The Enemy Amongst Us

Perhaps the greatest danger now facing NATO and US troops in Afghanistan is the age-old wolf in sheep’s clothing, the insurgent dressed in Afghan Army fatigues. As the graphic below shows, the number of fatalities has been increasing along with the number of attacks. The silver lining in the cloud (to mix metaphors) is that the average lethality of the attacks is on the decline as fewer ISAF soldiers are killed per attack.

Better, Safer Driving

Hannah Fairfield at the New York Times created a great infographic a few years ago that looked at the history of the price of gasoline and how many miles, on average, an American drove in a car per year. The piece told some rather interesting stories starting in the 1950s with the explosion of the suburb, interstate highways, and car ownership. The energy crises of the late 1970s and early 1980s provided a spike that eventually subsided for the 1990s and early 2000s when the United States was the dominant economic power and the only country that really consumed that much gasoline. (I remember those days well for that was when I first started filling my own car’s gas tank. How great $1.xx/gal gas was.)

Earlier this week she returned in a similar fashion to look at driver safety over time. The metrics were average annual miles driven and the number of auto fatalities per 100,000 people. Segments of time characterised by a common theme, story, or technology are highlighted and the annotated to explain the change from the previous time period. It’s a rich story that walks the reader through the history of the American auto experience since World War II.

Driving safety
Driving safety

Credit for the piece goes to Hannah Fairfield.

The Growth of the Non-payers of Federal Income Tax

Today will be an unusual day in that it shall have two posts. This first post is following up on yesterday’s about the 47% of Americans who do not pay federal income tax. The Earned Income Tax Credit was created to incentivise people to work. A tax on your income, after all, does the opposite. Why make more money when you pay more of it to the government? By not taxing the poorest Americans, you remove that pressure and instead push the poor towards working for the things they can now purchase. And in so doing, one reduces the level of poverty as those who were poor slowly pull themselves up by their cliched bootstraps.

This is not a liberal idea. One of the earliest proponents of the idea behind the Earned Income Tax Credit programme was none other than Milton Friedman whose laissez-faire economic policies can hardly be called in line with the Democratic platform. And as the following timeline from the New York Times illustrates, the expansion of tax credits like the EITC have generally been largest under Republican administrations.

How the EITC increased the rolls of those who pay no federal income tax
How the EITC increased the rolls of those who pay no federal income tax

Consequently, the implication in Governor Romney’s dinner that the growth has been Democratic is incorrect. In fact, much of the growth behind this “taker” society can be attributed to Republican policies in previous administrations. We should debate whether Friedman-like policies, but we shouldn’t accept candidates’ placement of blame when it is so broadly applied.

Tax policy is an important part of a nation’s fiscal and economic health. We should have these debates. But we should have these debates understanding the facts. Not false “facts”. Not opinionated “facts”. Not invented “facts”. We should hold our candidates to arguing with the facts. Campaigns need not be driven by facts. Campaigns can be driven by broader narratives. But when policies and platforms are scrutinised, they should hold up to the facts.

The 47%

This is the year of the percentages. From 99 to 47. Earlier this week, Mother Jones revealed via a secretly recorded dinner Mitt Romney as claiming that he doesn’t care about the 47% of people who do not pay income tax. He probably meant that he doesn’t care about getting their vote rather than caring for them as people, but regardless of his intention his statement did not sound good. This 47% are people who are dependent on government, or as Romney’s vice presidential candidate would say, they are “takers”. But is this true?

The great thing about news stories and infographics is that as time progresses, one has more opportunities to find data to back stories and arguments. The day of the breaking news, CNN published this simple pie donut chart. Crude, but given the breaking news it is effective.

Federal Income Tax Payers
Federal Income Tax Payers

It proves that Romney was correct, that 47% of people do not pay income taxes. But, it also proves that Romney was at best glossing over the details or at worst manipulating the people listening into thinking that 47% of people do not pay taxes. It may be only 0.9% of Americans who do not pay any taxes. Furthermore, retirees and young people often do not earn income with which to pay taxes. If retired senior citizens are “takers”, I suppose Romney does not want the elderly vote so often important to the Republican base.

