[FIXED] Three Charts To E-Mail Your Right Wing Brother-In-Law

Dear goodness, not again.

I had a nice healthy rant all written for this because people who use charts and data to lie piss me off and the self-righteous ones are the worst. But it detracted from this post, so if you want to, you can read it here. Not work that I’m proud of, but it’s fun to write every once in a while.

There is a piece called “The Three Charts to E-Mail Your Right Wing Brother-In-Law” that is making the rounds and impressing many people who don’t know too much about the underlying data. Which is almost everyone.

So lets dig into these charts and how we can fix them.

The first one is about Federal Spending and claims that “Bush Spending” saw an 88% increase while Obama spending has seen only a 7.2% increase.

Bush-Obama Spending Chart

The problems with this chart in no particular order:

Bush was not responsible for all of 2009 spending

These two charts assume that the entirety of the 2009 fiscal situation lies squarely on George W. Bush’s shoulders. I would like to posit that this is unfair. There was a bill that got passed (you may have heard of it) that goes by the popular name “the stimulus”. It started immediately spending vast sums of money starting in the fiscal year 2009. George W. Bush had nothing to do with this bill.

I did a little digging and found that the budget Bush proposed for 2009 was for $3.09 trillion while the amount spent during that fiscal year was $3.52 trillion. Now, this might not matter if these kinds of variations were common. But here is a graph of the difference between the proposed spending and the actual spending for the past 10 years. We’re going to play a game called “one of these things is not like the others”.

We can see that 2009 is a huge outlier… the difference between what was proposed and what was spent is 5 times more than any other year ( $429.1 billion).

Yep… that’s what happens when you propose vast amounts of immediate spending in the middle of a fiscal year. Given that Bush had to sign the budget he was given by a Democratic Congress, I think it’s charitable to say that he is “responsible” for what he proposed: the original $3.09 trillion.

Data is not adjusted for inflation

This is a minor quibble, but it matters because it’s a sign that the person who created the chart doesn’t care about accuracy. Ignoring inflation will always make spending increases look drastic because we’re compounding real increases with inflation increases. It also matters because, if we adjust for inflation and use Bush’s last spending proposal, he increased spending by 39% or about 5% a year.

The chart stops tracking data at a very convenient place

President Obama’s budget proposal basically has us maintaining a stable level of spending until 2014, when it starts increasing drastically. The author chose not to chart this data, even though it was right there in front of him. Why? I assume it’s because he’s a partisan hack, but I’m not altogether prepared to rule out that he is, in fact, just an idiot.

By including these spending targets, we get a much more “apples to apples” comparison where we’re comparing 8 years of “Bush spending” to 7 years of “Obama spending”.

If we take all these problems and put them together, we end up with another chart altogether.

Chart 2

The second chart says that Bush increased the deficit and Obama is decreasing it.

Bush-Obama Deficit Chart

First of all, the same “Bush is responsible for everything in FY2009” thing above applies here too. In addition to that:

The stimulus was front-loaded with tax cuts

I know that right wingers will maintain till their dying breath that tax cuts don’t reduce revenue, they increase revenue. I’m not really in that camp and this is my blog, so I get to do things my way. So there.

According to CNN at the time, the stimulus was going to save the average household $1,179. Using the 2009 Census estimate of 112.6 million households, that comes out to $132.7 billion. If we add that to the $429 billion difference between Bush’s spending proposal and the spending reality and then subtract that from the final deficit, we get a deficit of $894.4 billion.

$132.7 billion in stimulus tax cuts
+ $429.1 billion in un-planned spending
– $1,415.7 billion actual deficit
$836.2 billion of the 2009 deficit that is “Bush’s fault”

All of the reductions are in the future

Notice how the chart goes down in 2012 and 2013? Notice how neither of those years have happened? This is because President Obama’s 2012 budget has made some pretty incredible claims.

To look at these claims with our feet on the ground, let’s first look at a revenue chart.

