Hey PolitiFact, is there an economist in the house?

By Tomas Bozack of Brookings, Oregon. Tomas is a volunteer with the Curry County Democratic Party. Previously, Tomas contributed "PolitiFact Oregon deserves their own "pants on fire" rating"

There's been a lot of pushback to PolitiFact Oregon's outrageously deceptive “fact check” about the growth of the Oregon state budget over the last 20 years. PolitiFact tags its fact-check article with the rhetorical question “Would Oregon's budget be dramatically smaller if pegged to population growth?,” and answers with a resounding yes!

PolitiFact's analysis says that 20 years ago the state budget was $20 billion and that it should be $36 billion today based on population growth and inflation, not the current $60 billion. In other words, PolitiFact clearly wants the reader to believe that the Oregon state budget is, in their own words, “growing out of control.”

Various commentators have responded saying that there's more to a budget than population growth, and there are good reasons that the budget increased as much as it did. That's all true, but I'd like to point out a critical fact that has so far been overlooked: The Oregon state budget hasn't grown one iota when compared to the overall Oregon economy.

Here are the numbers: The state gross domestic product (GDP) 20 years ago in 1992 was $63.4 billion. In 2012, it was $205.6 billion.

Starting with a 1992 budget of $20 billion, the 2012 state budget based only on GDP growth would be 20 x ($205.6b/$63.4b) = $64.9 billion. So, based on economic growth the current budget should be slightly more than the current $60 billion cited by PolitiFact, not less. The size of the State budget in relation to GDP is about where it was 20 years years ago, and is not at all growing out of control.

People who call themselves fiscal conservatives want you to believe that if government expenditures grow faster than the population, it's ipso facto an expansion of government. The reason they use this particular argument is that it always produces a result that makes the growth of government seem larger than it actually is. PolitiFact bought into this and used the same flawed analysis as the so-called fiscal conservatives.

But both logic and empirical data show that the size of government naturally tracks the size of the economy, not just population. That's why economists routinely express the size of government as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). Any other measure invariably fails to reflect real-world economic reality.

Clearly PolitiFact should have consulted a competent economist before buying into the flawed logic that they were ostensibly fact checking. This lapse might be excused if it were an isolated incident. Whether they were simply being naïve or willfully deceptive is open to question. But in the context of their other work it suggests a willingness to compromise objectivity and journalistic rigor to promote a conservative Republican political agenda.

guest column

connect with blueoregon