Monday, May 3, 2010

Tufte would be Proud

Ed Tufte is one of the original thinkers of the Information Age. See his website here. I will presume that most readers have at least a passing acquaintance with his books, perhaps fewer with his sculpture. I was struck by a surpassingly nice graphic in last weekend's New York Times that was pure Tufte. A reduced image is at right; click here to go to the original article. Rarely have I seen a more concise graphing of two important (and related) quantities: The price of gasoline vs. the number of miles driven per year (on average) by Americans. Nice to see them researched and correlated. (I also like the way the curve is smoothed out -- it has a nice organic look to it.)

It's pretty shocking to see that between 1968 and 2004, the miles driven by Americans doubled. It's also nice to see things moving back to the left. Do Americans realize that, no matter how nicely appointed their autos, the quality of life while driving is a miserable fraction of that spent out in "the real world"?

All other things being equal, economic theory predicts that instead of such a loopy curve, we'd see a straight slope up from left to right. Of course, this isn't the whole story. To see the entire economic picture, we'd also have to see a supply curve of gasoline produced in the US market for the same period of time. Perhaps also an efficiency curve of average MPG for autos in the US market. Perhaps looking at such a 3- or 4-dimensional graphic would give me a headache!

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