What’s wrong with this picture; or, is there something wrong with this picture? *UPDATED*

This picture showed up on my liberal friends’ posts at Facebook today:

As for me, over the past two years, I’ve been spending my time looking at this picture, or ones very similar:

The first image is about debt and the second is about deficit.  Is that the only difference?  Can someone please explain to me why the first one, which is circulating freely amongst liberals, makes it look as if Obama’s a piker when it comes to spending, while the other one, the chart conservatives drag out, makes it appear that Obama is very quickly driving us into the poor house?

What occurs to me looking at the first chart is that, fearsome red lines notwithstanding, the country was thriving under Reagan (and it did pretty well under Bush too).  Conversely, the country is struggling under Obama, despite that little blue 16% line.  Meanwhile, the second chart, which shows serious red Obama years coincides with serious economic despair in the country.

I know I’m being stupid and simplistic about this.  I can only blame a combination of economic ignorance and severe sleep deprivation (call it Insomnia “R” Us).

UPDATE:  You’re all correct (of course).  As this fact-check from PolitiFact shows, the chart falls into the lies, damn lies, and statistics category.  Thank you, cuneiandro, for the link.

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  • Marica

    Look at how the y-axis is labeled: % increase. It’s an old trick. 

    If I was $1 in debt, and you increased my debt by 1% raise, I’m now $1.01 in debt.

    If I was $10 in debt, and you increased by debt by 1% raise, I’m now $11 in debt There’s a big difference between 1 cent and 1 dollar, but in each case my debt increase 1% increase.

    That’s how O can look good here. We are lucky he does look good on that graph! 


  • Marica

    Sorry for the typos and such. Just not paying attention.

  • IndyGirl

    I question some of their figures too. There’s a Debt to the Penny Daily History Search on Treasury.Gov that provides exact figures on the debt. I got the same percentage for Clinton, but G.W. Bush came in at 86% (from 5.7 trillion to 10.6) and Obama has already hit 39% (from 10.6 trillion to 14.7) in two-and-a-half years. By comparison, Bush increased the debt 18% in his first two-and-a-half years. Plenty of blame to spread around, though, I’d say.

  • cerumendoc

    Percentage of what?  The debt was much smaller in 1980.  Or, to put it another way, if the debt was one dollar and you borrowed another dollar that would be a 100 percent increase.  You get the point.


    There are too many variables to plot out such simple charts. Let’s say a particular Congress passes legislation that fundamentally increases the debt for the next three or four administrations ….or longer. Who’s to blame, the party that passed it or the party that never attempted to do change it? Both? Does anyone actually really know the economic cost of September 11, 2001. I don’t mean the military costs, although there is certainly that, but the cost of safe-guarding infrastructure, bridges, ports, water, – these are continuing costs and they are not fixed. I am sure there are more variables, including the cost of regulations/rules/laws that have added to the over-all debt. 
    In the meantime…they are in possession of a stolen credit card and there’s not an agency or police force that has yet to wrestle it away from the thieves.


    Related to debt…
    Does anyone know if there is a FEMA equivalent anywhere else in the world?

  • Mike Devx

    Marica nails it.  When Reagan came into office, the debt to GDP ratio was very low.  He ran large deficits, so in raw numbers his INCREASE in the deficit was a very large percentage.

    In addition, Reagan and George W Bush ran large deficits for EIGHT years.  Obama for only two years so far.
    This graph is just doing raw addition. 

    A couple of points about Reagan: He was the first president to run deficits as structural policy.  I wonder if he were alive today, he would regret doing that the way he regretted leaving the Marines in those undefendable barracks in Lebanon.  Reagan also had to deal with a Democrat Congress.  These kinds of raw numbers are interesting when you run them on, not the Presidents in office, but who controls the House of Representatives. 

    A point about OUR favorite graph, which shows the shocking size of the Obama deficits: That graph does not adjust for inflation.  It should, because that would make THAT graph more honest.  In not adjusting for inflation, WHILE inviting direct comparison, it too is dishonest.  The size of the Reagan deficits in our favorite graph would double if inflation were accounted for.

  • BobK

    There are X-axis problems here as well.  President G.W. Bush’s increase in the debt is scored over his 8 year term (96 months in office); President Obama’s is scored over 27 months.  Using the corrected figures (thank you, IndyGirl!), President Obama’s rate of debt increase would result in an almost 270% gain scored over eight years.  Frightening.

    There are lies, damn lies and statistics…

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I knew you guys would have answers.  I routinely crumble when faced with charts, so I need all the help I can get.  I understand ideas, but charts overwhelm me!

  • Marica

    Book– I don’t post here often, but I read every word. Graphics are nothing more than, well, graphical representations of ideas. Look critically at graph titles, axes labels, increments on both axes  (as BobK notes) and so on and you will feel more comfortable with this vehicle. You do this with the written word– another way to represent ideas. 

    The take home point– for me– is how quickly your readers picked up on the problems. Did any of your lib fb friends see these same shortcomings?


  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    What an excellent question, Marica.  In fact, as best as I can tell, one of the things that distinguishes my liberal friends is how uncritical they are of things that purport to be scientific or mathematical data.  Put on something the imprimatur of science and it’s done as far as they’re concerned.  I may not always understand things, but I usually question them.

  • cuneiandro

    PolitiFact.com gave this chart the coveted “Pants On Fire” rating, commenting, “this chart is a failure.”  Heh.

