Let’s Spore the National Debt

Yesterday, Matt Drudge linked to a USA Today article with the derisive headline "Video Game to Reduce Deficit?" But is that really as crazy as it sounds?

The USA Today piece reported that Erskine Bowles, who’s heading up President Obama’s "war on the federal deficit," talked to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about making a video game that would let anyone "take a stab at balancing the budget."

The idea is that in order for deficit reduction to succeed, citizens have to understand the size of the budget, how the process works and, most important, what the tradeoffs are between benefits and their costs. That process, though already public, is basically inaccessible to anyone without the time (and patience) to read through thousands of pages of studies, estimates and commission reports. What the public needs is a compelling and concise model to play with that would let them get a handle on the dynamics of the federal budget without needing advanced degrees in accounting, law and economics.

And lo and behold, that’s just what game designers are good at — taking complex systems and making them intuitive and accessible by modeling them interactively. And what are we when we game if not problem solvers? Imagine what would happen if you put a "game" like that in front of the World of Warcraft community. Class balance, budget balance, what’s the difference?

It sounds like a joke, but we’re only half kidding. In fact, we’d like to see a whole range of government issues rendered interactively. People feel increasingly disconnected from their government and distrustful of their representatives. Meanwhile, the problems we face are increasingly complicated and lack simple solutions. Hard choices need to be made, and making those choices will require an engaged and informed populace.

Our federal budget is already a mess, we could do worse than put Will Wright on the case. After all, the guy only modeled life, the universe and everything…what’s $12 trillion in national debt?

|Story from sister-site GameCulture|

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  1. 0
    Arell says:

    I do it "often enough"?  Are you sure you’re talking to the right person?  Because I’ve never mentioned Tea Partier’s here.  Hell, I’ve posted on this website maybe 5 times in the last month, maybe 15 times this entire year.

    And please.  It doesn’t matter what is asked, there are people who get all pissy about it regardless.  I may be misinterpreting some of their arguements, but for all of them.  There’s a large chunk of the Tea Party movement that’s just out there to shout off their frustrations at any target that crosses their path.  Honestly I’d have more faith in the movement (the actual politics aren’t that bad, really), if they didn’t so heartily embrase the hate-mongers and wackos that show up to their protests.

  2. 0
    Austin_Lewis says:

    Actually, what they’re saying is that while it says in the constitution that there must be a counting of citizens every 10 years, nowhere does it say that they need to answer questions about, say, racial makeup.  These questions are used for A) Jerrymandering and B) for growing ‘social programs’.

    In other words, nowhere in the constitution does it say that they should be asking anything but name and occupancy.

    But you can misrepresent their arguments if you want, you do it often enough.

  3. 0
    Arell says:

    I find it funny that most Tea Partiers would consider themselves staunch Constitutionalists, yet many of them rant about how the government has no right to count people.  Well, it’s right there in the Constitution, and it was advocated by none other than John Adams, the guy more conservatives would love to dry hump.

  4. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    <Believe it or not>

    I know.  I went with the spelling I did because that’s the way I often pronounce it when I’m being causal.  Why?  Simply because I like the way it sounds.

    </Believe it or not>


    Andrew Eisen

  5. 0
    Alareth says:

    Because ingnorant right wing whackjobs have been telling the tea party crowd NOT to fill out the census or lie on it if they do. 

    they use scaremongering claims such as it was census data that allowed the government to round up the Japanese for detention camps in WWII and even sillier BS like the government will use census data to target people for execution in the Obama led socialist/marxist/facist/muslim revolution that will happen any day now.

    Of course it will all backfire.  Census data is used to draw congressional districts.  If the scaremongers have their way they end up being left out in the cold and under represented when the lines get redrawn because the data recieved supports doing so.

  6. 0
    Alareth says:

    Actually, under US law Marijuana already has a tax on it.  The original method used by the government to curb marijuana use was via a tax stamp.

    If you’ve ever bought a pack of cigarettes you’ve seen the tax stamp.  It’s illegal to sell cigarettes if that stamp is not attached to the package.

    So the government mandated the stamp for marijuana and then NEVER ISSUED OR PRINTED THEM.

    Slick eh?

  7. 0
    Austin_Lewis says:

    Also, slash their advertising budget.  Since when did the Census need to be advertised?  It happens every 10 years, it’s in newspapers, on TV, all over the internet, etc.  They don’t need to waste millions on a spot on the super bowl, thousands on spots on radio stations across the country, thousands on magazine ads, newspaper ads, etc.

  8. 0
    Valdearg says:

    That better idea would not be viable.

    When doing this census, you can’t use Driver’s Liscense or ID as a valid way of access, because there are many people without either. Even moreso, these people are proportionately larger in Low Income neighborhoods, the areas that need the funding determined by the census the most. It’s the same reason you can’t require an ID to vote, because you’d be excluding the significant portion of low income individuals without valid ID.

