Budget game
February 28, 2003 5:13 PM   Subscribe

National Budget Simulation Think Washington is doing a poor job of allocating funds? See if you can eliminate the deficit with this little game.
posted by synecdoche (25 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pretty easy if you just cut military spending. I got rid of the tax cuts, dropped 30% off the military, and added 10% to a couple of programs I like. I ended with a 17 Billion dollar surplus.

Neat ap though.
posted by phatboy at 5:40 PM on February 28, 2003

Hey, I just cut the military budget and eliminated the tax cut. Now I have a 100 billion dollar surplus.

Ummm.... that was sort of easy. Can I get the unlimited rocket launcher code now? (Or was that part of the military budget?)
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:46 PM on February 28, 2003

If you can balance it with enough padding to ensure that the right contracts go to the right contributers, it unlocks a *hidden level* where you get lucrative post-retirement "consulting positions" with defense companies!!
posted by Spacelegoman at 5:57 PM on February 28, 2003

I eliminated the tax cut and the Iraq war, and ended up with a deficit of $197B. I agree that this is not a hard game. It would be hard if you were so doggedly committed to tax cuts, conquering Iraq, and preemptive military action. (It takes a lot of $$$ to prevent potential rival superpowers from emerging!)
posted by rschram at 6:18 PM on February 28, 2003

I eliminated Social Welfare spending and Social Security, lowered taxes for individuals by 100%, eliminated corporate tax credits, and increased spending on veterans care/energy conservation/military personnel and still have a 900 billion dollar surplus. Take that!
posted by gyc at 6:43 PM on February 28, 2003

no tax cut, no Iraq attaq, same Medicare and Social Security, more investment for the environment, -40% for Defense (all that remains is more than enough to blow up a few galaxies anyway). my score:

You have cut the deficit by $394.99 billion.
Your new deficit is $-37.98 billion.
You've cut so much that the federal budget now contains a substantial surplus.

piece of cake.
posted by matteo at 6:46 PM on February 28, 2003

I didn't cut a dime from military spending except for the iraq war and ended up with a paltry 2 billion dollar deficit.
I did eliminate corporate tax breaks, commerce promotion and most international spending. I allowed small increases in spending on health care.

What this doesn't let you do is attack fraud and pork.
posted by 2sheets at 6:59 PM on February 28, 2003

I slightly raised military spending, environmental spending, VA spending, and science spending. Even added some Soc. Sec. and Medicare spending.

I removed virtually all of the tax cut (save 30% of the 2003 cut for the bottom 60%). I removed the war on Iraq. I removed maybe 10% of big-business tax breaks.

$1 billion surplus. Yay me.
posted by Ptrin at 7:11 PM on February 28, 2003

I eliminated both tax cuts and the Iraq war, while cutting military spending overall by 10%..........

BUT - I increased veterans benefits by 20%, energy spending by 50%, transportation 20%, natural resources 20%, community and regional 10%, education, training and services 10%....

Oh yes....I eliminated corporate tax breaks completely.

Budget deficit - 30.1 billion.

I'll have to tinker with this to achieve a surplus: we REALLY need to pay down that national debt.
posted by troutfishing at 8:03 PM on February 28, 2003

synechdoce - great link! - much fun.
posted by troutfishing at 8:04 PM on February 28, 2003

Since the simulation offers no penalties or benefits for any given choice other than naked numbers changing before your eyes, it's hard to consider this a serious instructional exercise (although I have respect for Mr Newman). For example, reducing military spending is far from penalty-free in the real world. For one thing, you might get invaded, or lose access to key economic resources, or suffer inhibition of trade. On the domestic side, you could find yourself losing political allies, contributors, and even face a revolt by your own party. Legislators in key defense industry states may oppose the elimination of specific programs. Achieving this may involve a great deal of political hurt and put you at a disadvantage for achieving any other political goals.

