Fun with the Federal Budget, Kids!

If you think you can do better than the current or past administrations, get yer deficit on with this Federal Budget Simulator. I managed to create a surplus mainly on the backs of old people, the military, and agriculture. I might go back and redistribute to more heavily cut corporate subsidies while restoring some social security.

It’s harder than you think, though, and you have to be pretty ruthless. Sorry, Ruth, we just can’t afford you.

Thanks to Craig Newmark’s guest blogging on Marginal Revolution for the link.

3 thoughts on “Fun with the Federal Budget, Kids!

  1. This reminds me of a great exercise we did when I was in college.

    Back in the Clinton days, the Congressional Budget Office used to publish a report called “Reducing the Deficit: Spending and Revenue Options”. It laid out in great detail over 200 proposals for cutting Federal programs or increasing revenues, and provided for each one CBO’s estimates of how it would impact the deficit over the next several years.

    Our class assignment was to use this document to put together a plan to zero out the deficit in five years or less, and provide a compelling rationale for the particular package of spending cuts and revenue increases we chose. You quickly found as you dug into the report how hard this could be, as the things that made a big difference were all politically hard, while the things that were politically easy had only a marginal budgetary impact.

    I think it was also more instructive than the exercise linked to by Newmark because it got to specific programs — instead of being shown “Military retirement benefits” and then given the option to go from “Double” to “Eliminate”, the CBO doc has options like “Deny Unemployment Compensation to Military Members Who Voluntarily Leave Military Service” and “Eliminate Reserve Retirement”. (They even get down to REAL brass tacks, like this one: “Raise Tobacco Prices in Military Commissaries to Near Market Levels”!)

    It was a fascinating look into all the different ways that money gets spent by the Feds.

    Unfortunately they seem to have stopped publishing it in 1998, once the deficit was conquered for good (d’oh), but here’s links to the 1997 and 1996 editions:



    This appears to be a publication that comes out of retirement whenever the deficit becomes an issue (before ’96, the last issue they have archived is from 1983) so maybe now would be a good time to write to CBO and suggest they might want to dust it off again 😦


  2. I would have liked more fine-grained control, but I was late enough for work as it was. 😉

    If all I had was control over swaths of the budget like that, I’d end up with much harsher cuts than I would otherwise. My goal would be to reduce distortions in the market–eliminate direct corporate subsidies, particularly in agriculture, while not hurting investments in R&D and education, and maximizing worker retraining. I’d also phase out a lot of middle-class child subsidies and supports for an overvalued housing market. I’d cut a lot of pure-subsidy health insurance for anybody over the poverty line so that health care expenditures were more closely aligned with cost, reducing demand for cutting-edge treatments.


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