DEPT. OF MISLEADING VISUALS…. As part of the House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” pitch, the accompanying document includes this chart, which purports to show an increase in federal spending as a share of the economy.
As Alexander C. Hart noted, “At first, I looked at that graph and thought ‘Holy cow — President Obama is proposing to double the size of government!’ But then I saw the numbers at the top and bottom of the graph. The increase in government as a share of GDP looks so large only due to the fact that the box only ranges from 17 to 24. With that scale, even a small increase looks huge.”
So Hart prepared an alternative, which adjusts the y-axis to go from 0 to 100.
Ezra takes this one step further, noting the data only goes up to the low-20s, and re-graphs the numbers this way:
Any way you slice it, we’re talking about a modest 3.5% increase in government spending in relation to the size of the economy.
And just to emphasize an element of this that shouldn’t go overlooked, let’s note that this increase makes perfect sense. In early 2009, when President Obama took office, it was necessary to boost spending to prevent an economic collapse. Indeed, by most measures, the increase should have been larger, not smaller.
House Republicans, in other words, are peddling a dishonest graph — with a grammatical error — to raise an observation that doesn’t make any policy sense. Other than that, it’s fine.