The transnationalization and digitization of economic activity has undermined the quality of official economic statistics, which still center on national territories and material production. Why do we not witness more vigorous efforts to bring statistical standards in line with present-day economic realities, or admissions that precision in economic data has become increasingly illusive? The paradoxical answer, we argue, lies in the norms underpinning global statistical practice. Users expect statistics to draw on unambiguous sources, to allow for comparison over time and across countries, and they prize coherence—both internally and with holistic macroeconomic models. Yet as we show, the ambition of the transnational statistical community to meet these norms has in fact undermined the ability of economic data to represent economic life more faithfully. We base our findings on interviews with two dozen leading statisticians at international economic organizations, archival research at the International Monetary Fund and a thorough review of debates among statistical experts.