This is a chart that shows the increase and decrease of federal revenue changes over a 12 month collection period. We can see that recessions mean revenues decrease by as much as 15% year-to-year and that in boom times they can increase by a little over 10% year-to-year. The biggest increase we’ve ever seen was 12% year-to-year increase (from the 2004 fiscal year to the 2005 fiscal year).

Now this is the same chart including the revenue increases that the Obama budget proposal assumes will happen.

Now that is some f***ing audacious hope right there.

The Obama budget assumes for the sake of future budget planning that we will blow 30 years of revenue data out of the water by clocking in a 21% revenue increase in 2012 and a 14% revenue increase in 2013. Then they assume things will “calm down” to a stable 7-8% annual increase, which is merely massive (as opposed to completely insane).

This is a particularly important point because the estimates that the Obama team made were not just optimistic. They assume we are on some kind of federal revenue breakthrough unheard in this generation.

The revenue assumptions in this budget proposal have sped right past optimism and into delusion.

For the sake of fixing this second chart, I am going to be incredibly generous and assume that we see 9% revenue growth over the next 4 years. This would be very good news for our deficit situation and is extremely unlikely. It is not, however, technically impossible, so we’ll give some benefit of the doubt there.

Fixing Chart 2

Accounting for these issues, assuming that we hit the spending targets we’re aiming for (a big if but one I’m willing to let it slide) here is the second chart updated.

Chart 3:


Permutations of this chart have been around for some time. President Obama’s team first started using it in mid 2009 to promote the idea that the stimulus was working. It’s actually the most honest of the charts here, but there are still some problems with it.

Using Only Establishment Private Jobs Data

This makes things look a little better because we’ve been losing public sector jobs over the last year or two. I’m not saying “counting only private sector jobs is an invalid measurement”. What I am saying is that it is a red flag that the person may be cherry-picking data to get the best result.

As for using establishment data instead of household survey data, there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it is good to note that the household survey counts about 10 million more jobs and  covers people who are employed but not on a payroll, so it will give a somewhat more complete picture of the employment situation. And, unsurprisingly, the data doesn’t look quite as good for Obama. It’s not particularly bad… it’s just “meh”.

It’s Bush’s Fault Only When It’s Bad

But the funniest thing about this chart? The author has spent the last 2 charts convincing us that EVERYTHING that happened in the 2009 fiscal year was Bush’s fault. In this chart, the tune has changed entirely because, if the author gave Bush credit to the end of the 2009 fiscal year, it would look like Bush saved the day. The most drastic reductions in job loss would then fall under the “Bush’s fault” umbrella.

And we can’t have that. When it comes to a choice between honest consistency and making George W. Bush look bad, the author didn’t even blink. So, in a move that is so dishonest is is actually funny, the chart author basically says, “All jobs saved are due to President Obama and his courageous stimulus, but I blame George W. Bush for all the stimulus spending and stimulus tax cuts that created those jobs.”

I created a alternate version of this chart that represents my complaints listed above, but I want to make note that, while I feel the previous “fixes” are a better representation of reality, this chart is not nearly as fair as those were. I personally prefer the BLS household data (which I used in this chart) over the payroll data (which the original chart author used), but I’m not comfortable giving Bush credit for stopping job losses 9 months after he left office. I’m representing it this way only because I want to give an indication of how the author would have done it if he or she maintained an internal consistency.

24 thoughts on “[FIXED] Three Charts To E-Mail Your Right Wing Brother-In-Law

  1. Pingback: Alternate Intro to the “Three Charts” Post « Political Math

  2. Nathan Davis

    Once again, an excellent illustration of how rigged numbers and cherry-picked data can produce exactly the results the creator wants to see. In math or science, we would call this “bias,” but in the political sphere, they call it “analysis.” Thank-you, Mr. Shapiro, for pulling back the curtain on this and many other types of statistical chicanery for all of us out there who actually care about seeing data represented honestly.

  3. politicalmath Post author


    My favorite part of the third chart in that post (which I’ve seen many many times) is that it does the whole “Everything is Bush’s fault” thing. According to that chart, our current revenue situation is due to the “Bush tax cuts” even thought they were due to expire last year. They were renewed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic President.

