Let me say at the outset that I’m supporting Elizabeth Warren in her senate run this fall – I have reasons to do so that mainly are related to displeasure over decisions Scott Brown has made. But one thing about her new spot against Scott Brown really pisses me off.
She makes the point that our infrastructure – roads, bridges, public works – is crumbling and that we can put unemployed workers in jobs immediately. Sure, it’s a good message if you believe that infrastructure improvements can change the economy. It’s argued that it certainly worked for FDR back in the Depression days, putting the unemployed to work on projects like the TVA.
Ideology aside, she goes off the rails when she starts spouting numbers. Warren indicates that the US spends 2.4 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, compared to 9 percent for China. I guess this is supposed to jolt us into thinking we underpay and under budget for such a vital need, especially after a country that we’ve come to think of as a global economic rival.
According to the World Bank, China’s 2011 GDP was $7.3 trillion. The USA’s was $15.09 trillion.
The USA’s GDP was twice China’s. Nine percent of China’s GDP is less than 4.5 percent of the US’s. It’s not an apples to apples comparison by any stretch.
And that assumes that comparing infrastructure costs to GDP is a valid measure to begin with. I don’t know enough about economics to understand if it is, but I can do basic arithmetic.
Accepting the premise that we spent proportionately half as much as China for infrastructure is a specious argument at best, even disregarding the math problems inherent in her statement. They have four times the population, many of whom are living in communities with scarce resources, in primitive conditions – no running water or electricity, dirt roads. Their infrastructure needs are dramatically different than the United States, as is their economic growth.
When Warren sticks to her ideology and the issues, she says things I like and things that I agree with. Trying to confuse people with fuzzy math and fuzzier economics isn’t the right way to do it. I hope this isn’t a trend.