Death And Taxes 2011: Gobsmacking Visual Of Where All Your Tax Dollars Go

Death and Taxes 2011 is here! Jess Bachman is famed for his annual poster where he spends two months researching and creating a visual representation of where your taxes go. The result is a stunning six-foot poster that boggles the mind. Now in it’s 4th year, the poster has over 500 departments, agencies, programs, and whatever else the government can spend money on. “It is still the single most open and accessable record of government spending ever created,” says its creator. After the jump, here is this year’s version in full!

Jess writes, “I am trying to spread an ethos of DIY government oversight and general budget awareness. Consumerist readers are quite savvy in how their money is spent, but i bet most of them have no idea how the their largest single expenditure is used. Their taxes! The issue is so complicated and overwhelming, that people just think of it as a black hole, the money goes to the the ‘gov’ment’ and they do ‘whatever’ with it. But it doesn’t have to be like that. With a little knowledge we can be as savvy with your personal expenses as we are with our government expenses.

Death & Taxes is a great entry into how the trillions of our dollars are used. And its for 2011, so there is still plenty of time to get pissed off and do something about it”

So take a peek. What’s the craziest or most surprising expenditure you can find?

Death And Taxes 2011 [Official Site]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Megalomania says:

    Social security is a massive, pointless drain on the budget. It’s a tax everyone is used to paying, so why not stop giving handouts to people and repurpose the funds to things that benefit everyone instead of the people who were lucky enough to live to 65.

    • EverCynicalTHX says:

      Obviously YOU haven’t been paying into it for the past 30+ years…

      • nbs2 says:

        And thus the reason it can never be killed..

        Remember folks – once an entitlement, always an entitlement. You can always mortgage the future to pay for the present.

        • kabamm says:

          It’s not a fricking entitlement. It’s a sustainable pay-as-you-go insurance plan.

          • Megalomania says:

            It is not sustainable. The system is going to topple in the next 20 years while we sit here today pretending that it won’t. We can either deal with it now and have time to plan for what we will do, or we can wait for it to collapse on top of us and then make bad, desperate choices.

            Oh, I forgot that no one will ever get elected promising a better 20 years from now, because we don’t like it when big problems require solutions taking more than an election cycle.

            • ARP says:

              I agree, but for the same reason we can’t fix long term problems, we also can’t make a few easy fixes to put SS in the black in perpetuity. The two easiest fixes are:

              1) Index the retirement age to the average life span. For example, X lifespan-8 years is retirement age. The reason SS was able to operate in the black for so long was that it was better tied to the average lifespan. Of course, since the elderly are among the most reliable voting demographics, no politician is going to suggest raising the retirement age again

              2) Remove the tax cap and allow SS to tax all income, not just up to X. This is too popular with the Trickle downers and won’t get changed either.

          • gjones77 says:

            You do realize that Social Security is now paying out more than it’s taking in right?

            You do know that it’s now 6 Billion in the red?

            Guess your argument just went to hell real fast…


            • ktetch says:

              That would be Income(revenue, $654B) V Outgoing(benefits, $660B), right?

              It ignores other income like the $118Billion in interest (on what’s in the fund)
              If you look at that page a little closer, you’ll see there’s actually a $137BILLION *SURPLUS* this year. Put another way, it’s actually int he black by almost 23x as much as you claim it’s in the red.

              Basically, over the next 10 years, the amount of income (less interest) is roughly the same as all expenses (see the line ‘primary surplus’). The fund keeps growing year on year due to the interest on those funds in the account. From $2.5Trillion now, to almost 3.8trillion in 2020. A 50% increase over 10 years to the tune of $1.3Trillion, is not what I’d call ‘in the red’

              *ahem* “Guess your argument just went to hell real fast…”
              … and using the link you provided to make your point.

              Tell me, did you even look at the figures, or just had the link passed on by someone else?

      • Megalomania says:

        That matters how? I said it should be repurposed, not removed. Whether or not what I suggested ever came to pass, I would be paying it for the next thirty years regardless.

    • outshined says:

      It’s astounding to me that when someone dies, not only is the current wife (widow) entitled to his Social Security, but the unmarried ex-wife gets some cash as well. I can’t believe this law exists.

    • Mecharine says:

      This is very difficult , and thus such a generalization is often useless. Social security was created because corporations had handed off responsibility for the welfare of their employees to the government. This was market crash after market crash ruined most of the United States in the early 20th century. Now, companies often have no pension plans , and thus people who worked their have not much to look forward to after retirement.

