Figures Don’t Lie…But…

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You may recall Tuesday’s post, which feature the above chart from GOP defense-budget analysts on Capitol Hill. Those cuts sure look huge, right? A mathematically-inclined reader points out that it’s not as bad as it looks. Check out the chart’s vertical axis, and note that the distance between zero dollars and $450 billion is the same as the distance between $450 billion and $500 billion. That makes the cuts look 10 times bigger than they actually are because so much of the base budget — all that money below $450 billion — has been compressed.

“The defense budget is frequently the subject of numerous old and tired display gimmicks,” explains Capitol Hill veteran budget analyst Winslow Wheeler. “In this case, the number-cookers on the HASC staff cut off $400 billion — or about 50% — in Pentagon spending to make 10% changes on the top appear to be huge.” When we were kids, we used to call these “optical illusions.” Nowadays, it’s called “analysis.”