Does Roy Brown Understand How Percentages Work?


It’s been awhile since I have taken a math course or counted capital gains from an oil deal, but I think I might just understand math better than Roy Brown. In a story about Governor Schweitzer’s latest ad that claims Montana is one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, the Brown campaign offered this impressive response:

Brown’s campaign countered with a June 2008 Bureau of Economic Analysis report that said Montana real GDP ranked 47th nationally in 2007. It’s important to look at the size of Montana’s GDP, not just the growth, the campaign said. With Montana’s low overall GDP, the state tends to have a strong percentage increase in GDP, even as its actual economic growth often lags behind other states, Brown’s campaign said.

I’ve read this a number of times, trying to figure out what Brown is complaining about. It seems like, in his desperate strategy to criticize Montana at every turn, he managed to confuse himself just a bit. Economic growth is measured as a percentage change, not actual dollars. Yes, Montana does have a low overall real GDP—it might have something to do with being a sparsely populated state.

The Montana economy is doing very well, bucking national trends. Sure, our Real GDP is, and always will be one of the lowest in the country—and we certainly can’t expect Governor Schweitzer to have reversed 16 years of disastrous Republican rule in one term, but to suggest that growth isn’t a valid measure of the economy’s success, is absurd.

You don’t take my word for it. What does Entrepeneur Magazine say about Montana? It says Roy Brown is wrong:

Wheat selling at greater than $8/bushel turbocharged the crops sector of Montana agriculture during late 2007. Montana’s economic base is now firing on almost all cylinders, and the state is completing a record-breaking streak of four straight years of greater than 4 percent real growth. Looking to the future, annual growth of 4 percent is likely to continue into 2008 and maybe even beyond.

The state’s strong economic performance is attributable to buoyant conditions in most basic industries.

In my book, an economy “firing on almost all cylinders” is something to celebrate, not something to criticize with misleading figures. If we want to keep Montana’s economy rolling, I say we stick with someone who understands basic economics, and who has positive message for Montana’s future.

Gloomy Roy, who sees a cloud around every silver lining, just isn’t the answer.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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Ivy League Economist
Ivy League Economist

Economic growth (Macro, as discussed here) has a variety of values for which it is measured; it is not a simple aggregated calculation of percentage increase. Further, GDP’s correlation with a “sparsely populated state” would likely align with Montana’s size relative to other states. Montana’s GDP ranks 47th relative to other U.S. States, Montana’s population ranks 44th relative to other U.S. states (U.S. Bureau of the Census): clearly there is a lag in Montana’s economic output (GDP) that indicates our economy isn’t producing at an optimal level (READ: MONTANA’S ECONOMY IS WORSE THAN COMPARABLE STATES). Finally, the last time I… Read more »

Ivy League Economist
Ivy League Economist

Three points: First, your belittling of my academic background, an education that furthers the development and progression of society, is laughable given your prior posting’s “superiority” regarding education. I find it beneficial to heed advice from those with a specialty and I’m flattered you feel threatened enough to insult my work. Second, you completely avoided the entire purpose of my response, that being Montana’s GDP relative to comparable states. Yes, Montana’s GDP grew this past year, and the year before, and the year before….(economies grow nearly every year). It isn’t positive growth economist are concerned with, it’s a benchmark relative… Read more »

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