But news stories evolve and more statistics become available. A few days later, the New York Times published a longer infographic piece, with below a cropping of the overall.

The Tax Burden by Income Group
The Tax Burden by Income Group

It expands upon the nature of the story and breaks down the actual tax burden of the American public. It is far more nuanced that Romney stated back in May (the original recording of the video). The poorest Americans do not pay federal income taxes, they have the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that is designed to deal with poverty, especially amongst families with children. It is, very simply, what one would call a tax credit incentivising work. The poorest Americans, however, still must pay payroll taxes and then state and local taxes. In percentage terms, the poorest Americans pay more to their states and local governments than do the wealthiest Americans, who in turn have the greater burden at the federal level. It is worth noting that many government programmes, local schools for example, are often funded at the state and local level.

The problem with Mitt Romney’s argument on taxes is that he wants to cut taxes at the highest income brackets and cut the social safety net programmes for the lowest brackets. We already have evidence that such policies do not correlate with economic growth. They instead correlate to a worsening gap between the wealthy and the poor. Think the 1920s rather than the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

Tax policy is worth discussing. It is worth debating. But we should do so on the facts. I cannot recall the politician who spoke these words, but as someone once said, “you are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.”

Credit for the pieces go to Susie Poppick (CNN) and the New York Times.

Made in the USA. Exported to Mexico.

We trade a lot with China. Everyone knows that. But people might not realise that both Canada and Mexico are also among our largest trading partners. (I suppose it helps that they are both right next door.) Mexico is the second-largest importer of US goods after Canada. (China is third.) The Washington Post looked at which states are exporting the most to Mexico and what their largest exports happen to be.

Exporting to Mexico
Exporting to Mexico

Credit for the piece goes to Wilson Andrews, Emily Chow, and Bill Webster.

How Has the Democratic Party Changed

This past weekend the Washington Post published an infographic looking at how the Democratic Party has demographically changed over time and compared those changes to those in the Republican Party. The piece is large, but shows some interesting trends particularly with the racial diversification of the political parties—or lack thereof. It is an important trend when considering the white population is growing at much slower pace than minority groups.

Democratic Party trends
Democratic Party trends

The Second Battle of Bull Run or The Second Battle of Manassas. Take Your Pick.

So the battle has two different names, but it was undoubtedly bloody. The Washington Post created an infographic exploring this important battle of the Civil War that led to a bloody Union defeat.

Second Bull Run
Second Bull Run

Credit for the piece goes to Gene Thorp, Brenna Maloney, Laura Stanton, and Don Troiani.

Red Sox–Dodgers Trade

There was a lot of news this past weekend. So we’ll start with the important stuff first. An infographic about the big baseball trade between my Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The advantage of a story breaking over the weekend is time to get something together for Monday.

The Red Sox–Dodgers Trade
The Red Sox–Dodgers Trade

Obama Administration Failing on Mortgage Modifications

Today’s post features a Sankey diagram from the New York Times that looks at how the Obama administration has been failing to help homeowners with mortgage problems. Less than 25% of applicants have seen successful modifications of their home loans. The diagram here clearly shows the process and the failures that have led to so many Americans not receiving the help they sought.

Sankey
Sankey

Credit for the piece goes to Alicia Parlapiano.

World Bank—Mobile Phones

A little while ago the World Bank, generally a rich-country club that doles out loans to the developing world, published an infographic looking at mobile phones and their presence in the developing world.

The piece supplemented a report and is rather large. It actually exists as two separate images. The cropping below focuses just on how people in the developing world use mobile phones. Overall the piece is a bit weak in terms of data visualisation types and some of it is a bit confusing, but the story is clearly worth telling. And fortunately there are more hits than misses.

Developing world usage
Developing world usage