Toy With A Budget More Depressing Than Your Own… The Federal Government's!

Think you’d do a better job at balancing the budget than Presidential Candidate X or Presidential Candidate Y? Now you can! American Public Media has put together the world’s most depressing game. You are asked to meet certain goals (you decide what they are, so you can choose to be either candidate, or a treehugger, or a socialist, or a libertarian, or a pr person for Walmart, whatever it is that you actually are) by playing different budget-affecting cards (Example: You can end “No Child Left Behind” and save $110 B.)

After you think you’ve got it all worked out, the game will tell you if you met your goals and what your budgeting style is. I’m apparently a “down-sizer,” which is somewhat unsurprising considering the fact that I’m cheap. Watch out all you big government types. I’m coming for you.

Budget Hero [APM]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Parting says:


  2. Shadowfire says:

    I can’t wait to see some of the stuff people here come up with…

  3. m4ximusprim3 says:

    That was actually kind of fun. I got our country out of deby by fucking the olds!

  4. sonneillon says:

    How interesting. I cut the budget and gave everyone universal health care. Suck it congress.

    • veronykah says:

      @sonneillon: Me too, my budget didn’t go bust until 2070+…
      Cut military spending, cap and limit greenhouse gases, repeal Bush tax cuts and get UNIVERSAL healthcare…sounds good to me.

  5. bloatboy says:

    I played this game once months ago. Once.
    If only the results were based in reality in some way. I mean, the designers have obviously never heard of the Laffer curve, for starters. The fundamentals behind the rest of the game are just as bad. It not only gives you no insight into the inner working of the U.S. Federal budget, it gives your the wrong ideas as to how they work in the real world.

    • DarkKnightShyamalan says:

      @bloatboy: I think not being familiar with the Laffer curve is more of an advantage, since it’s been so misapplied for the last 25 years.

      • JustThatGuy3 says:


        1. Every economist finds the case for the Laffer curve convincing, at least at the ends (i.e. at 0% and 100% tax rates, revenue is $0).

        2. Pretty much every responsible economist agrees that, even with top marginal rates well above where they are today, we’d still be to the left of the peak of the Laffer curve.

  6. artki says:

    I postponed the apocalypse until 2048!

    As others have said, all you do is throw the numbers around. If, for example, you slash the defense budget the only game effect is less money spent and whether you hit one of your badge objectives or not. There’s no consequence of a Canadian Invasion of 2029 that our enfeebled military would be unable to hold off.

    However, it was still worth playing. It helped me understand why that AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) is almost impossible to get rid of.

  7. UptonTick says:

    It’s a pretty sobering exercise. Who knew deep down inside I’ve been waiting to slash the size of government. It was a surprise to me!

    The Laffer Curve hypothesis has been widely disproven by economic research by the way. If Laffer Curve effects do exist, they are small and temporary as markets and individuals adjust to changes in the tax structure. Then you are back to where you began.

  8. BrianDaBrain says:

    I postponed the budget meltdown of doom until 2054. I cut administrative spending across the board, invested in independent and clean energy research, gave tax breaks to lower- and middle-class citizens, and taxed the hell out of rich peeps. I reduced the debt from 37.7% in 2008 to 11.6% in 2018 and shrank the government from 20% in 2008 to 17.8% in 2018. Oh yeah.

    I also got the economic stimulus, energy independence, and efficient government badges!

    If only the real budget was so easy to balance!

  9. Daryl26 says:

    Interesting, I increased funds in both Science in Education, making the country smarter, created Universal Health Care, brought the troops back, funded more diplomacy and increased national defense, more Social Security Benefits, added a tiny increase in taxes, and so on, and I have effectively reduced government size (while I had the impression that I was increasing it because of my decisions), lowered our National Debt to almost nothing, and postponed the Apocalypse from 2033 to 2070+


  10. shadowkahn says:

    I pretty much did what Daryl26 did. Also repealed bush tax cuts / taxed the rich. Funny how getting money from people who have most of it works so well.

