For the past couple of weeks, I've kept running across blog entries referencing a cool graphical representation of how the federal government allocates tax dollars. I finally decided to check out the chart, which has been years in the making.
Titled, "Death and Taxes: A Visual Look at Where Your Tax Dollars Go," the work was created by a graphic artist in Texas named Jesse Bachman and is a worth a look. Prints are available through the Deviant Art Web site, an online community where more than 2 million artists, photographers and writers can exhibit and discuss their works.
Bachman 's log detailing the creation of "Death and Taxes" stretches back to 2004, which is the tax year depicted in the completed chart at www.deviantart.com/deviation/9410862 (and where prints are available for order). The image can be clicked on and easily expanded to get a closer look at a map that's crammed full of details and allows for easy comparison.
In his artist's comments, Bachman, who specializes in "processes of thought," said that most Americans seem to be unaware or misinformed when it comes to the details of how their taxes are distributed. The Texan takes a slightly liberal bent when he writes that his goal was to get taxpayers thinking and asking questions, such as, " Why do we spend more on jets than we do on public housing? Why is the Endowment for the Arts so small? What's with all this foreign military financing?"
Political views aside, the map combines budget figures from the Office of Management and Budget and supplementary military data from the Department of Defense and the Center for Defense Information, offering up a series of connected circles containing major federal programs and which are proportionally sized based on their total budget allocation.
For the non-mathematically-inclined, it's a pretty powerful thing to behold. Though of course, it's easy to note that a dividing the chart into two major areas, military and non-military spending ($399 billion and $383 billion, respectively), already lends itself to making a nonobjective statement.
The one area or inaccuracy that several commenters have pointed out, and Bachman refers to in the notes contained on the image, is that the chart is not an exact representation of how the U.S. government runs. The Department of Defense is under congressional control and should, as a governmental department, have been placed on the right side of the graph. However, defense is placed on the left in order for the breakdown of major branches and major procurements and programs to be depicted. And, technically speaking, it's Congress that allocates funds to all departments and programs (including the military).
I could try to describe it more, but in this case, a picture really is worth more than a thousand words. Again, check it out at www.deviantart.com/deviation/9410862 . Bachman said with the number crunching and basic layout in place, he's now working on a 2007 version that should be done sometime in the next two months. You can sign up for notification that it's available by sending a note to email@example.com. If nothing else, it can serve as a conversation starter in delivering bad news to tax season clients.
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