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An artful look at death and taxes

Knowledge of how your taxes are spent is essential to being a responsible citizen. But that doesn't mean the acquisition of that knowledge has to be boring.

That's the philosophy of Jess Bachman, creator of "Death and Taxes," the representational graph (below) of the federal discretionary budget. I ran across an earlier version of his visual budget last year (noted here), and was thrilled to learn that Bachman has updated it and that he plans to keep doing so.


Bachman is quick to point out the use of the word discretionary. It describes that portion of the budget that is approved annually at the discretion of the U.S. Congress. At his Website,, Bachman says he decided to depict the discretionary budget because:

  1. Since it has to be annually reauthorized, Congress has more control to move figures around.
  2. It is "where all the action is. All the cabinet level departments and agencies that people commonly think of as 'the government' are in the discretionary budget."
  3. Finally, practicality came into play. In order to fit the amount of detail into the 6 square feet needed for the graph, only the discretionary budget would fit. (Click here to see photos of a gigantic version of "Death and Taxes" at the Department of Energy.)

By following the money, Bachman says he hopes "Death and Taxes" will make us ask questions about where Congress is using our tax money and, more importantly, why so much of it goes to some areas of government more than to others.

Budgetgraphtagline_1 A few numerical notes: What's government intelligence worth? I know, priceless ... if you can find any. The actual amount, right now, is $44 billion. Other notable expenditures:

  • $54.411 billion for the Department of Education;
  • Deathandtaxesclassified_1 $67.702 billion for the Department of Transportation (just over $42 billion for highways, just under $13 billion for aviation); and
  • The Treasury Department gets $11.6 billion, with $10.591 billion of that going to the IRS to help it collect money from the rest of us.

You can get an up close and personal look at "Death and Taxes" at this viewer version page. Use the controls at the bottom of the page to increase or decrease the size of the image.


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