  11. cienocrisis says:

    I postponed my Apocalypse to 2060, and only mildly downsized government spending. I brought the troops back home, cut 10% off military spending. I gave health insurance to all, imposed cap and trade, and spent a lot of money on alternative energy and transport like trains and mass transit. On top of that, I made large investments in NASA and science funding, and also in education for disadvantaged children. With my budget, I achieved the goals of Alternative Energy, Green, and Competitive Advantage.

    I can’t think of any candidate that would get voted into office with my budget though, they just wouldn’t get any votes at all in rural areas.

  12. alice_bunnie says:

    Yay for Dave mentality when it comes to federal budgets. Right, the assumptions based on this model are probably as bad as the global warming modeling. :/

  13. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    So in other words, Consumerist readers could balance the budget and fix the country, but the clowns in Washington can’t.

    Sounds about right.

    I played it and did pretty well IMHO…but you know..if somebody will throw me some big nice bribes..umm..I mean “campaign contributions,” I’ll be happy to pander to special interests and/or the wealthy.

  14. Hongfiately says:

    Why is “Lower Estate Taxes” a separate item from the various “Bush Tax Cuts” options? The death tax was phased out by the EGRTA of 2001 (no tax in calendar 2010) and it comes back to pre-2001 levels at midnight 12/31/2010 when the other “Bush Tax Cuts” expire.

    Pondering… does anyone realize that without Bill Thomas, there would be no “Bush Tax Cuts”? But I digress.

  15. INsano says:

    Uh, that(budget balancing) was really easy to do. Of course I’m not being bribed 24/7 by lobbists, my wife isn’t on loan to me from the CIA, and I don’t owe the millitary or corporate america any debt for the campaign that I haven’t run yet.

  16. ARP says:

    In a word, deficits. If we actually passed a balanced budget amendment and make it clear that if you wanted to spend money on something, you needed a funding source, it would be interesting to see how our political process would respond.

    For example, what if you had to pay another $100 in taxes per year to pay for the Iraq war, would you still have been in favor of it?

    Would you still be in favor of universal healthcare if it costs you another $200 per year?

    Would you still be in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy if you had to make up the difference with higher taxes (or allow them to cut some government program)?

    Yes, its obtuse, but it would be an interesting exercise if we had that sort of transparency and accountability within our budget. As cynical as I can be about American smarts, I think we’d make more informed decisions.

    • veronykah says:

      @ARP: Is there anyone out there that pays $200 a year for health insurance? I’d love to meet them. I pay nothing because I have no health insurance. I would be willing to pay $200 MORE on my taxes, absolutely.
      Would giving the citizens universal healthcare increase ANYONES taxes more than you already pay for insurance? I highly doubt it.
      My insurance while in college was over $1100/yr…
      I would be happy to pay more in taxes if I ever felt a tangible return on that money. We have crumbling infrastructure, bad schools and no healthcare what exactly are my tax dollars paying for?

    • @ARP: “Would you still be in favor of universal healthcare if it costs you another $200 per year?”

      Good God, yes. What on earth do you pay for health care? $200 would be a freakin’ bargain, not to mention all the benefits of everybody ELSE being healthy.

      • ARP says:

        @Eyebrows McGee: I pay a lot more, but that’s the point. People seem to lose sight of how much a program like that would cost compared to our many other tax proposals, Iraq war, pork, etc.

        That’s why its an interesting exercise to have a truly balanced budget and see the true costs of things of the things that we’ve been trained to believe are socialist boogeymen, while we spend just as much on things like the Iraq war, etc. Even if it were $1000 per taxpayer per year (roughly $200B), that would still less than I pay and I’d probably get some of that back through salary.

  17. mac-phisto says:

    neat little program – excellent way to get people to think about this stuff, but it’s a little too easy to just “play cards”. it would be nice if when you decided to play the “cut ss benefits card” a bunch of bluehairs with torches & pitchforks would burn the capitol & lynch the congress critters. or (as others have already alluded to) if you axed the military budget, midget sheepherders from the falklands would invade the southeast.

    that’s the element that seems to be missing here – the 3rd component of the iron triangle (special interest). whether it be soccer moms pissed of at a reduction to the arts program or oil tycoons whining about losing their subsidies, you can bet that those people will always be in the wings pushing their agendas. so why aren’t they represented here?