  • Marica

    Many make the false assumption that all scientists are thoroughly rational agents engaged in objectively understanding the world. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Libs are wonderful cogs. They do as they are told. They say what they are told. And they think what they are told. Can you even imagine asking for something better to rule over?

  • Marica

    I’ll just leave one more comment and then retreat to the sidelines. What I just posted has very practical ramifications for folks interested in decreasing– is phasing out a better way to say this?– the size and scope of the federal government. I’m not super-duper knowledgeable about the history of NIH and NSF. Or NOAA, or NASA. Or NEtc.. But I have to wonder if some of these agencies, with all of the power of the purse that they now exert on academia and Big Business, shouldn’t be extinguished/phased out.  Just after Hurricane Irene,someone– I think it was Ian Murry?– did a nice post on why The National Weather Service was no longer needed.  The reliance– among us of all– on scientific “experts” is worrisome, especially when areas of expertise become more and more detailed– literally, smaller & smaller, and at the same time more and more complex– literally, bigger & bigger. There are few individuals who can have both of these sorts of expertises. They exist, but they are rare. And so we– smart folks who try as they might but can’t grow a bean or understand graphs– rely on collections of experts. Most of the experts come from academia, or are in the private sector and make sure that you know what their academic credentials are.  It is false that “all scientists are thoroughly rational agents engaged in objectively understanding the world.” It is true that our money goes to fund scientists, and the grant award process is highly politicized in some cases.  As a Libertarian who wants to be consistent, it’s hard for me to be consistent. Is it the proper function of federal government to charge citizens a fee to be paid to individuals who call themselves scientists, especially when what parades as science is so pathetic?

  • cuneiandro




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    C.S. Lewis was barking up the right tree when he said, “Who can endure a doctrine which would allow only dentists to say whether our teeth were aching, only cobblers to say our shoes hurt us, and only governments to tell us whether were were being well governed?”
    Check out this piece by Frank Tipler over at Pajamas Media regarding arguing from authority/over depending on “experts” instead of your own two eyes and common sense.

  • Marica

    From my corner and for the record, I inserted paragraph beaks. 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    paragraph breaks are hake tsu (Totally destroyed)ed by the preview function.

  • Charles Martel

    Marica, please don’t retreat to the corner for too long. You bring some good stuff to the table.

  • Danny Lemieux

    cuneiandro, that was a terrific link that every scientist wannabee should be forced to read as a class project.


  • Danny Lemieux

    Book:In fact, as best as I can tell, one of the things that distinguishes my liberal friends is how uncritical they are of things that purport to be scientific or mathematical data.  Put on something the imprimatur of science and it’s done as far as they’re concerned.  I may not always understand things, but I usually question them.”

    Which I think puts the finger squarely on one salient characteristic about the Liberal/Left that has puzzled me, which is their deep-seated  need to submit to authority. Which, if you think about it, also helps to explain their moth-and-flame-like fascination and flirtation with radical Islam and Left-wing dictators.

    Marica: “Many make the false assumption that all scientists are thoroughly rational agents engaged in objectively understanding the world. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.”

    I so totally have to agree with this. I was a graduate student (sciences) in the 1970s and saw the decline in quality and standards that was occurring in scientific departments throughout. Schools were handing out PhDs left and right to students that wanted to stay in the sciences not because of any deep curiosity about and desire to understand the world in which they lived, but because it offered a ticket to a cushy, free-living academic life free of any real accountability once they achieved tenures. Oh, and not to mention the money that could be made by writing authoritative sounding books (with a Ph.D or MD behind the author’s name) or hitting the talk-show circuits.

    At the time, demand for university professors was still very high. There were real scholars, of course, but there was also an excess of intellectual dreck.

    Marica…I agree with Charles M. Please stay engaged.


  • http://furtheradventuresofindigored.blogspot.com/ Indigo Red

    I was going to post “lies, damn lies, and statistics,” but that was used by Book first. I prefer the raw numbers to the per centages or raw+per centages. Per cent representations mean nothing without actual data. 80% of facts are only 50% right 30% of the time.

  • bizcor

    This must have come in an e-blast from the Obama newsletter because it has appeared on my FB page too. A long-time friend of mine drank the “Kool-Aid” in 08 and has been steadfast in her support for the “Obummer”. She cannot see past his façade. I know she subscribes to the Obama newsletter and I can tell when she has received one because this bunk will come up in a Facebook post. I don’t waste my time rebutting. I did in the beginning however, if I began to win the debate on points she would counter with something to the effect that Bush and/or Cheney should be tied to the Main Mast and flogged. This from a woman who bought a house she couldn’t afford, refinanced it three or four times to pay off debt she unwisely accumulated, and then when it all came crashing down, she threw the keys onto the living room floor, closed the door behind her, and fled to Hawaii. That’ll teach that nasty old bank. What nerve they have to expect repayment. Take that! One day shortly after the stimulus bill was passed I posted on my FB page this simple question. “Where does the money the government spends come from?” From her I got a rant about GW Bush. Never did she answer the question. In fact it took about 20 or so replys before someone finally said “Duh, from us.” The fact that we pay the bills doesn’t occur to far too many people. They think the government just comes up with the money on their own. They read things on the Daily Kos, or Move On .Org and just take it for granted. The rich must pay, the rich must pay. Thanks to all of you for your research in the matter. What a surprise that this chart originated in Nancy Pelosi’s office. “We have to pass this bill to know what is in this bill.”