The Awesome Power of Visualization 2 -> Death and Taxes 2007

In July I wrote a post on the power of visualization to communicate massively complex amount of data in a very effective manner. The example used as the illustration was Death and Taxes by Jesse Bachman. So it was thrilling to hear from Jesse that there was now an updated version for 2007, which was improved in many significant ways to boot.

I am inspired by Jesse’s work and have a poster of it next to my Minard poster. In this post it is a pleasure to present the 2007 version of the visualization (I don’t like calling it a graph!), some observations and an interview with Jesse Bachman.

To begin with here is a summary of the US Federal Budget, to ensure we first present the complete picture:

    Total National Debt: $ 9.35 Trillion (up 7%)

    Total US Budget:  $ 2.8 Trillion

    2007 Federal Non-Discretionary Budget $ 2.22 Trillion

    • $ 586 Billion: Social Security
    • $ 367 Billion: Unemployment
    • $ 394 Billion: Medicare
    • $ 276 Billion: Medicaid
    • $ 243 Billion: Interest on National Debt:

    2007 Federal Discretionary Budget $ 983 Billion  (this is illustrated in the Jesse’s visual below)

    • $ 632 Billion (up 64%): Military & National Security Related
    • $ 350 Billion (up 36%): Non-Military

    2007 Total Budget Deficit $ 354 Billion (hence $2.22 Trillion plus $983 billion does not equal the total budget of $2.8 Trillion)

 Here is Jesse’s representation of the numbers above (except the debt):

Totalbudget thumb1

The focus of Death and Taxes 2007 is only on the discretionary budget only because the is the portion that Congress has to re-approve every year and it is the part on which the Congress has more control to move money around (and hence directly impact our lives).

thebudgetgraph

Of course you can’t see anything! Trust me it is beautiful.

Click here for a high rez version of the image (when you get there save a copy).

Click here to go to Jesse’s official website.

Couple of things that have been upgraded from the earlier version of the visualization are:

  • One extra layer of detail, from Department to Agencies to Core Expense Groups. Think: Department of Defense (439 billion) to the Army (111.8 billion) to Procurement (16.8 billion) to Humvee’s (.582 billion).
  • Change in the individual budgets, red for decreases and green for increases.

When you look at the high resolution version you’ll see details like these that were interesting to me.

Department of the Air Force (130 billion):

air force excerpt

You can see contrasts like Personnel budget going down a bit while the overall budget and other expenses went up.

The Classified segment (let the conspiracy theories start!! : )) (44 billion):

intelligence classified excerpt

You’ll also find the cost of the Global War on Terror (110 billion) on another part of the visual.

Since not many people think about it, Department of Agriculture (tiny 19.7 billion):

dept of agriculture excerpt

Marketing and Bureaucracy up, Conservation and Research down. You don’t see it above but Farm Subsidies up as well.

Finally something dear to all of us, life. Health and Human Services:

health and human services excerpt

Overall up a bit, Bird Flu preparedness is new funding which is great but most other things suffer: Cancer Institute, CDC, Substance Abuse and Mental health, Administration on Aging (though I have no idea what this department does anything to do with aging should go up probably because of the aging US population).

There are lots and lots more details that you will find interesting, regardless of your political, social, economic affiliation.

For example (I apologize this is a rant): Having been a rather poor student it is sad to see funding for Student loans and Pell grants is down in big numbers (down 18% and 27% respectively), as is funding for Higher Education (down 30%). Look at Department of Education towards top right.

Here is my interview with Jesse that covers some of my questions about the visual:

1) What is your primary motivation behind doing this visualization?

Jesse:  A few years ago I was a bit disturbed by two things, how large the military budget  is, and also how it is presented in government pie charts.  I wanted to present an image that reflected the discretionary budget, where the action is, and how much of it is spent on the military.  I had no grand aspirations of making posters or anything, I just made the graph and put it on deviantART as personal artwork.  I've always done lots of political artwork.

2) Given all the "feedback" from the last one you did, why would you want to deal with all that all over again?

department of education smallJesse:  The first one I did for the 2004 budget and I sold prints online, didn't sell very well but it got a lot of comments.  I forgot about it for a year and half until boingboing.net picked up on it, for the first time.  Interest exploded and I started getting comments from people outside the deviantART community.  Professors,  military contractors, all walks of life, and they generally liked it, although there were several reasonable detractors, of which I tried to address in the 2007 version. 

