Fact Checking the New Warren Ad

In her new ad, Liz Warren complains that China is investing 9% of its GDP in infrastructure while our spending is running at around 2.4%. My rule of thumb is that whenever politicians are offerings statistics, there's little truth to what they're saying. The Warren campaign isn't breaking the pattern.

Should China's infrastructure spending be substantially larger than ours? Sure - they were still riding bikes everywhere in their big cities a decade ago. But 9%? No. Consider that the US, even in the heady days of building the interstate highway system, never spent much more than 3% on infrastructure. But one has to ask: What do we mean by infrastructure:

As a share of U.S. GDP, spending on transportation and water infrastructure, which is more dependent on government spending than other types of infrastructure, has declined over the past fifty years, falling from 3.1% of GDP in 1959 to 2.4% of GDP in 2007.

While the US number is based on "transportation and water infrastructure," the number from China doesn't seem to be based on the same criteria. Which makes sense - how else could Warren be finding such a huge disparity?

While the U.S. spends 2.4% of GDP on infrastructure investment and Europe 5%, China has devoted some 9% of its GDP to public building and improvement projects over the last few years.

Pols like to glom onto numbers that make a point without doing enough research to know if what they're saying makes any sense. This appears to be one of those cases.

Note: The Warren campaign kindly responded to my inquiry, within minutes, with sources for their numbers - including CBO numbers supporting the United States spending of 2.4% for transportation and water infrastructure. The China number, at 9%, is glibly offered by folks like The Economist and Fareed Zacharia, but I can't find any indication that anyone bothered to check the criteria of the two countries to see if they correspond - or not.

See more at the fabulous blog Legal Insurrection.