Wrong number

 Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  November 27, 2013

What if there was a political figure who frequently made wildly inaccurate statements about public policy? I’m talking about somebody with a long record of regularly getting it wrong.

No reporter would quote a source like that, at least not without fact-checking every detail. No businessperson would consider planning for a company’s future based on such a sketchy pattern of behavior. No voter, whether liberal or conservative, would be influenced in marking a ballot because of such an addiction to imprecision.

This person’s credibility would be nonexistent.

Republican Governor Paul LePage? Not hardly.

Sure, LePage screws up from time to time, but he occasionally gets one right. Compared to the guy I have in mind, he’s the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Library of Congress, and Alex Trebek all rolled into one.

I’m referring to Charlie Colgan, a professor at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School for Public Service and a former state economist. The biggest difference between Colgan and LePage isn’t that the former is wrong more than the latter (although he is). It’s that the news media, the business community and the voters don’t seem to mind.

On November 13, Colgan issued a report for the New England Economic Education Partnership (motto: We Don’t Care What Idiotic Things Economists Say As Long As There Are Lots Of Cool Charts And Graphs) in which he predicted Maine would fully recover from the recent recession in 2018.

Earlier this year, he said it would be 2017.

A little later in 2013, he thought it might be 2016.

In 2012, he guessed more like 2015.

In 2011, he estimated it would be 2013 or 2014.

In 2010, sometime in 2012 or 2013 seemed reasonable.

In 2009, he figured recovery could arrive in 2010.

According to the January 8 Portland Press Herald, he’s now saying, “Maine is still waiting for the recovery to begin.”

If he ever decides to seek a new career, Colgan would be ideally suited for a position as one of those end-of-the-world preachers who advise their flocks to sell all their worldly possessions and follow them to some inconvenient mountain top to await shuttle service to the hereafter.
It’s not just the recovery or the rapture that Colgan gets wrong. In 2008, he confidently prognosticated the state would lose only about 1000 jobs in a mild recession and 6000 in a severe downturn. In the next year, Maine saw 12,000 jobs disappear. In 2009, Colgan refigured his math and came up with a worst-case scenario of 17,000 vanished jobs. By year’s end, the state was down nearly 30,000.

For 18 years, Colgan was one of the five members of the state’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission (motto: Charts! Graphs! How Could We Possibly Go Wrong With Cool Stuff Like That?). After LePage won the governorship in 2010, Colgan wasn’t reappointed. Even a guy who gets it wrong a lot couldn’t put up with one who misfired all the time.

It’s not as if Colgan isn’t aware of his shortcomings. Earlier this year, he admitted to the Bangor Daily News that his annual forecasts have been consistently off the mark on the side of optimism. But he doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. A year before, he told the Press Herald. “[T]he case for pessimism is, I think, a pretty strong one.” Lately in interviews, he’s taken to referring to his analysis of the economy as a “forlorn hope.”

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