The art of random comparison

In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Jerry Brown downplayed the $14 billion cost of the Delta twin tunnels by drawing a comparison to the most recent summer games.

“The London Olympics lasted a short while and cost $14 billion, about the same cost as this project,” he said. “But this project will serve California for hundreds of years.”

I’m not sure whether the comparison really advances Brown’s argument — the Olympics are no small affair.

Still, taking a page out of Brown’s book, let’s look at some other recent $14 billion price tags:

• AT&T announced plans recently to invest $14 billion to expand its wireless and broadband networks.

• New Orleans put about $14 billion into its pumps and levees following Hurricane Katrina.

• The U.S. government overpaid unemployment benefits to the tune of about $14 billion in 2011.

• The 100 richest people on Earth collectively became about $14 billion richer last week alone (!).

• General Mills boasts about $14 billion in global net sales. That’s a lot of Cheerios.

• The state of Oregon is dealing with a pension fund deficit of $14 billion.

• Childhood obesity is reportedly responsible for $14 billion a year in direct health costs.

• $14 billion is a mere three months’ revenue for Google.

• Exxon will drop $14 billion developing an oil field off the shore of eastern Canada.

• And finally, if you’re still reading, insomnia is said to be a $14 billion a year problem.

Maybe insomniacs should try reading the 12,000-page draft Delta tunnels plan before going to bed.

Seriously, though, lots of stuff costs $14 billion. Anyone can make it sound like a big number or a small number by running a Google search and selectively choosing something to compare it with.

Ultimately, however, the only thing that matters is whether the benefits of this particular project justify its cost.

And we’ll be hearing a lot about that in the coming months.

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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