      Now, you’ll say that people should save their money. The assumption that you’re making is that income is proportional to living expenses. If was proportional, saving money would work. But, this assumption is wrong. The cost of caring for elderly is the same whether rich or poor. The difference is the available money. A rich person can afford to take care of a seriously ill parent, where as a poor individual would be lucky to pay for burial.

      So in essence, costs are the same,but available resources are not. Thats what Social Security was supposed to do, provide for that gap (along with medicare and medicaid).

      Now, when people talk about entitlements, they are often vague and confused about what they are talking about. Ideologically, to these people, any sort of entitlement is wrong. If you consider entitlements in a pragmatic sense, though, it would be different.

      Pragmatically, the only way to reduce the cost of the poor and elderly is to have the population pay for it. This would provide a steady fund that can be apportioned over time. The goal then is to make sure the elderly do not burden the state by giving them the resources to care for themselves (money to pay for meds or hospices), as emergency care for elderly costs more human resources that could be used on those who are more likely to survive.


      In summary, entitlement programs only seem like a bad idea till you realize its much more expensive without them.

      • Megalomania says:

        Arguing about entitlement programs in general is very different from arguing about social security. While social security is an entitlement program, it is not representative of all entitlement programs by a long shot. With some things, it makes perfect sense to spread the costs among society; Welfare, in its concept of providing assistance to the working poor and ensuring that children are able to learn and eventually become productive contributors to society, is completely reasonable. Social security, giving money to those who are no longer working and contributing to society, is not.

        Yes, people should save, and yes, those at the bottom of the economic pile cannot save proportionally to those even in the middle. But entitlement programs should be assisting them increase their earning potential at or before that point rather than paying them once they stop earning altogether.

        The US has one of, if not the, highest per-capita incomes, and with our higher standard of living comes higher expenses. But in order to sustain that and grow, the labor pool needs to shift to skilled labor. Entitlement programs should exist to ease that shift, and paying out to those who have never made that shift seems completely contrary towards what is helpful towards society.

    • [MG]LooseCannon says:

      Social Security only appears in the budget (it isn’t PART of the budget, it was created to be independent of it) so that you won’t notice that 40 cents of ever tax dollar is spent on “National Defense”.

      • Megalomania says:

        The money collected in social security is shifted from one pocket to another and any surplus immediately goes out the window to cover deficit spending, because the government issues special bonds to the trust fund so that it owes itself money and can spend social security taxes on other programs. A beautiful act of self delusion.

    • evnmorlo says:

      Almost everyone will receive cash from SS. Any plan you have to “re-purpose” the money is unlikely to benefit more people. Maybe people in your family die young, but it doesn’t take much luck to live to 65.

      • Megalomania says:

        If you believe that in 20-30 years Social Security as it exists now will still be around and paying out similarly, you are willfully ignoring the population curve. By re-purposing, I mean covering our deficit spending of recent years and paying down debt rather than handing it out to anyone who has gotten to be old enough.

        • ktetch says:

          The population curve is actually in SS’s favour.

          You pay now, to get later. The populatin is ‘growing’ so more people are paying in now, than are taking out now. Consequently, in later years, when those paying in now are taking out then, there are still more paying in then, than are paying in now.

          There’s plenty of documentation about all this, please try reading some. Your comment is as knowledgeable and accurate as Bush’s when he was pushing to privatise SS, saying it was just based on some ‘documents in a filing cabinet’, and that people should go private, and get some treasury bonds to invest in. That’s the same treasury bonds SS is invested in (for those, like Megalomania, that have been to the Enron school of Fiscal management)

          • huadpe says:

            It’s not about absolute population, but relative.

            That is, the proportion of social security recipients to social security taxees.

            If the number of taxees is rising relative to recipients, then the system will be able to maintain itself and even expand benefits. If the number of taxees is falling relative to the number of recipients, then the system will need to reduce benefits.

            The population could increase in ways that effect either end. Longer lifespans would increase population, and also increase the number of recipients. High immigration or high birthrates would increase the number of taxees (at least until they retired).

            • thedude says:

              Isn’t that the issue with Baby Boomers? They will hit SS age and start collecting benefits while the wage earning population will be relatively smaller, creating added pressure on the wage earners to fund the system.

              When I went to grad school, I took a class taught by a former head of the SEC. When we were discussing Ponzi schemes and how they operate, I posed the question – how does SS differ from a Ponzi scheme (and went down the checklist for a Ponzi scheme)? His response was that the only difference is that SS is exempt because it’s run by the government.