    But, according to that chart, they are still Bush’s fault, even though he had NOTHING AT ALL to do with their current implementation. Why? Because… Bush sucks!

  4. Centrist

    Your strongest argument is that Obama defenders take too much credit for job increases in early 2009. All presidents receive too much credit and too much blame for economic activity. There is a significant lag between policy enactment and economic impact, often measured in years.

    All Presidents should be evaluated for their budgets and associated priorities.

    The rest of your post reveals your own biases. You ignore 1) Bush Tax Cuts 2) Two Wars and 3) Bailouts Proposed and Supported by Paulson and Bush.

    The Obama Administration inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression. Whether the condition of the economy is directly attributable to the Bush Administration is a reasonable debate. As stated above, I think we ascribe too much credit and blame to presidents for the condition of the economy.

    There is no denying that the budget increases during the Bush years were extraordinary and it was during a time of economic prosperity, when the government should have been building a surplus for the inevitable reversal in the economic cycle. Instead we gave tax cuts to the wealthy who didn’t need them, prescription drug benefits to seniors and we embarked on two expensive wars of choice.

    Obama’s increased spending, on the other hand, was mostly a temporary response to crisis. You may disagree with the policy prescription of stimulus, but the majority of these spending increases were not permanent or structural changes to the budget, like a prescription drug benefit and tax rates for the wealthy.

    If you want to add math and data integrity to the debate, focus on the portion of the budget that is discretionary and compare that to the size of our deficit.

    Then point out that tax rates are at the lowest levels in 50 years.

    Cutting spending is necessary, but it can only fill part of the hole.

    The math is very simple. The U.S. also needs to increase tax revenue.

    Finally a minor quibble. The Federal Fiscal Year is October to September.

  5. JRoth

    Would I be mistaken in thinking that the “delusional” revenue projections are based primarily on 2, and only 2 assumptions? That the Bush/Obama tax cuts are allowed to end (in accordance with current law) and that the recovery finally comes to pass? Either of these would represent a massive increase in revenue; if both occur at roughly the same time, then it shouldn’t be at all surprising to see an unprecedented jump.

    Indeed, the chart you’ve prepared (which, frankly, I don’t find especially useful in general, since it treats unrelated factors such as recessionary revenue decreases, legislative tax changes, and legislative programs as being somehow subject to some mysterious law that says revenue never changes at a rate above 10% or below 15%; could you please elucidate the principle behind this law?) shows the huge effects that post-recessionary jumps in revenues can have, as the years just after the Bush tax cuts, which coincided with a rather tame recovery, nonetheless show big annual jumps in revenue.

    As it is, the combination of *extending* the Bush tax cuts and merely halting the cratering of the economy has already resulted in nearly 10% increases in revenues. Why should it be delusional to think that actual economic growth combined with the ending of the tax cuts – again, the current law of the land – should result in still farther large jumps? Because a 25 year snapshot of poorly correlated events doesn’t show precedent? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you know what else hadn’t happened in the last 25 years? The worst downturn since the Great Depression.

    PS – FWIW, I do think that projecting any substantive recovery, pretty much ever, is delusional, but that’s not the premise of anybody’s discourse right now, so I don’t think you can much ding the administration for it unless you have a full time job dinging every party of every Western government, plus most people in the financial industry. Everybody’s pretending that this crisis will resolve itself.

  6. politicalmath Post author


    I can see either the tax cuts expiring & raising some more revenue short term OR a strong recovery. I don’t think we can hold out much hope for both of them. (Honestly, I don’t think either one is going to happen.)

    If you don’t see any value in the revenue chart, it’s because you don’t want to. It is a meticulous chart of all month-to-month revenue data available to the public. It does not treat the data to some “mysterious law”, it just reports the reality as it stands. My +12% and -15% comments are observations.

    It’s as if you said “I am going to jump 16 feet into the air” and I looked up the world record for the high jump and say “The record is only 8 feet. I think jumping 16 feet is impossible for you to do.” There is no law of physics that says you can’t do it, but that doesn’t make it any less impossible.