I recall playing a 'model UN' simulation back in college 20 years ago. I gamed the system by running different numbers through my VIC-20 (or maybe a C64 by then), and found that the most advantageous route to victory conditions was to hunker down, avoid war, and throw every resource you had into your economy while keeping your birthrate down. In retrospect, this tells much about the biases of the simulation-builders, and in reality, every other country figured this out without benefit of electronic spreadsheets -- and we had an excruciatingly boring simulation. Well, there was one desultory war, but more out of a what-the-heck attitude. In reality, there should have been some penalty for following this "ideal" policy basket, at least for the purposes of teaching students that sometimes there are no good options available. Also, it was dated in that since 1982, we've realized that too-low birthrate is itself a risk, because it can sap your economy of its working generation. Places like Italy and Russia are finding this out the hard way (as we've discussed previously).

Let's say you had a budget simulator where each choice had a political effect -- say, losing or gaining members of your or the opposition party, or feeding back into an aggregate figure for political capital or clout. That would then begin to have some teachability built into it.
posted by dhartung at 8:52 PM on February 28, 2003

"Old budget was $3274.734 billion
($2292.807 billion in spending, $981.927 billion in tax expenditures and cuts).
New budget is $2140.99 billion
($1370.94 billion in spending, $770.05 billion in tax expenditures and cuts).

You have cut the deficit by $1133.74 billion.
Your new deficit is $-776.73 billion."

I don't think I'd be a good president. :)

777 billion dollar surplus... mmmmmm...
posted by RobbieFal at 10:37 PM on February 28, 2003

It would also help a great deal to know what's already over and underfunded. I have an idea on some of them, but I have no idea, for example, whether "Pensions & Income security for veterans" is overfunded, underfunded or just right.

I suspect it would get a lot more dificult to cut stuff, or even hold it steady when you have to read a report from every single agency detailing all the things that they are supposed to be able to do but can't because they don't have enough money.

Also, be sure to play the long game and not the short one. It's much harder because you have to actually cut specific programs rather than general spending areas.
posted by boltman at 10:52 PM on February 28, 2003

Ha. Got a slight surpluss and even managed to add $50B to Medicaid, $20B to Medicare, $10 to social welfare programs, $5B for veterens and a nice raise for our current military personnel. Just zeroed out the employer sponsered health insurance deduction, accelerated depriciation and capital gains deductions, the Iraq War, the tax cuts, NASA, and farm subsidies and cut defense by $30B or so. It was easier than I thought, actually.

Didn't realized how much revenue we were sacrificing to tax expenditures. That alone was worth going through the exercise for.
posted by boltman at 11:19 PM on February 28, 2003

Well, technically we aren't "sacrificing revenue" to tax "expenditures". We're choosing to give people ways to deduct money from the net value of the assets and income on which they must pay tax.

And I played this game twice, once on the short form, and once on the long form. In the former, I got a surplus of $775b dollars, in the second, a surplus of $267b. In the second case, if there was a program I didn't immediately understand, I chose to "hold even". In either case, I cut taxes by 100% for everybody but the top 5% (I gave the Bush tax cut to all but the top 1% - and gave everybody huge capital gains tax cuts, which matter more to them anyhow) and corporations, military expenditures, medicare, education, NASA, all international spending but development aid and diplomacy, corporate subsidies, federal law enforcement (read: the war on drugs). I boosted veteran's benefits, expenditures for military personnel, money spent on child support, retraining convicts, substance abuse/mental health etc.

As 2sheets pointed out, the problem is fraud and pork. I'd like to see a version of this game that did the real budget line by line (complete with gaping hole in the intelligence agency section).
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 7:52 AM on March 1, 2003

Well, technically we aren't "sacrificing revenue" to tax "expenditures". We're choosing to give people ways to deduct money from the net value of the assets and income on which they must pay tax.

