Everyone is talking about the finale of Lost, or so it seems. I’m not. OK, I am a little. But I shouldn’t. I didn’t watch a single second of the series, not even a nanosecond. The last series I watched faithfully was West Wing. I miss it dearly. (A moment of silence please. … )
Speaking of Lost, we’re collectively lost on how to get a handle on federal debt and when. To help illustrate how lost we are, The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has produced a neat-o-cool budget simulator. The goal is to reduce the debt to 60% of GDP by 2018. The simulator walks you through all major federal programs and spending items and provides options to cut or expand them. You tick off your preferences and watch the debt grow or fall. The real-time graphical budget feedback makes it fun and instructive to see how hard it is to reduce the debt. I’ve seen it discussed by several bloggers and finally had a moment (=2π instants) to try it this morning. It really is worth a few minutes. So, stop thinking about Lost and check it out. (Off you go. … )
Welcome back! Wasn’t that interesting? Better than Lost?
What would make an excellent addition to the simulator is a political capital graph. Of course it isn’t hard to reduce the debt if you’re the king and have no concern for re-election and need not be bothered with a Congress. What makes reducing the debt doubly hard is that to get legislation passed you have to buy off policymakers. It’s not so easy to reduce here without growing over there. Propose enough reductions and enough new taxes and you’ll be out of office. If that’s what you wanted you probably wouldn’t have run in the first place.
In the budget simulator one gets no feedback as to how politically difficult each of the cuts would be. But maybe showing how reducing federal debt is even harder would be counter to The Committee’s goals. If it is evident just how hard it is, we might be inclined to give up and watch TV. Maybe Lost is more fun.