    Your position seems to be “You can’t prove that 21% revenue growth isn’t possible” and this is true, in the sense that I cannot prove that unicorns don’t exist.

    All I can do is look at the data, which, to be fair, is all you can do. The difference is that I am referencing the data and you are theorizing some imaginary solution without any data to back you up.

    But I will lay this out: I will take a 10-1 bet on $5,000. If you bet $5,000 and we hit the revenue targets for 2012, I’ll pay you $50,000. That’s my way of saying that this is impossible.

  7. frankcross

    Good job on the first two but the third is pretty weak. I would expect a conservative to think private jobs were the important ones and that lower government employment could be a good thing

  8. hank

    Some gaping holes in the argument you present include the following:
    – Fiscal Year 2009 started on Oct. 1, 2008 – during the last months of GWB’s term. On Oct. 3, in the beginning of FY 2009, GWB signed the TARP program into law. The TARP was estimated to be as much as $300 billion (I think it has clocked in at 245 billion), and GWB and Hank Paulson essentially wrote this as a blank check to the banks and they immediately began to sit on the cash.
    The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), what is commonly referred to as “the Stimulus”, was signed into law by Pres. Obama on Feb. 17, 2009 (also in FY 2009) and was estimated to cost $787 billion over 10 years.
    Another major factor in that huge spike in 2009 is the fact that Obama finally put the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the budget – GWB kept them OFF of the books, which is why the “spending above budget proposal” chart looks so sweet for the 7 years before that ugly red spike: http://www.politicalmathblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/SpendingDiffs.jpg
    – As for the argument about Chart 3, the chart used by the blogger to support their argument is highly inaccurate: http://www.politicalmathblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Chart3.jpg
    • The vertical bar (total job changes month to month) reads, from bottom to top in equally spaced increments, -120000, -90000, -60000, -30000, -10000….THEN, the next increment UP reads -20000….it went back DOWN. And, the increments, though equally spaced, represent different amounts of change. This distorts the way the bars are representing the argument. That makes no sense.
    • The total amount of red and blue vertical bars is 42 (21 bars each). But, if you line them up visually with the 43 monthly increments across the bottom, it seems like Bush’s term went to somewhere between Oct and Nov 2009 – a good 8 or 9 months into OBAMA’S term. Why the heck is that?
    • The bars in the graph are about the amount of change in the number of jobs, yet the statement supporting this graph reads “JULY MARKS THE 27TH CONSECUTIVE MONTH WE’VE HAD FEWER JOBS THAN WHEN THE STIMULUS PASSED”, which refers to TOTAL jobs and not the change in total jobs. Essentially, the bar graph concerns ‘apples’ but the supporting statement talks about ‘oranges’.
    All in all, quite misleading!

  9. Pingback: [FIXED] Three Charts To E-Mail Your Right Wing Brother-In-Law (via Political Math) | public | problem | solving

  10. politicalmath Post author


    I can’t stress this enough: PLEASE do a Google search before spouting numbers. It saves me time and it lets me know you’re invested in having a serious conversation.

    Do you have a link to TARP cost? Because the numbers I see are $25 billion. Willing to be proven wrong, but I’m not going to do your research for you. Also, President Obama voted for TARP as a Senator, so I think it’s fair to split the cost between them since they both voted for it.

    Iraq-Afghanistan weren’t on budget You’re simply wrong on this one. The fact that they were “off budget” does not mean that they didn’t get counted in the “outlay” section of the treasury reports. It means that they got voted on in a separate spending bill from the normal budget. Warning: I’ve spent many hours researching this issue (which people bring up quite frequently in total ignorance of how federal finance is done) and I know that previous statement is the truth. I invite you to waste your time showing me that I’m wrong because I know I’m not and, if you do honest research you will discover that this is so.

    Bars are inaccurate Nope. I can send you the Excel file if you like, but you’re really getting desperate here.