  9. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    Especialyl since posessing a plant is somehow as bad as killing someone.

    You could jsut like how it looks on your lawn and you’d get busted.

  10. 0
    Arell says:

    Legalizing pot and prostitutes would also save a ton of money judicially.  Fewer court cases, fewer people in jail.  It’s amazing how many people have lived off the taxpayer’s dime in prisons just for possession of weed.

  11. 0
    Arell says:

    Oh my god, YES!  How incredibly stupid is it that, one week before we got the census in the mail, we got a letter telling us to expect the census next week?!?  Just send the damn cencus and that it.  Millions of dollars saved right there!

    EDIT:  Actually, I have a better idea.  Every legitimate citizen over the age of 16 has to get their liscense renewed every 3 or 4 years.  There’s only a handful that don’t.  Just hit people with these basic questions then, instead of mailing it out and hoping people will bother with it.  You’d actually get higher turnout this way, and you wouldn’t have to spend much money since the DMV is already set up to annoy people in lines with a thousand questions.

  12. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    Another money saver off the top of my head: cut whatever’s spent on census postage nearly in half  by sending just the census.  Stop sending out additional mailings informing us that we’ll be receiving the census soon and more letting us know we should have received it.  Just send the census, wait a month and send a reminder only to those who haven’t responded.


    Andrew Eisen

  13. 0
    Valdearg says:

    Moreso, it rules should also state that any Johns who wish to utilize the Services of the Prostitute Recieve a Clean Bill of Health before they are allowed to Partake. That way, you try to keep both the Prostitutes and their Customers safe, by verifying that both are clean before the meeting takes place.

  14. 0
    Austin_Lewis says:

    I think we ought adopt an Amsterdam system for prostitution (pretty sure it’s Amsterdam, anyway).

    Prostitutes join a ‘guild’ ‘brothel’ or ‘union’, and must pay dues to belong.  Along with dues, they get certification on a regular basis that they are disease free.

    Of course, I don’t know how they’re regulated in Nevada.

  15. 0
    Valdearg says:

    Agreed. Look at Nevada. They are doing it right, haha.

    I’d be curious as to see a study comparing the safety, health/STD rates, and emotional happiness amongst prostitutes the regulated brothels in Nevada to unregulated ones in other states.

    My hypothesis would place Regulated Prostitutes performing better in these categories than unregulated ones, and those categories are part of the reason it’s been outlawed in the first place. (In addition to the Idiotic Moral Crusaders mentioned before.)

  16. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    Problem for both is debunking the rumors and sterotypes played up in the last century. Not to mention moral crusaders who are against ANYTHING that enables people to have a good time.

  17. 0
    chadachada321 says:

    Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

    -Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis-It is best to endure what you cannot change-

  18. 0
    Valdearg says:

    The two examples you use were, regrettably, legitimate Constitutional rulings, at the time.

    The Dred Scott Decision was pretty much overturned later by the 14th Amendment, and the Plessy v. Ferguson was based on the court’s interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment, mainly because the Court realized that the "Separate, but Equal" amenities provided to the Minority in the country were anything but Equal.

    There are a number of times where I’ve disagreed with the Court’s rulings, like with the Citizens United Campagin funding ruling. However, those rulings have always been at least based in the Constitution, and for the most part, the Supreme Court does a pretty good job of interpreting it.

  19. 0
    chadachada321 says:

    Dred Scott vs Sandford

    Plessy vs Ferguson

    There are many cases where the Supreme Court has fucked up their ruling (contrary to liberty) immensely. The case that upheld marijuana prohibition was no different.

    -Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis-It is best to endure what you cannot change-

  20. 0
    Valdearg says:

    I’m not a constitutional scholar (Though, you clearly aren’t either), but I’d like to see where, specifically, true Constitutional Academics, not Crackpots, have declared any of that unconstitutional.

    In fact, let me go right ahead and say that if ANY of those things were undeniably unconstitutional, their opponents would have filed suit and won in the Supreme Court, already (With the exception of Health care, only because it hasn’t reached that level, yet. Even then, many Constitutional Academics believe that portion of the law is perfectly constitutional).

    The very fact that things like the Fed and FCC exist, and haven’t been struck down by the Supreme Court, (a group of people MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more intelligent and versed in Constitutional law than you, let me remind you) pretty much cements them as Constitutional.

    If I recall correctly, YOU are the one who believed that everyone should have the right own and operate some of the advanced military weaponry that our country controls, an idea that is completely Asinine no matter how you think about it. Luckily, for the country, our laws aren’t based on YOUR flawed interpretation of the Constitution, but on the interpretation of those much more qualified and intelligent than either of us are.

