When Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he neglected to mention a third absolute: our government’s eternal failure to agree on how high those taxes should be and what they should pay for.
As long as our nation continues to spend a lot more than it takes in, the issue will continue to be a saga between conservatives and liberals, the former fighting for lower taxes, fewer public services, and smaller government; the latter pushing for higher taxes on the wealthy, more government revenue, and a preservation of the social safety net. It’s like a really boring, annoying version of the NeverEnding Story (without the cool flying animals). Just think about the last few months in Washington: we narrowly averted hurling ourselves over the fiscal cliff only to re-enter into a battle over the debt ceiling.
So, why should you care? The most compelling reason is because this is your hard-earned cash that these guys are fighting over. The federal budget mainly consists of revenue from income taxes and payroll taxes. It’s about knowing how the government is spending your cash and what they’re spending it on. Along those lines, Google and Eyebeam last year put out a call to graphic designers and developers to help visualize how our federal income tax dollars are spent. The Data Viz Challenge, as it was called, drew some very cool entries, including some of the following interactives (click on each to explore the interactive versions).
Where Did All My Tax Dollars Go? Produced by Anil Kandangath, this won first place in contest. It allows users to enter their income and see a clear breakdown of what services that money went towards and how it was calculated.
Every Day Is Tax Day Designed by Fred Chasen, this project took second place in the contest. It allows users to explore how many hours they actually spend working directly for the government – based on individual salary – over the course of a year, and what programs that cash funds.
Federal Income Tax Receipt Although not actually an entry in the contest, this is a good straightforward visualization produced by the National Priorities Project that spits out a simple itemized receipt of your tax breakdown based on income.