    The bars went into Obama’s term I made this clear in the blog post. Do feel free to read it in your spare time.

    Apples to Oranges The bars represent month-to-month changes. The text states a fact about the total number of jobs. I’m comparing first derivative of the data to the data. This would be like talking about how fast you were going in your car (miles over hours) with how far away you are from your destination (miles). This is a perfectly normal thing to do. Anyone with an inkling of mathematical prowess would understand.

  11. wodun

    “Instead we gave tax cuts to the wealthy who didn’t need them, prescription drug benefits to seniors and we embarked on two expensive wars of choice.”

    Actually when you look at what groups benefited the most from the Bush tax cuts, it was the bottom brackets who saw the biggest tax rate cuts.

    And why do you hate old people and think they don’t deserve life saving medicines?

    We could end the wars tomorrow and raise taxes on the rich and still be running $1t deficits.

  12. Sworddove

    You’re not cranky???


    All right now, my dear, come and have a nice cup of tea.

    You’ll feel better and there will be cake.

    I’m copying all of this (including the comments) so that I can have some lovely ammunition on hand when attacked by people with no common sense, which would be about 90% of the population by the way.

    Thank you for all of your hard work and research.

    It is certainly appreciated.


  13. Ed Skinner

    How ’bout fixin’ the vertical scale on the total job changes month to month graph. I presume that should be “+20000” at the top, not “-20000”.
    And I also presume that the transition from brown to blue bars indicates where “0” is — but it’d also be nice to see that in the vertical scale.

  14. Brownshoe

    I’m a bit perplexed by the “wars of choice” references. What does that mean? For the U.S., going to war has always been a “choice”. That’s why they refer to it as “declaring” war. Ok – I can see the argument for Iraq but is Centrist suggesting we should have simply “turned the other cheek” after 9/11? In any case, as PoliticalMath correctly pointed out, you could end both wars today, tax the rich and we would still be $1T in debt.

  15. BooksMoore

    Again, it’s the context in which these graphs come out that is important. This “Right-Wing Relatives” series is seeking to counter the very specific (and idiotic) notion frequently held by, yes, right-wing relatives that “all the deficit is Obama’s deficit.” So naturally, it covers only that window in time.

  16. Pablo

    Excellent stuff. One quibble: “Given that Bush had to sign the budget he was given by a Democratic Congress, I think it’s charitable to say that he is “responsible” for what he proposed: the original $3.09 trillion.”

    Bush wasn’t given a budget for FY ’09. They operated on CR’s until Obama took office and he signed the FY ’09 budget in March ’09.

  17. Derrick

    Great work, but I do have some questions about the ’09 budget. It’s been a while, but I seem to remember that Bush ignored war spending in all of his proposed budgets, so that should be added back into “his share” of the ’09 spending (right?). Also, am I wrong in remembering that Bush started the whole bailout thing? Doesn’t he get to share in that too? Finally, all presidents before Obama counted Social Security overpayment as revenue to offset their proposed budgets. Doesn’t this have some impact on ’09 data and certainly on the projected Obama budgets?

  18. mary guercio

    It would be helpful to get past the blame game and focus on the way forward. The majority of Americans in poll after poll, favor increasing revenue AND cutting spending – but with more equitable allocation of cuts. Rational people (there are some out there) realize that our current path is unsustainable; economists of great repute disagree as to how the economy should be corrected. Some feel that cuts that are too drastic or too fast or too focused on the middle class will destroy even the nascent recovery we see happening. Others argue that drastic steps are imperative. Who’s right? If Americans had more confidence in Congress to get the job done fairly, a lot of this rhetoric would be gone. It would also help if our elected officials could relate to the average American. It would also help if there were more women in Congress. (Congress is 83% male.) It would also help if Republicans had more allegiance to taxpayers than Grover Norquist and that Democrats understood that the Golden Goose is getting tired. Reasonable people not only don’t want to run for office; gerrymandering of districts and the party system makes it near impossible for independent candidates to emerge.

    So, given the political situation, what is the way forward?

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