Visualizing Where Your Taxes Go


With DC embroiled in budget battles and April 18 fast approaching, a lot of Americans are thinking about where their federal tax dollars go. Most of us have no clue, as shown by the recent CNN survey in which respodents guessed that NPR accounts for 5 percent of goverment spending (wrong—it’s more like 0.01 percent) and foreign aid gets 10 percent (try 0.6 percent).

Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?For an informative and visually interesting look at how your taxes really break down, check out the six finalists from the recent Data Viz Challenge sponsored by What We Pay For. The most creative is Budget Climb, an interactive game that uses a Microsoft Kinect motion controller so you run around a virtual world made of 26 years of budget data. If you don’t want to work up a sweat, a better place to start is Anil Kandangath’s Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?, a straightforward site that asks you for your income, estimates your income and payroll taxes, and then shows your personal contribution to the federal budget in an Excelerrific (functional but not pretty) pie chart.

Can I Get a Receipt With That?Can I Get a Receipt With That?There’s also some clever stuff in the entries that didn’t make the final cut. My favorite may be Can I Get a Receipt With That?, which generates a cash-register receipt for your tax bill—and can convert the bill into alternative currencies such as Big Macs and Starbucks coffees. For example, the 2010 tax bill for a typical American family earning $50,000 comes out to about 1,752 Chipotle burritos. From that, the feds spent about 2,811 bottles of Bud Light on defense, 244 packs of cigarettes on Medicare, and 13 Red Bulls on energy spending. Unfortunately, it does not show how many decaf soy lattes went to NPR.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest