There is something about the spirit of California exceptionalism that compels politicians, economists and others to speak of the state, economically, as if it were a sovereign nation. Thus, back in 2000, it was not uncommon to hear speeches in which California was described as having the 5th largest economy in the world. Then, not long after the turn of the century, it was passed by France and Italy. Then economic growth in China exploded and, well, by 2004 California had the 8th largest economy in the world. (China, by the way, has since moved all the way up to No. 2.) Last year, the economy in Brazil continued to blossom and now, according to the World Bank, California became No. 9.
Economist Steve Levy of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy tracks this stuff annually, and yesterday released his annual update on California's economy relative to the rest of the world. It probably won't be long, he advised, before India passes the Golden State, perhaps followed later by the Russian Federation. On the other hand, he notes that the deteriorating European economy could allow California to leapfrog back over Italy on the list.
Whatever the ranking, California's numbers are big and impressive. The 2011 Gross Domestic Product in the state was $1.959 trillion. The state Department of Finance maintains a chart that shows California's annual ranking since 1994.
Breaking the state down by region, Levy notes, Southern California would rank as the world's 16th largest economy, between South Korea and the Netherlands. The Bay Area would be 20th, between Switzerland and Poland.
Levy notes the reason California's economy is the largest of any state is a function of its size. In per capita GDP it ranks 10th. And -- while this may come as a surprise to the national pundits who can't seem to resist bashing the Left Coast -- its average annual growth since 2000 has slightly outpaced that of the nation as a whole (1.5 percent per year, compared to 1.4 percent per year).