    • Josh_G says:


      That would be fun, you cut SS benefits, the old folk show up, then you deploy the troops you just brought back from Iraq!

    • ARP says:

      @mac-phisto: True, but crazy as it sounds, I believe that if we were given the transparency and forced with a balanced budget, we’d actually make some good decisions- enough that it we’d be able to overcome some of the special interests. But I guess it would also require public funding of elections.

  18. HFC says:

    There’s a game called Democracy that is a bit more in depth and has rewards and consequences. Raising funding in one area will anger some people while making others happy. If you make certain groups too mad at you, they’ll assassinate you (damn religious zealots!). It’s pretty fun.

    I know you can get it at

  19. SgtBeavis says:

    This was too frackin’ easy..

    I cut a ton of stuff and cut most taxes except allowing Bush’s tax cuts to expire on those making more than $250k (tax the rich)

    I also upped gas taxes because I’ve always viewed those as investments in infrastructure which is good for business in general. I upped infrastructure spending too.

    Cut defense a little with a quick Iraq withdrawal (which I think it practical by 2011) and still secured the borders (didn’t raise homeland securities budget) cut SS benefits, cut medicare benefits, cut porkbarrel, earmarks, killed No child left behind but increased education overall, increased research and dev, blah blah blah. Damn our government is too damn big..

    oh, and I managed to put the budget bust past 2070..

    I nominate me for Grand Poobah of the USA..

  20. Daveinva says:

    Well, that wasn’t helpful. As mentioned, no Laffer Curve (if it didn’t exist, the government could just tax everyone 100% and we’d be fine!). Too limited flexibility in the Social Security and Medicare arenas (what if I want to change Social Security to be a sustainable program only for low-income retirees? What if I want to eliminate government health care subsidies entirely, i.e. get rid of Medicare?).

    What bothers me in this game (and in this comments thread) is that so many people just seem to have completely abandoned all conception of what the Federal government is actually *for*. I don’t want my tax dollars subsidizing anybody– not corporations, not universities, not farmers, not incompetent state and local governments, not school boards. . . and most of all, NOT people.

    I want a federal government that guards our borders, kills bad people, delivers my mail, and guarantees that my constitutional rights are protected from itself, and all other governments in this great land. Is that so hard? Do I really have to sign up to curing AIDS in Botswana and funding solar power in California and making sure people can retire at 65 rather than 67 rather than figuring out their own damn retirement needs?

    You want someone to take care of you from cradle to grave, stay in your parents’ basement. Give *me* a government of enumerated and limited powers, and let the rest of us get on with our lives.

  21. aaronw1 says:

    So you say – delivers my mail, etc. That’s good, and I can certainly agree with that. However, let’s just step back a bit and wonder what sort of regulation is desired. I would hope you would agree that toxic pollution is bad and should be regulated. If we then take this one step further into clean energy, is it appropriate for the govt to subsidize or give tax breaks to companies investing in how to make clean energy? It’s an interesting question, because for some types of activity (let’s just say coal burning), there are side effects (increased pollution) that the company does not see or have to pay for (if you assume that pollution is a bad thing). Curing AIDS in botswana is another interesting topic, and that falls under humanitarian principles. Is it our responsibility as “the greatest country in the world” to help out other less fortunate countries? Charity is a strong force in the world – should we leave other countries to rot?

  22. VotaIdiota says:

    The big white elephant in the room that I’m surprised that no one has mentioned is this:

    Yeah, a big and easy way to cut the debt is reduce the size of the military, but why aren’t there any options for the DEA? That would be a HUGE boost to the budget.

    Hell, even if you just decriminalized it, you’d be saving billions of dollars. But if you legalized it and made it subject to sales tax like any other item (none of that bullshit “sin tax”), you’d actually be MAKING money. Then all you dirty hippies could have all the universal health care you wanted!

    • VotaIdiota says:

      @VotaIdiota: Wow, I realize my comment might be a little vague. I was referring, of course, to the “War on Drugs.” Everyone always is quick to denounce the “War on Terror,” but the WoD costs us almost as much. And it’s been going on for decades.