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US Trade Deficit [brightpointinc.com] is an interactive graph that depicts the U.S. annual trade surplus/deficit information for each of the top 10 countries for each category (surplus/deficit). The countries that are in surplus (adding cash to the US economy) are along the top, while the countries along the bottom show the corresponding trade deficits (that are taking cash out of the US economy).

The dataset was gathered from census.gov and comprises statistics from January 1998 until October 2008. More information can be found at the author's personal blog [twgonzalez.com].

As a Belgian, it is curious to see Belgium, as the only West European country, frequently pop up in the list of surplus cash flows, between relatively dissimilar countries like Panama, Jamaica, Chile, Qatar, Honduras, Bahamas, and others. I am not sure what Belgians continuously are buying from the U.S., but it seems to be worth a lot.




I don't like how the countries are locked into one of twenty fixed slots... you're left with the biggest importer next to the biggest exporter. Imagine a similar graph where each country acted like a needle on a fiscal speedometer - the changes over time would be much easier to process, as would the relative size of each country's surplus or deficit. I just feel like the creator started with a design and squeezed the data into that, instead of letting it speak for itself.

Fri 20 Feb 2009 at 5:10 PM

Belgium is not exactly the only country to pop up - the Netherlands is there too, and most of the time as the biggest surplus partner. My guess is it is related to transit: some of America's exports are paid for at Dutch and Belgian harbors, even though their destination is actually Germany, Switzerland or maybe France.

Fri 20 Feb 2009 at 9:59 PM

Design for designs sake. Looks nice, but no need for it.
5/10 see me after class.

Sat 21 Feb 2009 at 12:20 AM

@Tim, @Johnboy. I agree with both of you that as an infographic there are far more effective ways to visualize this data that would tell the story more clearly. This example was purely a design study that I worked, on, and in this case the design and aesthetic considerations won out over the purity of being true to the mission of a data visualization. I mention this in the blog post as well.

- Tom Gonzalez

Sat 21 Feb 2009 at 2:17 AM

Below is a page showing imports/exports between Belgium and the US.
Just a quick and dirty search, haven't verified the source and accuracy.
"organic chemicals & pharmaceutical preparations lead American imports into Belgium."

Strange that there are 'organic chemicals & pharma' that are not produced in the EU as well. Perhaps its treated in Belgium and then processed in the EU to be exported worldwide again? I agree its interesting.


Sat 21 Feb 2009 at 5:13 AM

I suspect Belgium and the Netherlands appear a lot because just doesn't buy all that much from either country.

Germany probably imports the same goods that those two countries do, in significantly bigger quantities, but those imports are completely drowned out by Germany's massive exports to the US.

Mon 23 Feb 2009 at 8:13 PM

@James: I'm not so sure of that. Dutch exports would include agricultural products (e.g. flowers) and electronics (Philips) - those should appear somewhere alongside German steel (Krupp) and electronics (Siemens). I agree with Michael that reprocessing is maybe an even better candidate than just re-exporting.

One other thought @Tom: did you start out this experiment with the idea of adding direct flows between all the outer nodes as well? Because that'd be an asset of this kind of graph over the more straightforward line graph.

Mon 23 Feb 2009 at 8:23 PM

@Martijn, Ideally (given my "free" time and access to the right data) I would have liked to map the flows between countries on a map, using bezier curves and varying size particles to depict the flows of cash. The US census data does not track the deficits between the other countries, just between them and the US.

Technically I also started to run into some performance limitations with the way I architected the visualization in Adobe Flex and some limits of the Flash player, thus the animation is not as graphic as it could be with the flows of cash.

Potentially at some future point I might redo this in Processing on a 3D global map. Getting access to the surplus/deficit data between all the nations would be really helpful, but I would no know where to go to source it.

@James, you can find more detailed data here, at least for recent years: http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/country/index.html

- Tom

- Tom

Tue 24 Feb 2009 at 10:31 AM

two of us. definitely put more effort into I don't knowledgeable in.

Wed 17 Nov 2010 at 9:44 PM
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