Numbers, Numbers (and a semi-Nun)

First for some numbers that aren't as big as you might think, or others might want you to think.

If California were a separate country, it would have the world's sixth-largest economy, one hears time and time again. The governor even repeated the We're Number 6 bleat in his State of the State speech last week. Turns out, the Sixers, from Schwarzenegger on down, have been using out of date numbers. The Los Angeles Daily News reports:

California's economy no longer ranks No. 6, but rather is the eighth-largest economy in the world.

The state, with about 37 million residents, ranks behind the U.S., Japan, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, according to U.S. Commerce Department and World Bank figures. Spain and Canada complete the top 10.

No California official has bothered to correct the figure's public use. Schwarzenegger, it turns out, has never even governed the sixth-largest economy. The state ranked seventh when he was elected during the 2003 recall election.

California last ranked sixth in 1999 and then bounced in front of France until 2002, the last year it ranked so highly. Since then, China, France and Italy have eclipsed the state.

Ironically, using out of date numbers is what the governor's finance director accused Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill doing, when she delivered some bad news about the administration's proposed budget.

From the Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used unrealistic math when he claimed he would eliminate the state budget deficit in his spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the Legislature's nonpartisan budget adviser said Friday.

"It seemed to us that there were a number of high-risk assumptions," Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill said as she released a report on the $103 billion spending plan for 2007-08 that the governor proposed this week.

The Legislative Analyst's Office report said Schwarzenegger made an "unusually" large number of overly optimistic predictions about how the state could save money and how much it would earn in taxes during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Hill said if the governor's predictions are wrong, demands on the treasury would wipe out California's rainy-day fund and leave the state in the red.


Schwarzenegger's finance director, Michael C. Genest, said Hill's criticism was based on old financial data.

Genest, one suspects, is probably not Catholic. Hill's fiercely nonpartisan probity and devotion to crunching the numbers in the public interest have earned her the nickname "the Budget Nun". Someone whose life's path has passed through the valley of the shadow of the Little Sisters of Perpetual Punishment (or any related grouping of Brides of Christ) would instinctively flinch before challenging anyone called a nun (habit or no). You've never heard Genest's boss challenge Hill's numbers, have you? Austrian Catholics know what the thwack of a nun's ruler sounds like.

And now for some numbers that are much larger than anyone would want, and are still growing.

Not only has the war in Iraq now lasted longer than U.S. involvement in World War II, according to the Los Angeles Times, the cost of our president's war of choice is about to drive the cost of Bush's vaguely defined GWoT (Global War on Terror) past that of America's previous model for a quagmire, the Vietnam War.

If U.S. involvement continues on the current scale, the funding for the Iraq war — combined with the conflict in Afghanistan and other foreign fronts in the war on terrorism — is projected to surpass this country's Vietnam spending next year.

And spending all that money has produced results. Of course there not the results one might want. Noted over at Talking Points Memo:

Henry Crumpton, the outgoing State Department terror coordinator . . . [and] ex-CIA operative . . . told NEWSWEEK that a worldwide surge in Islamic radicalism has worsened recently, increasing the number of potential terrorists and setting back U.S. efforts in the terror war. "Certainly, we haven't made any progress," said Crumpton. "In fact, we've lost ground." He cites Iraq as a factor; the war has fueled resentment against the United States.

So, it appears that no matter how grim the numbers on Iraq are now, they will, unfortunately, soon be out of date.


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