PBy Justin Wolfers

Here’s an interesting example of how different graphical presentations of the same data can hit the eye differently. First, an explanation of the likely distributional impacts of the McCain and Obama tax plans, from The Washington Post:


Compare this with the depiction at chartjunk, which presents the same data, but this time with a scale that also emphasizes the number of people in each category:


It looks like it tells a different story, doesn’t it?

Here’s a third chart that gives emphasis to the total tax paid by each group rather than the number of people in each group. (Note that the numbers here are only approximate.)


You will surely protest that this scaling exaggerates the importance of the rich, which it does. But if you are concerned about balancing the budget, the rich are very important. The chart above does a useful job of trying to assess whether (and how) each tax plan pays for itself. (This chart would be more useful if it weighted people by their taxable incomes rather than their tax burdens.)

For those who prefer to see the raw numbers, the latest Tax Policy Center analysis was released on Friday, and is available here. (Note that the charts above were based on their previous analysis.) More generally, I highly recommend the Tax Policy Center analysis; it is careful, non-partisan, and broadly accepted by professional economists.