I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there. If the deductions were an attempt to accurately determine somebody's "true" income (like, say, deduction of business expenses for companies or maybe, in a perfect world, commuting costs for individuals) then I'd agree that they cannot be counted as "expenditures" in any meaningful sense. But all the deductions that were listed in the game were aimed at encouraging specific types of behavior and not accurately calculating net income. Accerelated depriciation is the same thing as providing companies with a government subsidy (or perhaps an interest free loan) for equipment purchases and capital improvements. Exempting health insurance costs from wages is the same thing as giving people money to buy health insurance. So since there is no tax justification for any of these deductions, it is misleading to leave them out of government expenditures.
posted by boltman at 9:02 AM on March 1, 2003

Also, several people have said that they lowered taxes by 100% for individuals. The game does not provide any way to adjust income tax rates (except w/r/t to the bush tax cuts). All you can do is adjust tax expendures. And of course by "cutting" tax expenditures, you are actually raising taxes! That might be why you were coming out with huge surplusses.
posted by boltman at 9:09 AM on March 1, 2003

I figured that out and tried it both ways. If you go to the tax cuts and go "+100%" you double the amount of the cut. Most of the people who ended up with huge surpluses after tax cutting did it by eliminating social security, medicare and education.

Exempting health insurance costs from wages is the same thing as giving people money to buy health insurance

I disagree on this point. Exempting health insurance costs and the like from the net income used to calculate one's tax liability means that one does not collect that tax money in the first place. That it's called an "expenditure" is really just a government euphemism.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:55 PM on March 1, 2003

Exempting health insurance costs ... means that one does not collect that tax money in the first place

Yes, but there's no rational tax reason to not collect the money. Income tax, by definition, is supposed to tax all of your income (net profit if you're a business) at a certain marginal rate. If the IRS is not taxing something because it's not income, I agree that there is no expenditure there. In that case, the IRS is allowing the deductions or exemptions in order to make the calculation of income more accurate. However, medical costs most certainly do not fall into that category. If your employer is paying your medical bills for you, those payments are income to you by any reasonable definition of the term. If you are conceding that something is income but then exempting it from income tax, it's really indistinguishable from a government subsidy. Either way, all the taxpayers that don't get the benefit wind up paying for it.

Also, under your logic, even refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit should be categorized as some kind of negative taxation rather than an expenditure, even though the government is actually handing out checks to people that paid no tax at all.

The best way to think of it is to draw a line between stuff that we allow to be deducted for accounting reasons (i.e. non-accelerated depreciation, business expenses) and stuff we allow to be deducted because we are trying to achieve some sort of policy goal unrelated to the goal of the income tax itself (i.e. greater investment, employer-sponsered health insurance, work over welfare, etc)
posted by boltman at 2:36 PM on March 1, 2003

Wow!! I got rid of all the garbage that government spends money on that is not constitutionaly mandated and ended up with this..

You have cut the deficit by $2137.68 billion.

posted by ZupanGOD at 4:26 PM on March 1, 2003

1780.67 billion suplus :) Hooray!
posted by ZupanGOD at 4:28 PM on March 1, 2003

Wow!! I got rid of all the garbage that government spends money on that is not constitutionaly mandated and ended up with this..

You have cut the deficit by $2137.68 billion.


So how did you eliminate funding for the Air Force? ;-)
posted by gyc at 4:32 PM on March 1, 2003

I got 42.
posted by crasspastor at 4:45 PM on March 1, 2003

Actually, I completely ravaged this great land but I didn't destroy the planet doing it. I've closed the window but it was to the tune of 1.39 trillion I increased that there deficit of ours. I don't know how.

No, actually I do.

Interesting little teaching tool there, as rough as it may be. Thanks for the link.
posted by crasspastor at 4:52 PM on March 1, 2003

Dhartung - sure, but I suspect that most people here understand those points. However, I don't think the US is especially in danger of being inavded - unless you are thinking along the lines of the Bush adm. neocons currently directing US foreign policy: who are thinking and planning two decades ahead, "clearing the decks" so to speak by planning to eliminate troublesome, and recalcitrant "WMD-ed" regimes in order to better confront and neutralize their envisioned future great power rival to US hegemony, an ascendant China.
posted by troutfishing at 11:02 AM on March 2, 2003

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