July 14, 2010


New Role-Playing Game: You vs. the National Debt: An online game that tasks players with reining in government spending suggests the public is more willing to make hard choices than they get credit for. (Emily Badger, Miller-McCune)

[T]he bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has invited people to go through these programs line-by-line. They’ve built an online “exercise in hard choices,” a game about as fun as filing your taxes but probably more satisfying for anyone who finishes it.

“I have no idea what brings people in, who it is that’s willing to play a budget simulator,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the CRFB. “All I know is that we’ve been astounded and gratified by the participation.”

Since the simulator first went online two months ago, 7,200 people have tried their hand at it. About 3,000 so far have offered to share the results of what they came up with, giving the CRFB a burgeoning collection of public-opinion data it intends to share with real-life lawmakers.

Surprisingly, many of those people actually succeeded in stabilizing the problem, or reining in debt to 60 percent of GDP by 2018. CRFB borrowed that benchmark from a recommendation by the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform, which calculated the figure as “the most ambitious yet realistic goal” we can get to in the next seven years. (For comparison: That Peterson-Pew report showed debt rising from 41 to 53 percent of GDP over the previous year alone, with projections for it to reach 85 percent by 2018 and 100 percent by 2022.)

What’s most encouraging, MacGuineas says, is that those 3,000 people who shared their answer sheets had a remarkable amount of consensus. Their top five most-common proposals were to eliminate outdated programs, reduce the size of government earmarks and farm subsidies, reform the international tax system and set the retirement age for Social Security at 68 (total savings: $430 billion).

Which brings up CRFB’s other goal with the game. MacGuineas doesn’t just want to show citizens how serious this task is — she also wants to show politicians what people say they’re willing to cut.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 14, 2010 5:46 AM
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