In Obama and the Palin Effect, Deepak Chopra states,

…On the surface, she outdoes former Vice President Dan Quayle as an unlikely choice, given her negligent parochial expertise in the complex affairs of governing. Her state of Alaska has less than 700,000 residents, which reduces the job of governor to the scale of running one-tenth of New York City…

Now, that was an interesting comparison, wasn’t it? Chopra is arguing that because the number of Alaska’s 683,478 residents is about one-tenth the number of New York City’s 8,274,527 residents, the task of governing Alaska must also be about one-tenth the job of governing NYC.

But let’s take a look at this graphically. Below is a bar-chart histogram which compares both New York City (NYC) and Alaska (AK) with regards to their population levels.


Clearly, the population of NYC dwarfs that of AK.

However, what if we were to look at the size of NYC as compared to that of AK? The chart below illustrates this for us.


So, in terms of area (square miles), Alaska’s size (656,424 sq. mi.) so overwhelms that of New York City’s (469 sq. mi.), that NYC doesn’t even register on the chart. Simply put, Alaska is 1,400 times the size of New York City.

Using Chopra’s reasoning, this must mean that, in terms of area to govern, the job of running Alaska is expanded to the scale of running 1,400 New York Cities!

I wondered how these resource-based comparisons played out when comparing Obama’s state of Illinois to that of Palin’s Alaska. So I did a little bit of research. I found the results interesting.

First, let’s take a look at the comparison of Illinois’ (IL) and Alaska’s population.


As expected, the population of IL (12,852,548) dwarfs that of AK.

And the area chart,


Again, as expected. AK dominates IL’s area (57,918). As a sidenote, Alaskans, well aware of the pride Texans have, are fond of saying that if you cut Alaska in half, then Texas would become the third largest state!

How about infrastructure? The chart below looks at miles of roads, compared between the two states.


Illinois’ greater number (140,000) is not unexpected, given that much of Alaska, despite its size, is inaccessible by road.

The following chart compares the number of rail miles between the two states.


Clearly, Illinois dominates the highway and rail infrastructure status, when compared to Alaska.

How about, though, marine highway miles?


Never heard of a “marine highway”? Evidently Illinois hasn’t either, because I couldn’t find any data on the total number of miles of marine highway there. Alaska, on the other hand, has about 3,500 miles of marine highway. This is not unexpected, given the size of the state, and the lack of roads or rails connecting cities, towns, and villages.

Well, since Alaska has a significant marine highway, it must have a significant coastline, right? The following chart compares the coastline of the two states.


While Illinois may have a tiny stretch of coastline along Lake Michigan, Alaska has about 100 times as much (6,640 miles). If one were to include shoreline around islands, the number would jump to over 33,000 miles! It should also be noted that Alaska borders two foreign countries (with Russia being a mere 50 miles away), while Illinois is essentially surrounded by other states (being about 400 miles away from Canada).

Since we’re on the topic of geography, how about a comparison of the elevation between the two states.



And pilots per capita?


Wow! In Illinois there’s approximately 1 pilot per 400+ residents, while in Alaska there is 1 pilot per 80 residents.

This should not be surprising, again given the fact that the road and rail infrastructure is so relatively small for the entire state.

So, what do these charts tell us about the logistics of governing the state of Alaska as compared to being one of two senators for the state of Illinois? I think they illustrate the fact that when we look for “experience”, we need to understand that it comes in many shapes and forms. While the population level of Alaska is tiny, when compared to the state of Illinois, the geographical distribution of that population covers a vastly larger area (and yes, I’m aware that over 60% of Alaska’s population resides in either Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Juneau). Given the relative lack of road and rail infrastructure, Alaska manages it’s transportation and commerce through an immense water and air network. This is no small task, since water and air travel is inherently more complex and dangerous than mere road and rail travel. With over 6,000 miles of coastline, and mountain ranges which top out over 20,000 feet, Alaska faces, everyday, situations which rarely, if ever, show up in Illinois.

Does this qualify Sarah Palin to be Vice President? That’s left for voters to decide in November. But it should cause those who ignorantly throw stones at the state of Alaska, much less at someone who runs it, to carefully think over their criticisms.

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