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Be a Budget Hero and Save America’s Finances

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but America’s got a little problem on our hands. We have a budget that needs balancing and apparently no one in Washington can agree on how that should be done. So what do we do? Yelling at Brian Williams from my couch sure hasn’t helped.

American Public Media (the folks that bring you Marketplace) have decided to throw the country a bone and crowd-source the problem to us nerds! They’ve created Budget Hero; a game that allows you to balance the nation’s budget and see how your decisions will affect your kids in twenty years. The game was created using data from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which helps Congress predict the impact their decisions will have on the future. Oh, and it’s actually pretty fun.

You start out by choosing from a variety of “badges” that you will be playing for. I selected Efficient Government, Competitive Advantage, and Energy Independence, of which I only earned the Efficient Government badge. Then you get to cut the fat and invest in the future by playing cards under each section of the budget. For example, I played the Infrastructure card that cut federal subsidies for Amtrak and also the Defense & Diplomacy cards to cancel stealth fighters and end spending on missile defense while increasing funding for university defense research. After I submitted my plan, which I thought to be pretty frugal, the debt was cut a mere $6.4 trillion from $16.5 trillion after ten years and prolonged the budget bust from 2031 to 2038. I was able to budget for an efficient government, but apparently it was unrealistic because I didn’t earn my country any competitive advantage or get any closer to energy independence.

Now it’s your turn to save the country and contribute to the crowd-sourcing. Play the game here and report back! If all this financial insecurity talk is freaking you out, take a look at Budgets Are Sexy to help keep your savings and spending on track.


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  1. Bill says:

    One thing that I didn’t see covered in the info provided was the current base-line budgeting. In other words, budget expenditures are automatically increased each budget year. These are typically not allowances for inflation, but abitrary percentage increases.

  2. Ian says:

    I like this idea a lot because looking at the budget crisis in the form of a game gives people an inkling of how complex these issues really are, and encourages a more constructive discussion. I say “more constructive” because I just read several of my friends’ status updates talking blindly about how much they hate Congress.

    Also, a budgeting game involving actual government issues rather than one involving wheat and sheep is probably a keeper.

  3. Kari2171 says:

    Turns out I’m not as liberal as I thought. Somehow shrunk government and delayed going broke without slashing services or completely dismanteling the military.

  4. Aw, man! I had a life planned for after work today. Now I just want to go home and do this!

  5. Dr. Mantis Toboggan says:

    This seems a bit biased. It will let me pretty much cancel the military entirely…but I can’t cut foreign aid by more than 50%?

  6. Gene says:

    Ridiculous. Typical liberal math. Basing revenue shifts on data from the CBO – which, by law, is not allowed to consider the economic impact of taxes – is not just stupid, it’s irresponsible. I’m frequently amazed at how many nerds will offer up a political opinion without even attempting to become adequately informed on the subject. It’s not very nerd-like.

  7. tag says:

    That is interesting. Every exercise like this inevitably prove that a poorly educated monkey could balance the budget better than any elected politician.

    For other similar activities see: – This one is scientific and has lots of flexibility. – This one is easy to use, but a tad older from the last budget debate not the current debate over who is the biggest child and / or who is least fit for service in public office.

    My main complaint over all budget options is that nearly every aspect of the budget is geared toward the short term. I have a much longer term view. For instance, I think we should swap the amounts we spend on Education and the Military.

  8. a vat tax would be the worst thing you could actually do. now a fair tax on the otherhand… thats what I would like to see.

    I’m against the vat tax because it hurts the average joe.

  9. Patrick says:

    How awsome would it be John Boner actually took notes from a game to figure out how to pull his head out of his ass. Crybaby.

  10. John Voorheis says:

    This is a reasonably fun game, but its (of course) rather limited. I would have liked to see more policy options (including things like a VAT on the tax side) that aren’t seen as policy options now but are almost certainly going to be part of the conversation in 5-10 years.

    Anyways, I restored primary balance by 2021 by abiding by the lefty principles of a) stop killing Muslims for no good dang reason, and b) given the externalities of income inequality (see:, make sure the top 5% of the income distribution is adequately taxed.

  11. Anna says:

    I owned it. Went for Green, Infastructure, and Safety Net, massively cut the debt, and earned all those badges. Amazing what you can accomplish by slashing the military and by not being afraid to actually levy fair taxes ;o