I decided to continue this project on a grander scale because it seemed to permeate beyond fellow artists… it resonated with concerned citizens.

3) What tool did you use to do the visualization? Why did you choose it?

Jesse: The graph was contracted entirely in Photoshop.  Due to all the photos and no real need for vector data this was the easier solution for me.

Unfortunately, government budget data is rarely in usable excel format so all the figures were plucked by hand from various PDF's usually 100's of pages long.  A friend wrote a simple program to calculate the diameter of a circle whose area is proportional to the master circle. All I had to do was input the items funding in billions.

4) Since our blog readers are all analytics people would you like to share some tips on why you choose this particular format to depict the data? Did you try others before you settled on this one?

department of transportation smallJesse: Well for me, the importance of the graph is not the amount of dollars spent but the relationship to other programs.  Dollar amounts in the billions are largely incomprehensible to the common tax payer without any frame of reference.  So I wanted everything to be proportional to the master budget, so that an item with a relatively minuscule budget looks relatively minuscule.  The bubble format was the first idea I had and it seemed to work out. 

Actually the hardest part of the creation was finding images to represent each item.  Some were obvious but others were agonizing, I mean what does one visualize when they think "operating program"?  Also, due to the connecting lines and all the text needed, arraigning the bubbles became quite an irritating jigsaw puzzle.  Places where I had to sacrifice form for function are the defense wide and HHS bubbles. 

Also I tried to maintain a clockwise alphabetical order for the departments which added some difficulty.

5) I noticed you are using Google Analytics to track your website, are you watching any key metrics? (Sorry had to ask, we are web analytics geeks!)

nasaJesse:  Not at the moment.  Boingboing.net caught me a little off guard since the site only went up on Saturday.  I do use a separate script to track my to-the-minute refers. I pretty much try to join any discussions I see going on and try to correct inaccuracies.  Also, this will help me avoid redundancies when I start some push marketing.

6) You have worked very very hard with a lot of very complex data. Any tips for the rest of us who do reporting and analysis (of course of a lot less important data)?

Jesse:  I always like seeing data thats not a pie, bar, or line graph.  A little forethought into the design elements can transform a mundane xyz axis into artwork people would want to put on their walls.  Or at least stand out in reports.  Be creative.

– – –

I have to admit that for me it is a lot more art than to many other people. You can buy a 24” x 36” poster for Death and Taxes, click here.

I thank Jesse for taking four months to create this wonderful work of art and also for taking the time to do this interview for our little blog.

PS: Two months ago I became a citizen of this great country. I am very much on a democracy high and into exercising my rights (what can I say democracy is a drug). So one action I am going to take is utilize a service on the official site to send a copy of Death and Taxes to my US Congress representatives. For only $10, including shipping, you can write a letter and send the poster to your representative (the site will print your letter and mail the poster for you).

You could be a Democrat or a Republican or a Green or a Libertarian or simply an American. You will find things on the poster that will relate specifically to you, things you would want to communicate to your Senator or Congressman / Congresswoman. Click here for this service and exercise your wonderful right.

PPS: Click here to see my web analytics chart that is just a tiny implementation of the principles from Jesse’s visual.

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Comments

  1. 2
    EricB says:

    Order placed. Great reference. Thanks for the tip on the great visualization (and thanks for exercising your rights!).

  2. 3
    Christen says:

    Great post Avinash. Like you I am amazed at the amount of information that is compressed into one page. Giving the big picture information is a great add, seeing the discretionary budget in the context of the overall US Budget. Two interesting things there, size of the total national debt and the whopping cost each year of interest on the national debt.

    Like EricB I have ordered a poster for myself as well, both as a citizen and a web analytics person.

  3. 4

    on a related topic,
    here is a view of the Internet as we know it

    Enjoy!

  4. 5
    Sandra Thaxter says:

    Very nice information

  5. 6
    jeff says:

    Thanks for the amazing graphic. I'm unable to download the high-res version….wonder if I have to be a member on imageshack. Thanks again…J

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