Ulusoy said. 

Ulusoy also maintains a consistent presence in Turkish media, where he appears on news shows and is a columnist at Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s most prominent newspapers. His writing allows him to not only share his commentary on the Turkish economy, but it also connects him to readers who face the consequences of high inflation. 

“It touches to economics directly and some proportion of it is a mix of political economy and economics together,” Ulusoy said. “I’m glad that I have a column over there—it’s continuous, so I am with the Turkish public together.”

Bora Erdin, economy chief editor at Cumhuriyet and communication officer at ENAG, said Ulusoy’s effective writing style and communication skills draw people to his columns. 

Ulusoy succeeds very well in presenting economic data in an understandable language,” Erdin said. “He is also an excellent communicator.” 

Ulusoy’s ability to listen, combined with his professional experience, creates excellent writing, Erdin said.

“His greatest strength is that he is a good listener,” Erdin said. “When he combines his analytical thinking and academic background with his excellent knowledge of society, a great power emerges.” 

In the classroom, Ulusoy incorporates his experience as an economist into his instruction, where he brings economic theories to life through economic modeling.

“It’s a combination of the theory and real life—that’s the beauty of it,” he said. “You get the real numbers and attach them to the theory and present them to the students—that’s a beautiful feeling.” 

Brendan McLaughlin, MCAS ’25, a student in Ulusoy’s Macroeconomic Theory course this semester, said Ulusoy’s background brings a unique perspective to the classroom.

“He’s able to give us a perspective on foreign policy and foreign macroeconomics that we’re not used to learning about because we’re used to putting everything in our classes in terms of the United States,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a professor with a lot of knowledge and he has the experience. Everything he’s teaching is from lots of years in the field that some other professors may not have.” 

Another way Ulusoy presents his thoughts on the Turkish economy and spreads his work at ENAG is through his Twitter, where he has over 383,000 followers. Ulusoy said the platform is an important way he spreads ENAG’s work and his message, but he also said it must be used wisely. 

“It is a kind of power backed by society, who know that you are right,” Ulusoy said. “Having approximately 400,000 followers … is a kind of power for us, but that power must be used correctly.” 

Çağdaş said Ulusoy’s truthful messaging resonates with many social media users who seek to know the real state of the Turkish economy. 

“People want to hear the truth,” Çağdaş said. “People demand to hear the truth and that’s why they listen to his perspective.” 

Going forward, Ulusoy hopes to build on ENAG’s work by collecting production data from different sectors of Turkey’s economy on a weekly basis and monthly gross domestic product (GDP) figures to present to the public. 

“These are really difficult and need huge amounts of funds and a level of laboratory accuracy, but these are the things that are going to be available in the near future by ENAG,” he said. “Generally, GDP figures are presented on a quarterly, annual, and biannual basis, so having this knowledge monthly will be helpful to society and to firms.”

Regardless of the current state of Turkey’s economy and the lack of accurate government inflation data, Ulusoy remains hopeful about his home country’s economy. For Turkey to reach its greater potential, Ulusoy said its corruption must be addressed.

“The basic problem for us is the corruption in government and in society,” he said. “We have to be putting all the rules in place to prevent corruption first, then go forward.” 

Even in the midst of the government’s disapproval, Ulusoy is committed to releasing inflation data, and he said no one can get in the way of executing such vital work.  

“Nobody in the world can shut down any accumulated knowledge that is beneficial to society,” he said. “Nobody.” 

Editor’s Note: The author of this article translated Mehmet Çağdaş’ and Bora Erdin’s quotes from Turkish to English.

April 23, 2023