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Infographic of the Day: Compare Your Tax Priorities to the Government’s

Unless you’re an incredible procrastinator, you’ve completed your taxes recently. Even if you got a refund, looking at that W-2 makes you think that the government takes a lot of your money. Which leads to the annual question: What are they actually doing with that money, besides paying for congressmen’s pizza during late-night negotiating sessions.

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Unless you’re an incredible procrastinator, you’ve completed your taxes recently. Even if you got a refund, looking at that W-2 makes you think that the government takes a lot of your money. Which leads to the annual question: What are they actually doing with that money, besides paying for congressmen’s pizza during late-night negotiating sessions.

In actuality it goes to pay for many things–two wars, lots of unemployment, Medicare–that really need paying for. And this infographic breaks it down exactly, based on your salary and filing status:

This graphic, by Mark Won, Salil Jain, Carl Ng, was created for the Google Data Visualization contest on taxes. It’s one of the six finalists–winners were announced Friday. You start the graphic by ranking your spending priorities. The graphic then lines up how you would like the government to spend its money with how it actually does. For instance, suppose I don’t care much about the national debt, and care a lot about social and health programs. Here is what I get:

 

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Not so aligned. From there, you can see how much of your own tax dollars were spent on each sector of the government, and even find out how the budget for each sector’s funding has changed. Here is the spending on health:

And then you can see how that spending has changed, relative to other parts of the government. For instance, health spending has risen almost constantly–though its leveled off this year–while defense spending, after a post-Cold War dip, has risen dramatically:

The graphic is based on a physics engine that has each ball float to the top of the screen. It can get confused if all the balls are the same size (if you compare everything to a large expense, like defense). But perhaps its most helpful feature is to show anyone who thinks this country is suddenly headed in the wrong direction that we’re going–spending-wise, at least–in the same direction we’ve been going since 1984.

Nearly all spending is constant, except for a few big bumps in 2008 as a result of the stimulus. Except for a defense budget (the biggest line item) that cooled for a while before exploding again, and some differences in our debt payment, we are mostly funding everything at the same ratios. And if you’re angry that we spend too much on foreign aid or the environment? It turns out, we don’t actually do that. Can’t you spare those $15?

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About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Impact section, formerly FastCoExist.com. Have an idea for a story? You can reach him at mclendaniel [at] fastcompany.com

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