The Five Best Historical Graphs from the New Budget Data

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One of the more interesting aspects of the release of the annual budget are updates to the historical tables, massive spreadsheets of data that show government spending stretching back decades. Here are five of the more interesting graphs that result.

Government spending, in dollars

This data comes from the table "Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits (-): 1789–2018." Which is isn't really — per year data is only available from 1901 on. But even that shows how much spending (outlays, in red) and income (receipts, in blue) have grown. The difference between the two (in yellow) gives the government a surplus or a deficit. (2013 data in all of the following graphs are estimates.)

If you're wondering about that pre-1900 data, from 1850 to 1900 the government spent about what it spent in 1942. Prior to 1850, it spent about what it spent in 1917.

Government spending, as a percentage of GDP

Given the regular growth of the American economy, viewing spending and receipts as a function of GDP can be more instructive.

Where the money comes from

Most of the government's receipts each year come from individual income taxes and what the government terms "social insurance and retirement."

Where the money goes

In this case, the data only goes back to 1976, but it demonstrates what the government has spent money on since then. Unsurprisingly, a lot of it goes to defense.

What the government builds

Also interesting: the government's capital project expenses. Most of it has gone to highways — just over half of all capital spending since 1941, in fact.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.