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Relative versus absolute doesn't have a definitive answer. Personally, I like the absolute values since this shows how much the US has gone into debt [might also inflation-correct this, but this would just change slope of all lines]

Daniel Staal

I agree it is a design choice. The choice, of course, should be decided by what point you are trying to illuminate with the graph.

Relative, as you said, makes trends between the different types of bonds more clear. Absolute makes the growth of debt more visible. Both are good, it just depends on which you need to show.

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