          • Megalomania says:

            The population increasing or decreasing is irrelevant. Two (extreme) scenarios demonstrating why:

            Everyone over 40 dies. The population decreases drastically, but it benefits social security in terms of the population curve (at least a couple generations)

            No one ever dies. The population will never decrease, but social security is wrecked as everyone who ever starts taking money out will continue doing so forever

            Although I hate to refer to wikipedia, you can check out the ever popular, factual, graph of the US broken down by age demographic; – it is, you will note, from the 2000 census, but the huge bulge in the then-40 to 50 year olds is hardly something you can just ignore. That IS the population curve, and it does not favor social security.

            At any rate, I’m glad you gave your actual data instead of just claiming you had data and making up insults to hide it – oh, wait, that’s what you did after all, isn’t it…

            • ktetch says:

              ok, how about this, the SSa’s projections, using the intermediate assumptions, show full payout until 2037, and then reducing payouts to cover expenses. This figure shows the funded V unfunded obligation in terms of program capitalisation using current payout systems.

              Of course, this is all LONG term projection. who knows, there could be a new baby boom starting 2012, meaning new workforce people from 2030, taking the ratio back in favour. There might be a hundred new Harold Shipman’s or a flu epidemic that is more than a paper tiger.

              • Megalomania says:

                If social security was where it is on paper, I would agree with you fully. But the truth is that it is not. As you said, it has a couple trillion dollars invested… in US government bonds. All the interest that social security earns is paid out of the rest of the tax pool as part of the interest on the national debt. As social security earns more money in interest, it consumes more out of other federal taxes.

                I will concede that this 100% the fault of the government as a whole and not an inherent flaw of the social security program itself, but we can’t argue in the abstract about where we should be – this is where we are. Terminating social security entitlements (but keeping the taxes) gives the US ~$700,000,000 a year to put into covering the deficit and adding new welfare programs to help solve the root of the problem – people lacking the skills to get jobs that pay well enough to allow them to save for retirement – rather than the final result, people not having retirement funds.

                • Dean says:

                  What value does it give to me to pay off the national debt? I could care less what our bloated military state’s health status is.

                  My priority is to get back some of the money which is harvested from my checks every week. Social Security is one of the few services which actually provide the working class with some return on their massive investment in the Federal enterprise.

                  • Megalomania says:

                    The moment you said your priority is getting your money back, it became obvious that there is no argument that will persuade you. If all you want is to ‘get yours’, then yes, social security, assuming you are around 50 to 60 now, is what you will want. It’s no skin off your back that it will pyramid will invert itself and collapse, and you don’t even like this stupid country anyway, so who cares if it falls apart?

                    There’s nothing wrong with not liking the decisions made by the politicians; it’s your right. I don’t espouse the blind patriotism that would kill us all in the end. But if all you want is to get yours, then you can’t built a society on that. It’s like believing that educating children doesn’t benefit you because you don’t have children; you benefit from living in a society, and society needs educated labor. I am educated; I can save for my own retirement, I don’t need any handouts in the form of either welfare or social security. I could buy more if I had double my social security back (the employer’s share) but I am willing to accept programs could be instrumented using my tax dollars to solve what I view as the most fundamental problem with our society; education. Think of what even 10% of the annual social security entitlements could do as need based scholarships for specific majors (e.g., sciences, engineering, pre-med).

                    You can either hold out to get yours or you can recognize the value in everyone having a chance to have something of theirs. Oh, and the benefit to you of paying off the debt; about $140 billion a year, closer to $200 billion a year by 2012. Killing of social security would result in that going down about 18% as a good portion of the national debt is owed to the social security program.

                    • Aristotle-or-PlayDoh says:

                      I hate to defend ‘the biggest Ponzi scheme devised by man’ (the SS System), but it’s really a question of justice. SS tax was forcibly taken from people all these years under a contract – the promise that benefits would be there for them to retire. What you’re proposing, Meglomania, is basically ‘screw the old folks – the country needs the money more than they do.’
                      If education is “the most fundamental problem with our society”, are you really willing to sacrifice justice merely to increase education spending? IMHO, no thanks.

  2. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    I think what’s more surprising is how little funding certain things get. In some cases that’s only comparatively speaking but it’s a little even when you look at it by itself.

    Take a look at some of the things people like to complain about being a waste of money, like NASA. 18.686 billion isn’t anything to sneeze at but it’s not a huge chunk of the budget the ways some people would have you think.

    Is there anything on there smaller than the Office of Governmental Ethics?

    • Im Just Saying says:

      Yes, the Bureau of Enforcement for the Office of Governmental Ethics.


  3. thrillcook says:

    White House still costs 60 million, havn’t we paid that off yet?
    Architect of the Capital looks like a sweet gig for 740 million.

