Here's an old joke that economists love to tell: A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, "Let's smash the can open with a rock." The chemist says, "Let's build a fire and heat the can first." The economist says, "Let's assume that we have a can-opener."
The economist's spirit mirrors that of California lawmakers who seek to balance the budget. They simply assume revenues they don't have. John Myers, the Sacramento bureau chief for KQED Radio's The California Report, has compiled a fascinating list of fictions: the variety of overly optimistic assumptions that lawmakers use. Among those Myers sees as likely to be employed to "balance" this year's budget? Inflated estimates of federal revenues the state has asked for but not received.