  21. 0
    chadachada321 says:

    I’m not "right wing," just so you know. There are more sides than just left and right.

    Anyways. Marijuana prohibition (the federal laws) are unconstitutional. States can pass it but the federal government doesn’t have the authority to.

    The healthcare bill (particularly the part that requires you to have health insurance under threat of fine) is unconstitutional. States can pass requirements (like Michigan has for car insurance), but the federal government cannot.

    The Federal Reserve.

    Most things the FCC does.

    Any regulation of trade that is done *within* a state’s borders. (The federal government can only regulate INTERstate trade, not INTRAstate, yet they do anyways).

    Also, many civil rights laws are unconstitutional (though these don’t waste money). For example, I as a business owner should be allowed to choose who enters my store. If I don’t want to allow blacks or whites or people with blue eyes into MY store and onto MY property, I should be allowed. There doesn’t need to be federal control in that regard.

    Many "obscenity" laws are bullcrap too. Like if a 17-year old girl takes a nude picture of herself and sends it to her boyfriend (which happens to at least 20% of girls nowadays), then is charged with PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION OF CHILD PORN, that, to me, is an unconstitutional restriction on the 1st amednment.

    Having "Under God" and "In God We Trust" in our pledge and on our currency is unconstitutional, too.

    Need I go on?

    -Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis-It is best to endure what you cannot change-

  22. 0
    Valdearg says:

    I didn’t realize that Insuring Children with Pre-existing conditions was stupid, or that preventing Insurance Companies from abusing their customers was stupid. I also didn’t realize that expanding Medicaid to help more of the poor and uninsured was Stupid, or that setting up grants to investigate meaningful alternatives to tort litigation was stupid.


    Considering that many of the initiatives contained in this bill were straight from Newt Gingrich’s alternative to HillaryCare back in the 90’s, would you have preferred her solution? Or would you have preferred the Status Quo and hundreds of thousands suffering, or the Socialist Universal Single Payer Health Care, instead?

  23. 0
    Arell says:

    True, but at least on that point, you’d hope that someone with some common sense at the top was filtering out the bullshit ideas.  Although, I have to admit that even then, one person’s idea of bullshit might be different than another’s.

    But, for the sake of arguement, with some measurement of oversight, it could be done democratically to a degree.  Say 75% of the gamers suggest the same spending cut on a particular issue, while also suggesting a general change in the tax law (that didn’t necessarily raise or reduce taxes, but cut out some of the inefficiency).  Politicians could look at the data, realize that a lot of people want this, and then push for it and make themselves look good for listening to their constituents.  Of course, they’d have to be more cautious with issues where the players of the game were more evenly divided.

    And, you’d have to worry about Big Business "stuffing the ballot box."  Take the recent Health Care bill.  Less than a decade ago, Republicans really wanted to increase prescription drug coverage with Medicare to old people.  But they didn’t want the private companies to drop their own prescription drug plans.  So they offered them a deal where the private businesses only had to pay 72 cents on the dollar for drug coverage to their employees.  BUT, they also could write off these expenses on their taxes for the FULL DOLLAR.  Double dipping, basically.  The recent Health Care bill, said they had to stop that, and only write off the 72 cents from their taxes.  The Big Businesses went public and whined that this was going to cut into their profits by billions.  Of course, when they first started abusing this loop hole, they "made" billions overnight.

    So, if there was a game out there that let the common public share their ideas on balancing the budget, big businesses and lobbyists could log in with dummy accounts and feed the game ideas that are beneficial to them.  Skewing the results.

  24. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    Not to mention the public has vast, VAST differing opinions on spending. One person may have sensible ideas, another might have ideas that make no sense, or they cut something for personal reasons, say one person says shut down ALL the schools to save money. It’d save money, but it’s still a retarded idea.

  25. 0
    Arell says:

    I thought I might take a crack at the actual topic of this article.  You know, the game part?

    The idea is interesting, but it would be incredibly hard to pull, and ultimately disingenuous.

    1.  You couldn’t give people the actual budget in game form, even if you wanted to.  By the time the developers had built up an intuitive program around it, it will have changed.  Any "solutions" that players would come up with, would already be dated.

    2.  Ignoring my first point, you couldn’t give the common public the full budget, period.  There are things in the defense budget that are classified.  Getting passed all the rants about conspiracies and transparency, there are some things you don’t want your enemies to find out about your defenses in a god damn video game.  So, any solutions that the general public might come up with, wouldn’t touch certain parts of the budget.  And, if some parts of the budget are off limits, crooked Congressmen could just stuff their favorite pork into those off limit sections, so 1 million players of the game can’t upload suggestions to get rid of that spending.

  26. 0
    Austin_Lewis says:

    This has been Valdearg’s ridiculously biased take on the whole thing.

