Ranking Recent California Governors by Economic Growth

This election has a few former governors running for office… Huckabee from Arkansas, Romney from Massachusetts, Richardson from New Mexico… And of the five most recent presidents, Carter, Reagan, GHW, Clinton, and GW, only GHW wasn’t a governor first. So I started thinking about how to measure a governor’s economic performance.

You can’t just look at the growth of Gross State Product… after all, the state economy might grow very quickly, just because the US economy is growing quickly. So a better measure would be to look at the growth rate in the state economy relative to the US economy as a whole.

On a lark, I decided to look at my state, California. Its not a particularly obscure state, has a well known Governator, and in recent decades, one of its governors has gone on to become president.

Data on US GDP per capita comes from the BEA’s NIPA Table 7.1. Data on CA’s GSP through 2005 comes from this table at the state of CA website. (Interestingly enough, data for 2006 was available from Wikipedia.) Data on CA pop comes from this report, also found on the state of CA website.

Here’s a graph of the CA state GDP per capita / US GDP per capita, going back to 1963, the first year for which data on CA’s GSP is available on the CA state website:

Now, let’s look at governors of CA. The following table shows the name, political affiliation and term of each governor. It also shows the annualized percentage growth rate in CA state GDP per capita / US GDP per capita computed from the last full year before the governor took office to his last year in office. Thus, for the Reagan, whose term ran from Jan 3, 1967 to Jan 7, 1975, I used the growth rate from 1966 to 1974. A few anomalies… the first governor on the list, Pat Brown, ran for office once as a Dem and once as a Rep, and political affiliation was kind of funny at the time, so I count his part as “Straddle.” Also, because Grey Davis served almost the entire year of 2003, I treat him as leaving office in January of 2004.

So here’s what it looks like:

And here’s a graph summarizing the annualized change in economic performance over the term of each governor:

A few quick comments:

1. Ronald the Reagan didn’t exactly do big things in the state of CA.
2. The governator has done marginally better on economic growth than Grey Davis, the guy removed in a recall election. But… there are only three years of data available, so we’ll see how he does going forward.
3. Perhaps the most reviled governor in CA, at least by Republicans, is Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown. As I’ve stated many times before, the one thing that is unforgivable to people is to succeed by doing something they told you will fail, especially if they themselves have failed at what you’re doing. In the corporate world, it gets you fired every time. Following this simple observation, not surprisingly, when we look just at economic growth figures, its hard not to conclude that CA sent the wrong governor to the White House.

A few additional comments… it would be nice to have this info for a few other states… the obvious ones: Massachusetts, Arkansas, New Mexico, and (to look at our current President) Texas… So a note to readers… if your goal in life has always been to have a post on Angry Bear, here’s a way to do it – if you run the numbers for one of these states, or just about any other state for that matter (and please pick real states, not “East Virginia” or “Wisconsin”) I will put ’em up. Ditto if you want to run numbers on other figures, such as the state’s budget deficit (and I’d really love to see that for CA, since that was the reason Grey Davis was recalled and the Governator was put in his place).