Data is not Information: Would you like a Receipt for your Taxes?

If you received a receipt indicated what portion of your taxes went to fund individual government agencies and programs, would it change how you view your taxes, or government spending? Depends on whether the data is providing you with information.

NPR links to a study by Third Way of what such a receipt might look like.

Seems like a good idea? Consider what is not seen.

At Sometimes Right, Dan Rothschild offers a thorough critique. There is the potential for gaming numbers and political incentives to aggregate or disaggregate spending to make it appear big or small. The idea ignores the fungibility of revenues, and the behavioral effects of federal spending on state and local budgets, the private sector, non-profits, and civil society.

Just because a only a couple hundred of your tax dollars were appropriated to the Department of Agriculture doesn’t make farm subsidies a good idea. In other words, such a receipt, while a nice idea, ultimately provides a misleading picture of the true effect of federal spending on governments, individuals, and society.