    And saying that people on Kos are saner, less hateful, less racist, and more educated than anyone is a hilarious stretch.

  27. 0
    Valdearg says:

    I don’t think the Drudge == DailyKos statement is true, either.

    Drudge is basically some hack who runs a website that hurts the eyes, and makes his living by posting questionable, exaggerated headlines linking to articles that are pretty much mundane by any other interpretation. I will retract my statement that the majority of Drudge’s linked stories are downright false, but I can certainly tell you that his politically motivated headlines stretch the truth farther than a reasonable approach could.

    DailyKos, on the other hand, is a community of liberals who are free to write their own diarys and stories about pretty much anything, though most of them are politically based. The best of the stories, (and the only ones I post links to), tend to be pretty well researched and have been pretty well sourced. Yes, many of them have liberal spin, but the vast majority of them are NOT outright lies. Ignoring the spin that I put on these descriptions, Drudge and DKos have absolutely no comparison. One is strictly one man controlling his ugly, ugly list of headlines, and the other is a large community of users, communicating with one another through stories, diaries, and comments on those stories.

    IF I absolutely HAD to make any comparison of DailyKos to a right wing website, I’d say that DailyKos is a liberal, far saner, far less racist, far less hateful, far more educated, and FAR better visually designed version of FreeRepublic.

  28. 0
    Austin_Lewis says:

    I think you’re all ignoring that drudge doesn’t even write articles.  It links to articles, mostly in the mainstream left-leaning media. 

    It holds far more validity than daily kos.

  29. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    Just one problem, it would take time, and people, for some stupid ass reason, want a result IMMEDIATELY and are too impatient to wait for the alloted time for the problem to be eventually solved.

    Suffice it to say, it’s impossible to make citizens happy if it takes more than a week to do something, not to mention the more time it takes, the more time idiots with agendas, such as keeping their salaries at obscene amounts, have to spreads rumors and lies and get people scared beyond the ability to reason. Look at what happened with healthcare. It took more time than it needed to, and that time gave pundits and lobbyists plenty of room to make up tons of rumors about death panels and people bleeding out while waiting in line at the hospital.

  30. 0
    Valdearg says:

    Oh, and I do agree with you that it could be relatively painless to put our deficit back to where it belongs.

    1: End the war in Afghanistan. Some of the Taliban over there still think they are fighting the Russians. The tribal culture there makes a longstanding democracy impossible. Just cut our losses, stop spending money, and get the hell out. Not having to spend money on war will save us quite the amount of money.

    2: Legalize, regulate, and tax the hell out of Marijuana. Some estimates put Marijuana at more than a billion dollar a year industry. That’s a SIGNIFICANT amount of tax revenue, not to mention the money you would save in Court Costs and Detention costs that we spend on prosecuting the Non-Violent Drug Offenders.

    That, alone, might not balance the budget, but it will make the remaining task much, MUCH easier.

  31. 0
    Valdearg says:

    Exactly *How* is the Government NOT within Constitutional Grounds? I keep hearing all of this crying about trampling on the Constitution and how nobody pays attention to the Constitution in D.C. I’ve not yet see anyone provide an actual, real world example of the Government not acting Constitutionally, and getting away with it.

    Nevermind the fact that Balancing the Budget isn’t a strictly right wing Idea, and there is work being done by the left wing in congress right now, with the goal of helping balance the budget, and, according to CBO reports, the massive Health Care Overhaul passed last month happened to contain one of the largest deficit reductions over the next 10 years that has been passed in recent history..

    But, that’s ok. We can ignore facts and believe the stereotypes.

  32. 0
    chadachada321 says:

    Bawww, it was found on a right-leaning site, boo hoo…


    Anyways, I honestly think that I could balance the budget AND bring the Federal Government back within constitutional grounds. People act like it’s a "challenge," when it’s incredibly easy to do.

    -Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis-It is best to endure what you cannot change-

  33. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    A couple things:

    1.  It’s highly hypocritical of you to complain about someone sourcing a site that’s "nothing but exaggerated headlines and most of the stories are downright false" as you do it all the time.

    2.  Drudge was not used as the source, USA Today was.  It was just found via Drudge Report.

    3.  Even if it was sourced from the Drudge, GP didn’t source it as this story comes from GameCulture.


    Andrew Eisen

  34. 0
    Valdearg says:

    @GP: Please, Never again use Drudge as any kind of Legitimate Source. His site is nothing but exaggerated headlines and most of the stories are downright false. Not to mention, it could use the services of someone who actually knows how do develop a website. It’s a freaking mess in there.

  35. 0
    jedidethfreak says:

    Well, Zip, when you increase the spending faster than you print the money to pay it off, it kind of makes printing the money pointless.

    You KILL Vampires. You don’t DATE them.

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