    • nbs2 says:

      Well, when be bought the place, we took out an interest only mortgage, hoping to flip it before rates hiked. One thing led to another, and we were upside down. We tried to refinance, but apparently our debt utilization ratio placed us in subprime-land. Now, we’re stuck.

      As for the AoC – those guys are everywhere. With the amount of cash they throw around on the grounds around the Hill, I’m surprised the number is that low. And even then, they can’t get all the drainage issues fixed.

    • Megalomania says:

      I would hazard a guess that those costs may very well incorporate things like the cost of security. Upkeep also is a lot, as are the staff that work at both the white house and congress (e.g., white house cooks, janitorial staff, and so on who all have to be screened, cleared, and so on).

  4. Al Rognlie says:

    Too bad they only go into the detailed breakdowns for discretionary spending – it would be good to see it in relation to the total federal spending including SS and Medicare. (yes, I know there’s a little thing in the lower right corner that kind of shows this, but it would be better to show it in perspective with all the other spending)

  5. TechnoDestructo says:

    Typo on Tennesse Valley Authority

  6. giax says:

    2.775 billion for Israel. What exactly do we get in return for that money?

    • frank64 says:

      We stop millions of people from being slaughtered to death.

    • evnmorlo says:

      It’s to maintain the ark of the covenant. When the war with China starts they won’t know what hit them!

    • Megalomania says:

      You get a friend in a place where we need a friend. Of course, you could argue that it is in part because that we insist on keeping them as a friend that no one else in that region likes us, but it is the status quo.

    • failurate says:

      Israel’s military is busy taking care of the number one threat to America.

      Bit, if we had it to do over, I would bet we would establish our colony in the Middle East in a location that has more natural resources… like in Iraq.

    • Fenrisulfr says:

      A net liability.

  7. PupJet says:
  8. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Craziest? Defense budget. It’s always huge, it’s always more than we really need.

    • partofme says:

      Go through the powers of congress in the constitution. They’re supposed to make some standards for commerce, naturalization, bankruptcy, and coinage. They’re supposed to actually produce the coinage. Then post office, sciences, and useful arts. That’s maybe half of it. The other half? War and defense. Seeing how the first list of things shouldn’t cost that much, I can understand an obscene percentage of the federal budget going to defense. That is the primary purpose of the federal government. Everything else is just things we like.

      • nerveagent says:

        Plus, we have been in a non-stop, snowball-effect, technological war since WWII, and the first country to fall behind could face annihilation. All thanks to the Nuclear bomb!

    • nerble says:

      Yah tell that to the people in Times Square.

  9. Tim says:

    Two months of researching? It’s just a visual representation of the president’s budget. It doesn’t even take into account other spending measures or even amendments to the budget (since most of them haven’t happened yet).

    Point is, you just read the bill and it’s all in there.

  10. Con Seanne-BZZZZZZZZZZZZ says:

    It’s interesting how we spend more on Israel’s military than we do on the FDA…and we wonder why the drugs aren’t safe…

  11. OnlineTwit says:

    Ha! You think we’re savvy readers who know were ourmoney goes? I just payed my bill to the Department of Beef Spare-Ribs and Moon Patrol.

  12. jessjj347 says:

    Why is the department of defense on there twice?

    • Rachacha says:

      Because the graphics program that was used could not make a single circle big enough to represent the DoD budget, so they needed to break it down into two smaller parts!

      I think they did that to show the entire DoD budget (including all branches of the military), the smaller DoD circle represents the DoD internal spending for their operating budget that is left over after the military branches get their cut. As the DoD internal budget is larger than most of the other federal agencies, I guess the author felt it was important to highlight, rather than breaking it down to a bulleted list.

    • SacraBos says:

      Just wait until Obama gets his Civilian National Security Force…

      • amendmentforone says:

        Oh hey, isn’t selectively editing quotes to support your pre-conceived narrative fun?

      • ARP says:

        Of course, you know that quote was talking about expanding Americorps and a Bush era program of putting more diplomats in embassies and related programs. You know reaching out to other countries, helping to create understanding, etc. as a way to make us more secure (i.e. you’re less likely to attack countries you don’t hate).

        Of course, Bachman said it, so how can it be wrong? She also said that before Obama, the economy was 100% private, that Obama will create concentration camps, and that the Community Reinvestment Act “forced” lenders to lend money to poor minorities.

  13. FrankReality says:

    Ok, so that’s the discretionary spending (one third of the budget)… what about the non-discretionary spending that makes up the other two thirds?