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Charts and graphs that will finally make it clear

This is a great day for political communication in America. And not because the White House is putting Austen Goolsbee, its CEA director, in an embeddable video, and not because of his message, or tone, or some jab a speechwriter thought up. It's because they're embracing the use of charts and graphs in political communication.

C'mon, Mr. President. If it's good enough for your CEA director, it's good enough for you.

By Ezra Klein  | September 30, 2010; 10:03 AM ET
 
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Comments

Big fan of the Postal Service, eh Ezra?

Posted by: ncgators | September 30, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

The charts and graphs without the tone and message would not work. Goolsbee's easy manner and clarity, together with the graph make for an effective presentation.

But beware the overuse of charts and graphs. H. Ross Perot anyone? The administration that resorts to too many charts and graphs risks ridicule.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | September 30, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Does he really want or need to enhance his dispassionate, professorial image?

On the other hand, if the economic numbers keep improving...

Posted by: tuber | September 30, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

How do you make the case to someone, like me, who refuses to see tax cuts as a "cost" or "expense" to the government? I appreciate that it's revenue that the government doesn't have, but that doesn't make it a cost. If it's a cost, it's "costing" the government because we don't have a 5o% bracket like we did in the 80s or a 70% bracket like we did in the 60s.


Posted by: NoVAHockey | September 30, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

"C'mon, Mr. President. If it's good enough for your CEA director, it's good enough for you."

You are right Ezra, we are eagerly looking for that day.

Credit is to you Ezra as well to bring some sanity in policy & political communication - bringing more charts and diagrams. With Internet, the whole way people are going to communicate is changing. It is more visual. What do you expect in the age of iPods and iPads?

And that is the point with this President - treat Americans as adults; talk with them with these figures and diagrams because that is how 'everyday America communicates today'.

Peggy Noonans of the world and Elder Villagers in DC (including your newspaper) will for sure criticize that 'will it not further distance this President from Americans' and that is what one comment is. True, that risk is there; but reality is such method is more prevalent in today's America than 'Good Morning in America' sweet talk of by-gone era. In anycase it will be stupid to bring such cheap Hollywood talk to America when as a nation we all are struggling to stop our descend into a Third World Country.

We Americans combine all roles in our Presidency (Commander-in-Chief, Fed Gov Head / CEO, Prime Minster who gets legislative victories and navigates Fed Budget and then finally Chief-in-Vision render-er). But if Obama wants to keep the relevance of WH in America's Life in years to come; he will need to be ruthless in 'down sizing' these expectations of Oval Office.

What better way of doing that than the Leader of Free World starting to talk and communicate in Charts and Diagrams? Do it Mr. President and thanks Ezra for keep asking it.

Posted by: umesh409 | September 30, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

NoVAHocke: Here's how this tax cut is a 'cost'. People like you REFUSE to see appropriate budget cuts to offset the loss in revenue. Oh you'll say cute things like "Let's get rid of 6M dollar bridges to nowhere" "Let's cut welfare".... all meaningless without a serious discussion on what we are getting rid of in the military budget and how we are going to control Medicare spending in the next 15 years as the babyboomers retire. Cuts and controlled growth (i.e. technically a cut!) will be required in both to bring the debt under control. So pick your poison: Raise tax rates, slash defense spending or cut Medicare benefits. OR apply all three in a reasonable manner and pray that the economy can grow out of this mess in 8-10 years.

The problem with the country today is people like you. A bunch of cry-baby whiners that think the multitude of responsibilities that WE the 'effing People want our government to assume are paid for with rainbows, sunshine and tax cuts.

Posted by: atomicleo | September 30, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I fully endorse the use of graphs, but this one is a little misleading. According to this article from the CBPP (and it was the first one I was able to pull, so correct me where I am wrong on these numbers but they shouldn't be materially off), 84.7% of the tax cuts went to people making less than $1 million a year. When I look at the volume of the bubbles, this is not born out in the graph. It distorts this fact by using the diameter as the variable and not the volume. When humans perceive bubbles like this you don't notice the diameter as much as the volume. Thus, it makes the tax cuts to the >$1M club look much much bigger.

For example, if you have two bubbles, one of them is 2x the diameter of the other it is 4x the volume (do the math/pie*radius squared). So put the two next to each other and the bigger one look 4 times bigger, but the comparative variable is only 2x bigger.

This distortion is magnified by the fact that Goolsbee broke up the $1M, it would look much different.

Oh, and before I get pummeled by other commenters, I agree with the conclusion of the tape, but not the justification.

Posted by: chrisheatonspam | September 30, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"How do you make the case to someone, like me, who refuses to see tax cuts as a "cost" or "expense" to the government?"

You seldom see someone so willing to say, "I'm a doofus" so openly and without embarrassment. It's kind of refreshing.

Posted by: steveh46 | September 30, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

"The problem with the country today is people like you. A bunch of cry-baby whiners that think the multitude of responsibilities that WE the 'effing People want our government to assume are paid for with rainbows, sunshine and tax cuts."

well, when you put it like that, I can't wait to endorse your policies and be part of your proposed solutions.

