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GOED Fudges GDP Bar Chart, Lags Behind Liberal Blog in Web Presence

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development offers another example of how to cheat on the y-axis of a bar chart to exaggerate the size of an increase.

Governor's Office of Economic Development, 2017 Annual Report, p. 11.
Governor’s Office of Economic Development, 2017 Annual Report, p. 11.

Notice that the above chart of South Dakota GDP starts its count at $32.5 billion in 2006. By leaving out two thirds of the scale of measurement, GOED makes the 200–2016 increase in GDP look monumental. A properly scaled bar chart would represent those years’ GDP like so:

SD GDP 2006–2016, GOED bar chart correctly scaled by DFP, 2018.10.13.
SD GDP 2006–2016, GOED bar chart correctly scaled by DFP, 2018.10.13.

The funny thing is that GOED didn’t have to rig the graph to make its point. The ten-year GDP growth of 49% is still remarkably good, especially considering that the national growth rate over that decade was only 34%, due in part to to the housing bubble-pop and Recession hitting the rest of the U.S. harder than it hit us. The only reasons to truncate the y-axis are (1) graphic design (easily overcome by properly extending the bars the length of the page, showing the full and growing massiveness of the South Dakota economy, and laying the text over the long empty parts of the bars in a just-translucent-enough box) and (2) visual fibbery.

In other confusing statistical imagery, GOED divides a head into what looks like a pie chart but is just an array of performance metrics of wildly differing scales:

GOED, various metrics, 2017 Annual Report, p. 15.
GOED, various metrics, 2017 Annual Report, p. 15.

GOED’s online metrics are interesting, but for perspective, let’s compare their online visibility to that of a lesser website… say, an extreme left-wing political blog operating out of a house in Aberdeen that should get little interest in GOED’s red state:

Facebook reactions 2,983 29,280
Twitter impressions 207,256 1,298,700
visits to website 64,861 842,723

Now I know that GOED, which in FY 2017 spent $24.6 million, directs its budget toward much more than Web presence. But so do I, and I tell you that my household budget in 2017 was less than 1% of $24.6 million. And for my money, I got six times as many Twitter impressions, ten times as many Facebook reactions, and thirteen times as many website visits.

So more people appear to be interested in reading a liberal perspective on South Dakota politics than they are in hearing our state government’s economic development sales pitch. Hmm… Commissioner Stern, maybe you guys should consider buying a blog ad. For the right price, I’ll even throw in a bar chart.


  1. John Tsitrian 2018-10-14

    Per capita GDP is a more relevant assessment of growth than GDP alone because it takes population growth into account. Couldn’t get the BEA website (under reconstruction, apparently) to update through 2017, but GDP per capita growth in SD lags way behind U.S. growth for the period 2011-2016, when U.S per capita GDP growth rose by 6.27% while SD’s during the same period rose by <1%, coming in at .22%. Also, BEA puts SD in the lowest quintile for personal income growth from 2016-2017.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-14

    Good point, John! It doesn’t matter how much money South Dakota has if most of us aren’t getting more of it.

  3. John 2018-10-14

    GOED deserves an independent audit every 2-years. It’s unlikely that GOED returns an average SP500 return. Hey, rhinos – run gubermint like a business?!

  4. grudznick 2018-10-14

    Mr. John, how often is the GOED audited now, are they “forensic” audits, and is the audit done on the entire department or is it on certain grants or pots of money? If it is on the entire department, do you think that is in line with how Mr. H and the smarter money people around think audits should be done and how the General Auditor fellow does audits, or is he falling down on the job? Finally, should Mr. Barnett, the state auditor, get more deeply involved in the GOED business?

    A lot of questions, I know, but I want to take advantage of your knowledge for the betterment of all. Unless you’re just whistlin’ in the wind.

  5. grudznick 2018-10-14

    My point, Mr. John, is that you are calling for audits without understanding or being willing to explain what is currently being audited and what it is you think should change. You are just whistling in a libbie darkness, hiding under Mr. Stan’s skirt.

  6. Debbo 2018-10-14

    Don’t be lazy Grudz. Do your own research. Then you’ll have a clue, rather than just whistling in any kind of darkness. If you’re going to make an accusation, have the backbone to support it.

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