Saturday’s Guardian has an interesting two page graphic (that doesn’t seem to be online) showing where the government spends its money. I spent ages exploring it… and after a while it started raising a whole heap of questions …
Is a billion a British billion or an American billion? Whenever I’m faced with a billion I get a nagging doubt that I really know how much money is really being talked about. Can anyone put me right on this, I’m assuming we mean a thousand million?
Why don’t the blobs add up to the full amount? Showing sub-blobs AS WELL as the aggregate blobs can visually seem to artificially increase the area displayed (I think, but I’m not sure). Maybe the sub-blobs should be seen as holes in the parent blob.
Does anybody know the “real” figures and are they even diagrammable? I spotted a footnote that says that lots of departments receive income and so the blobs are scewed slightly. I started to feel less confident about the “reality” of the diagram. True to form, some of the blobs have spelling errors (we spend £7.6 nillion on the Navy apparently… I’m assuming a nillion is nearly a million).
I’d like to throw the spending on Wales and Scotland into one blob collection, which leads to the question of where the interactive version (like this one) of this is? I really want to throw the diagram’s blobs around, maybe comparing defence with everything else. Comparing what has been spent on the Iraq war (£1.4bn) to what was spent on our railways (£1.0bn) is a thought that will stick in my mind.
After “reading” this beautiful and slightly flawed image for a while I got the feeling that not only do I not have the ability to easily assimilate this sort of information, I also get the feeling that maybe nobody does. I also want to have a bash at making it easier to understand. It would be good if these were “live” figures, verifiable and believable and somehow become part of the political process. I’d love an interview where the chart was centre stage rather than MPs interpretation of statics which always leads inevitably to nonsense.
So come on Guardian, as well as publishing the image (I’d quite like to buy a poster too by the way) why not also publish the graphic file (so I can move things around) AND the spreadsheet that holds the data (and maybe more). Mashups don’t grow on trees you know.