I don't post frequently, but I've pretty consistent in the call for cuts. Like draconian, the government has no business funding this at all style cuts. And I'd start with your list -- military and Medicare. like phase out Medicare.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | September 30, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

NoVAHockey, technically, I think you're right. Reduction of revenue is not a cost, it's a reduction of revenue. The cost associated with a reduction of revenue is the amount of the budget which is no longer funded. If we continue spending money on programs but cut the funding, we're spending money that's no longer coming in.

But a tax cut isn't like a reduction in revenues caused by an economic downturn, where fewer people are earning less and therefore paying less taxes. A tax cut is an intentional act of the government. If that act is not offset by reductions in spending, then that decision has the cost of the increase to the deficit. If I quit my job and stop making payments on my credit card, but keep charging things, the decision to quit my job may not be buying something, but the degree to which is unbalances my budget is a cost of that decision. Perhaps we'll decide that a temporary increase in the deficit is warranted (maybe I quit my job and am unemployed for a couple weeks before starting a newer, better job, thus the unemployment is justified).

Cutting taxes without offsetting the cuts with reductions in spending causes the deficit to increase. That's a cost that we need justify and which we can't ignore, and it's completely irresponsible of conservatives to lobby for tax cuts and completely ignore the relationship between the programs we have and the taxes that pay for them.

Posted by: MosBen | September 30, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

"like phase out Medicare."

Great, that's a little deeper than your previous statement. Now tell me what happens to the 77 year old with chronic conditions? Are insurers going to line up to sell him/her a policy?

Posted by: steveh46 | September 30, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

NoVAHockey, I appreciate that there are principled conservatives out there that believe tax cuts should go hand in hand with spending cuts. Those people, however, either don't exist in the current Republican Party or don't care about their convictions enough to risk the wrath of either their leadership or the voters. People like social programs. Maybe not everyone likes every program, but every pretty much every program has people that like it, which makes cutting programs hard. Cutting taxes, however, is easy. Nobody likes paying taxes, and evidently there are few enough people that care about the deficit as their primary issue that cutting taxes is super popular.

Dems have some deficit "hawks" in their camp that are hypocritical on spending cuts, but they're vastly out numbered by the number of hypocrits on the Republican side, who claim that the deficit is this huge, primary problem for the country and then do nothing to address it other than railing off a few low cost programs with funny sounding names. Tax cuts simply don't "starve the beast", leading to smaller government, so championing tax cuts that aren't passed with offsets isn't the first step in some kind of government-shrinking strategy. It's just an attempt to grab some votes and a totally irresponsible way to govern.

Posted by: MosBen | September 30, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"what happens to the 77 year old with chronic conditions?"

briefly, i think you have to give people decades to save in either an IRA or HSA style plan, so you slowly increase the eligibility age (say, if you're currently 55, you keep the current system), with a lock-in period (meaning that if the age goes up every year or so, once you hit, say 60, the eligibility age at that time is set for you) so the goal posts don't keep moving on you as you near retirement.

I also think you need to really make sure people know what they are signing up for when they decide to keep seeking medical care, rather than palliative care at an advanced age. Personally, I volunteer as an EMT, and there's no way I'm going to do that to myself or my family if I'm fortunate enough to make it 80+. Run a bunch of tests, spend my last days (years) in a hospital? just to die anyway? pass.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | September 30, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

This really disappoints me. Here the #1 economic adviser to the president is using a visual trick (you can't compare two circles by diameter, you have to use area - see previous post) to distort a partisan argument. Is this the kind of clear-headed advice that Obama is getting? Maybe this is why Obama has such a bad reputation for economic thought.

I've created another graph using the same data that Austin G. uses but turning the same visual trick against him - it's not pretty, but the point is made:

https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B3z_4V_IpmxGNjY5ZmM4MmMtZDA4YS00NmQ0LTk3OWItYmM3YjI5YmU0M2Ji&sort=name&layout=list&num=50

If I saw a Republican using this, I would hope to see Klein rip him a new one for a distorted use of graphs. Yet, he's commending this nonsense and asking for more. Very disappointing Mr. Klein.

Again, I agree with the policy, this graph is horrid.

Posted by: chrisheatonspam | September 30, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I honestly think that Obama showing some graphs of long-term deficit growth broken down by spending type (i.e. showing disproportionate growth in Medicare and Medicaid) during his big speech would have made a real difference in the health care debate. No joke! A single visual aid like that might have been all that was needed for the American people to "get it" and why HCR was essential for, rather than detrimental to, deficit reduction.

Posted by: madjoy | September 30, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The blobs have to be in motion. For correct size blobs, see here:
http://www.youtube.com/leearnold#p/u/4/SA1f2MefsMM

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | September 30, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I admit that this is small, but I can't help but notice that Goolsbee's using a Smart Board all wrong: He took the "fancy" pens and eraser off (which work great when connected to a laptop and with an image projected onto it), replaced them with standard white board markers, and wrote on it.

He might as well have saved the money, and just used a white board. Or he could have stepped into the 21st century.

Posted by: jeblackstone | September 30, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

ncgators: I'm a big fan of the postal service! especially it costs about half as much as UPS or fedex.

Posted by: SnowleopardNZ | October 1, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

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